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Acts 10: 1-17, 34-35

Meg Peery McLaughlin
October 4, 2020
Acts 10: 1-17, 34-35

On this World Communion Sunday, we turn to a story about food,
and more so, about the expansive grace of God.
Before we feast, and before we read, let us first pray.

Prayer for Illumination

Almighty God, by your Holy Spirit, illumine the sacred page, we pray,
that our minds may be open to receive your Word,
our hearts taught to love it, and our wills strengthened to obey it;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Acts 10: 1-17, 34-35

In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.” When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him, and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa.

About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” 15 The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.

17 Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate.

34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

Friends, this is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

This week, I overheard Kat Cole, my kids’ school librarian ask Naomi’s class about a book. She asked if the book was a mirror, a window, or a sliding glass door. The class responded as if this were a run of the mill question, while I went scrambling for scholarship to figure out what she was talking about. This metaphor was put forth by Dr. Sims Bishop, who writes[1]:

Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives as part of the larger human experience.

Northside Elementary School is in a historically black part of Chapel Hill, the old Pottersfield and Sunset neighborhoods, where laborers who worked at the University and at Carr Mill made their homes. Northside’s librarian works hard to make sure her primarily black students are reading books that don’t simply have white faces in them. She stocks books that are mirrors, in addition to books that give glimpses into whole new worlds, windows, and books those that invite students to walk into new territories and dreams, doors.

Today, from our biblical library, we have a door.
Indeed, the door by which we enter into the covenant of grace, the community of God’s people.

Scholar Willie James Jennings says that this is the explosive moment,
where Luke inscribes the door through which we, Gentiles, enter in.
Luke’s narrative from this point forward will strain under the weight of the obsessive love of god. This chapter is the pivot, the turn that makes intelligible everything before it and after it[2].

Before it, when Gentiles looked at the story of God’s people, there was no mirror.
Gentiles did not look like Jews.
Gentiles did not eat like Jews.
Gentiles did not marry, or worship, or keep time like Jews.
And that was on purpose.
A bit of pork or a pinch of intermarriage was matter of life and death for the Jewish community[3].
The extremes of Judaic law were necessary to preserve the elect community.

And then, this happens.
A Gentile, in a Gentile town, with a super Gentile job,
a man named Cornelius, directed by God, sends men to Joppa, to look for a Jew named Peter.
Automatically our ears are up.
Joppa, if you remember, is where Jonah ran
as soon as he heard from God that he was to go preach to foreigners.
Peter’s true name is “Simon, son of Jonah[4].”

So, before the story has really even started, we are primed
that this may be something Peter is not altogether keen to engage,
and already, we are suspecting that God may be once again ready to surprise us with grace.

And what do you know? By this story’s end, Cornelius is baptized, having received the Holy Spirit.
But Cornelius’ conversion is not the only conversion in this story.
This story is as much a door for Peter as it is for Cornelius.
Peter is invited into a whole new way of being church.
“The way we’ve always done it” is unraveled
and he is confronted with something altogether new.


Remember that new wine that needs new wineskins?
Remember the Jesus way that demands a new self?

Peter looks through a most alarming window—
and sees animals–
clean and unclean
kosher and definitely not kosher
delicious and despised.

Then God kicks the door down and says, “go on through.”
“What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”
Get ready for a feast, the likes of which you’ve never before seen.

And after it all, Peter makes sense of it all by preaching a revolutionary sermon:
“I truly understand that God shows no partiality.”

There are no favorites between
Jew and Gentile,
Governor’s Club and Northside,
Black and White,
Democrat and Republican,
Woman and Man,
Gay and Straight,
Tarheel and Blue Devil.

All of us—in all our differences–all are invited in,
into God’s family and feast,
into God’s heart and hard work.

And that, my friends, well it changes everything.

