Acts 10           April 19, 2015                        Easter3

Think of a time when your core, fundamental beliefs have been challenged. Like right up in your face challenged. When you’ve had to reconsider a position, an idea, a foundational belief you thought was unshakeable. Which means I’m asking you, where is your line in the sand? What helps you remember who you are and what you stand for? Do you have scripture around your home or a family mission statement? What helps you remember what you believe, who you are, how you navigate life?

Because that’s what has happened in today’s story. Poor Peter. You remember Peter, right? Peter is the disciple I can relate to really well. His enthusiasm often gets him into trouble. Peter is the disciple who gets out onto the water to follow Jesus and then, becoming afraid, begins to sink. He is the disciple who, being on the mountain when Jesus is joined by the ghosts of Moses and Abraham suggests they should build homes to commemorate the moment. Jesus yells at Peter when he protests about Jesus dying on the cross. Peter is the one who protests at the very idea of Jesus washing his feet. Peter is the one who denies Jesus not once, not twice, but three times as Jesus is on trial and on his way to the cross. Then, the resurrected Jesus asks Peter 3 times, “do you love me?” with Peter answering emphatically each time, “yes, I love you.” And today, God tells Peter 3 times “Go and eat”, and Peter, being totally consistent, of course doesn’t listen.

Let’s review this strange vision Peter had today. God appears to him in a vision, lowers down a sheet with every living creature on it and instructs him to kill and eat. This might seem an offensive day for vegetarians or for those of you who oppose hunting, right? It paints a funny picture, right? It did say Peter was hungry, but this is just kind of ridiculous, don’t you think?

The significance of that sheet of meat is striking. Jews followed strict laws about what was clean and what was not clean. What was profane and what was holy. And all these animals were forbidden. It’s all spelled out in Leviticus. So once again, 3 times, Peter says no. He must have thought he had passed a great test of faith!

But, as it turns out, this story isn’t about food. It’s about people.

Because just as there were laws about what Jews could eat and not eat, there were strict laws about who they could associate with and who they could not. So non-Jews, or what you call gentiles, were unclean. You could not associate with them and still be able to worship, call yourself holy. So, perhaps messing with Peter’s strict interpretation of diet was a way God could eventually get him to see it’s about people, it’s about what God can do with people.

Leave it up to God to use people to help us learn about just what God is willing to do to show love.

Because Cornelius also has a visit from God and sends people to get Peter. Now Cornelius would, at first blush, appear to be the villain. He’s in the military and he’s a gentile. Yet, he loves God and is known for his love of God and he’s the one who gets the clear vision to fetch Peter and hear what he has to say.

So Peter finds himself in a house filled with gentiles, with non-Jews. Just think of the week he’s had. First he’s visited by God and told to eat what Jewish law prohibits him to eat. Now he is in a home surrounded by people he’s not supposed to interact with. He says, You know, I’m sure that this is highly irregular. Jews just don’t do this—visit and relax with people of another race. Can you imagine how disappointed everyone must have been – he’s just like all the others. He’s going to exclude us too. But, luckily, Peter doesn’t stop there. He continues, But God has just shown me that no race is better than any other.

This is where things change. For Peter, for the early church that was starting in the book of Acts. This is where God starts to bust loose in forming the church. It’s because of brash and clumsy old Peter who followed messengers to the home of a gentile without approval from the other disciples, which he catches heck for, by the way. This is why you and I can call ourselves Christians is because Peter finally understood what God was telling him in his vision: What God has made clean, you must not call profane.

This isn’t about God flattening out the kingdom of God. This isn’t about God making us all the same. This is about God busting through any kind of limit we might dare to put on God. This is about God redefining what it means to love. This is about God calling your whole life sacred and clean and holy. This isn’t about things being “Christian” enough for you to participate in. This is about living your life as a follower of Jesus, remembering you are a child of God, and living that way.

So sometimes that means you will find yourself in Cornelius’ house, surrounded by people you never thought you would know or love. When I think about our community, I think of the threshold of Main Street Sports Bar. And as I cross into the bar for beer & hymns, I’m ready for whoever I might meet – fellow Christians or people just trying to have a beer and watch the game.

But really, we should all consider these boundaries – these thresholds – in our lives in a new way. Perhaps the threshold of the place where you work or go to school is your new line in the sand. How is it you define yourself as a Child of God? And how does that cross over with you wherever it is you are? Today, as you cross the threshold of this space out into the rest of your day and your life, I want you to think of it as a place where you will meet God, where your life is called clean and blessed and sacred by God. Because someone you meet might be ready and waiting to hear that they are loved, that they are included. That they are living a sacred and God blessed life.

Now fear will often stop us dead in our tracks. We will hide behind our lines and make them borders instead of gateways. But here is the deal. Like Peter, God expects that we’re all gonna make mistakes. That we are going to mess things up. But that won’t keep God from seeking us out. And it won’t keep God from working. God means to transform lives. And that is what God will do: to you, as he did to Peter and through you, as he did to Peter.

It could come in your extending an invitation to someone in the lunchroom. Your patience with a co-worker, an ex-spouse, or a friend. It could come in any number of ways. God means to transform us all. To remind us that God’s love is for everyone. This is the radical message of the good news of Jesus Christ. Amen