Oh, it can be so easy to be judgemental, to decide who is worthy, who is in or out – and to make decisions accordingly. Sometimes those calls are made by ridiculous criteria, sometimes we think our reasons make sense.
The current debate over benefits has brought up some of those, some of our preconceived or inherited ideas, without letting the truths of people’s lives get in the way. The Truth and Lies Report is doing much to dispel those misconceptions – do read it if you haven’t. But how many times do we make snap judgements on people, their lifestyle and how they fit in?
The new church that was forming in Acts, was having to work out its theology as it went along, to devise the rules in the ways that seemed sensible and best. But sometimes their assumptions needed to be challenged. And the question comes – who are you to decide who and what are clean? What is the ‘correct’ way to live? God may have some surprises in store!
Peter Reports to the Church in Jerusalem
11 The apostles and the followers in Judea heard that Gentiles had accepted God’s message. 2 So when Peter came to Jerusalem, some of the Jewish followers started arguing with him. They wanted Gentile followers to be circumcised, and 3 they said, “You stayed in the homes of Gentiles, and you even ate with them!”
4 Then Peter told them exactly what had happened:
5 I was in the town of Joppa and was praying when I fell sound asleep and had a vision. I saw heaven open, and something like a huge sheet held by its four corners came down to me. 6 When I looked in it, I saw animals, wild beasts, snakes, and birds. 7 I heard a voice saying to me, “Peter, get up! Kill these and eat them.”
8 But I said, “Lord, I can’t do that! I’ve never taken a bite of anything that is unclean and not fit to eat.”
9 The voice from heaven spoke to me again, “When God says that something can be used for food, don’t say it isn’t fit to eat.” 10 This happened three times before it was all taken back into heaven.
11 Suddenly three men from Caesarea stood in front of the house where I was staying. 12 The Holy Spirit told me to go with them and not to worry. Then six of the Lord’s followers went with me to the home of a man 13 who told us that an angel had appeared to him. The angel had ordered him to send to Joppa for someone named Simon Peter. 14 Then Peter would tell him how he and everyone in his house could be saved.
15 After I started speaking, the Holy Spirit was given to them, just as the Spirit had been given to us at the beginning. 16 I remembered that the Lord had said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 17 God gave those Gentiles the same gift that he gave us when we put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. So how could I have gone against God?
18 When they heard Peter say this, they stopped arguing and started praising God. They said, “God has now let Gentiles turn to him, and he has given life to them!”
In the vision God invites Peter to eat animals that he knows are not to be touched by a “good” Jew. But God challenges the long-held beliefs. He is doing something new, and the rules are not what Peter thought they were. For the new church to grow, they are going to have to adjust their concept of what God does and doesn’t want. And what God says is what God says.
Peter’s vision prepared him for the events that were going to unfold before them – who and on what terms they were going to accept people. God was going to do something new – and they had better be ready for it, not be stuck arguing about whether it was right! God has given his gifts to everyone, whoever they are, whatever they have been – all are welcome. No one is to stand in their way, arguing that they are not welcome, or that there are hoops they need to jump through before they will be accepted.
And I wonder about our churches, our communities – which are actually God’s…
Do we put up barriers, make people meet our criteria, judge by our own misguided assumptions? Or do we hear God? Allow him to make the rules? See those he is calling to himself, and welcome them as we too have been welcomed and accepted by him?
I love the final verse
they stopped arguing and started praising God
surely that is what matters in our church…
This is a powerful song, with lots of questions about who are truly welcome
may I not make judgements,
about who is in
and who is out;
what people have to do to belong
to your community.
May I welcome,
may we welcome
all who seek to come,
no waiting for them to change
and become ‘right’,
but as they are –
fully part of your community