05 May 2010

Peter’s Vision for Today

My mother talks about the moment when, in college, she had the sudden realization that she was a Gentile. “I knew I wasn’t Jewish,” she remembers, “but it hadn’t occurred to me until that moment that I was one of those nasty Gentiles!” She shares this memory with a smile at her own naiveté. Having grown up in a Christian household reading the Bible and being fascinated with Jewish tradition, my mother’s experience was surprising but safe. Surprising because she suddenly realized she was a Gentile, one of those “others” who are often looked on with suspicion throughout the Bible. But safe because the Gentiles were already “in”—they had already been accepted by the followers of Jesus long, long ago.

This week, we heard the story from Acts 11 of Peter’s vision, in which he is called to serve the Gentiles: “As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” The passage concludes: “When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.’”

My mother’s realization, while humorous now, was safe because her group is already included in the Christian sphere. If this passage from Acts—and the whole movement of the book of Acts from a band of small followers to the ends of the known world—tells us anything, though, it is that the Christian community should have no bounds. None. When Christians today welcome the GLBT community into their communities as the early followers of Jesus welcomed the Gentiles, Peter’s vision will be expanded once again. More importantly, God’s desire for open doors and welcoming hearts will see fruition.

Last month, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) took final steps toward abolishing its anti-GLBT policies, effective immediately. My hope this Easter season is that we Presbyterians can follow in their footsteps, embracing the inclusive vision of Acts 11 and extending God’s gracious and radical welcome to all. Particularly for heterosexual allies of the GLBT community—like my mother and me—may we not rest in the safety of having already been accepted into the Christian fold, but rather risk our safety for a broader and more holy Presbyterian community.

—Rev. Ian Doescher
Calvary Presbyterian Church, Portland, Oregon

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