My friend Chris was writing a paper on this text for our preaching group.
His secretary interrupted him, asking him to call a new member.
Chris said “In between meetings I dialed her number. The voice on the end of the phone said, “My brother shot himself on Monday.  And Chris, well, I grew up Catholic and I just need to know that he’s not in hell.  I’m afraid for him, with all that I was taught growing up.  I just need to know if he is okay…”
Chris took a deep breath and was really glad he had this text in his head.
They had a long conversation.
While this woman’s question was clearly different from the Jewish question of the early church,
her fear was of her brother being labeled unclean by the church and, by proxy, unclean by God.
And frankly, the church has been fantastic at drawing such lines throughout its history,
too often in the name of Jesus.  In/out. Clean/unclean.

Now, of course nothing Chris could say would take away this woman’s grief, but he could say this: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane,”
and ‘‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality.”

That, friends, is the crux of the gospel.
The door of grace God has opened wide, indeed taken off it’s very hinges.

And so, I wonder, once all our old ways of playing favorites have come unraveled,
(as painful as that may be for us) what will we do when we step inside that door?
I wonder what it looks like for you?

Because I think children are best at such wondering,
I have asked my friend Cate Powell to read us a story that might unlock some possibilities.
Listen as she reads the book Can I Play Too? by Mo Willems.

Piggie! Let’s play catch!
Yes! I love playing catch with friends!
I will throw.
I will catch.
Excuse me! Can I play too?
(awkward silence)
You do not want to play with me?
No! We do want to play with you. But. . . .
But. . .
We are playing catch.
With our arms.
So?
You do not have arms.
I do not have arms?! Aaaaghh!
Ha ha ha! Hee hee hee!
I know I do not have arms! I am a snake.
You are a funny snake.
But can a snake play catch?
I do not know.
But I can try.
COOL!
I will throw the ball!
Try to catch it!

Here comes the ball!
BONK
Sorry!
It is okay. Let’s try again.
Okay. I will try again.
BONK
Now I will try.
BONK
This is not working.
We need a new idea. . .
YES.
Maybe we need more balls.
More balls!
More balls!?! Oh boy!
BONK BONK BONK BONK BONK x100
Do we need even more balls?
Maybe. . .
Wait! We have tried. But I am a snake. . .
A snake who cannot play catch.
NO! You are our friend! We will ALL play catch.
How?
She has an idea.
Whee!
I love playing catch with my friends!

(Thank you, Cate.)

Today is World Communion Sunday.
Where people from all over the globe ask: Can I eat too?
Where people of all different colors, classes and convictions ask:
Can I pull up a chair to this table? Can I play too?

And even when the most unlikely friends approach the table,
and even when the work of inclusion gets just too complicated,
even when we are simply too attached to our old ways,
our old prejudices and preferences
and like that snake we’d rather give up and slide way,
Jesus, like Piggie,
Jesus, host, says NO!
You and you and you are God’s beloved.
We will ALL eat.
God shows no partiality.

Thanks be to God.
Let’s eat.

[1] https://library.ncte.org/journals/LA/issues/v85-2/6175

[2] Jennings, Willie James. Acts: Belief– A Theological Commmentary on the Bible. Editors: Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Westminster John Knox Press. 2017

[3] Will Willimon

[4] Justo Gonzalez, Acts: The Gospel of the Spirit, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2001)

Meg Peery McLaughlin , Pastor

Email: meg@upcch.org

Phone: 919.929.2102 ext 111

Bio:

Meg feels called to share good Gospel news–in word, in deed, in silence, in all things–to all of God’s beloved children. She is a native of North Carolina, graduated with a Bachelor’s in English Literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and with a Master’s in Divinity and in Christian Education from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA. Meg was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in 2006, at Village Presbyterian Church near Kansas City, MO, where she served for seven years in the role of Pastoral Care. She and Jarrett accepted a call to serve as co-pastor Heads-of-Staff at Burke Presbyterian Church in June of 2013 where they served for 6 years before coming to UPC. Meg and Jarrett have three young daughters: big sister Naomi and, twins, Caroline and Zanna. She has hitched her life to the promise that Jesus Christ is the light that overcomes darkness, is the love that is stronger than all fear, and is the sure and certain assurance that new life is possible, even when it seems otherwise.