Meditation on Acts 11: 1-18
Pastor Karen Crawford
First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, NY
May 15, 2022
We are all moved in. Well, sort of. The living room and dining room are full of boxes. Not to mention the garage. I really don’t know WHAT’s in the garage. Not our cars, for sure! Thank you, once again, to all the volunteers who have worked hard to help make our house a home. Thank you to all of you who have warmly welcomed us!
Additionally, we are grateful for others who have been paid to do much needed work on the manse. I don’t know all of their names, as some did the work before we came. But they are landscapers, tree trimmers, roofers and siders. Painters and hardwood restorers.
I’ve been thinking about this long period of transition and the work. It’s easy to complain about the costs of things and the time it takes for everything to be done. But the apostle Paul tells us to no longer see one another, ourselves, or the situations of our lives from a worldly point of view! He says in 2 Cor. 5:15-17, “And He (Christ) died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly (or human) point of view. Although we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come!”
Turn to your neighbor now and say, “I am a new creation!”
I don’t know if it’s my personality or because I am a pastor or what, but I confess that I find it difficult not to talk with the workers in my home. I try not to—because it can be dangerous for them, you know, operating power tools and talking to me at the same time. And I don’t want it to cost more money, for those who are charging by the hour.
But here was Frank the plumber a couple of days ago, in our kitchen on a ladder, under the big hole he had made in the ceiling, waiting for the other guy to do something in the bathroom above. I asked Frank, who was kind of a gruff sort, how long he had been a plumber. “35 years,” he said. Then, he told Jim and me how he had worked for his uncle as an apprentice, starting when he was 18.
I asked if plumbing had changed in 35 years. He said, “Oh, yeah!” Then I couldn’t help but ask him if plumbing was anything like Moonstruck. The 1987 movie features Cher and Nicholas Cage, as her love interest, and Olympia Dukakis and Vincent Gardenia as Cher’s parents. Her father, Cosmos, is a plumber who, as her mother says when he refuses to pay for Cher’s second wedding, “is as rich as Roosevelt.”
I didn’t say it, but I was thinking of the scene when Cosmos talks a young couple into paying $10,800 to fix a leak in their bathroom. But I am pretty sure Frank knew I was talking about it.
(Here’s the link to that scene: https://youtu.be/BEmKe6KxhcM
“It costs more,” Cosmos says of copper pipe, “because it saves you money.”
Our plumber threw his head back and laughed at the Moonstruck reference. “I love that movie,” he said.
Later, after the job was done, and he was handing us his bill—not $10,800 but still plenty—he said it would be OK if we mailed him a check. Frank surprised us when he said, “If you can’t trust a church, who can you trust?”
Today in our reading in Acts, similar to our plumber who came when we called for help, the apostle Peter is making a house call. Only, Peter is summoned for spiritual guidance. The amazing thing is the family who reaches out to him is NOT Jewish and it creates a conflict in the First Century Church. This is a good reminder to us that the first followers of Christ are Jewish believers who continue to adhere to the practice of circumcision for males and the dietary regulations in which they were raised.
Peter will be made to stand before and give account to the leaders of the Church in Jerusalem, not so much for sharing the gospel with Gentiles, but for going to their home, staying with them, and eating with them.
In his defense, Peter only recounts what happened—how he saw a vision from God and how he responded, how one thing led to another. Do you wonder why he never talks about how Jesus reached out to Gentiles or the Great Commission of Matthew 28, when the risen Christ tells his followers “to go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations” ? I wondered that. But the point is that Peter is trying in his ministry to simply be led by the Spirit in all that he says and does.
Jesus, like Peter, was criticized by religious leaders for eating and drinking with sinners, such as prostitutes and tax collectors. His own disciples were shocked when he reached out with kindness to the Samaritan woman at the well and accepted a cup of water from her. While the first recorded encounter of the Gentiles with Jesus is when the magi visit him as a toddler in Matthew chapter 2, one of his first encounters with Gentiles in his ministry as an adult is with, interestingly enough, a Roman centurion in Matthew 8:8 and Luke 7:2. One source says that his “being part of the occupying Roman military force…would have represented everything the Jews would have hated about Rome.” — John Newman, Jesus and the Gentiles, http://newhopelafayette.org/jesusandthegentiles/
Jesus heals the centurion’s servant, marveling at the centurion’s faith, a faith he had not discovered “even in Israel,” with his own people.
The whole fascinating story of Cornelius the centurion, a military commander of 100 men, begins in Acts 10. The lectionary passage is only what Peter says when the religious leaders in Jerusalem criticize him. Specifically in question is his fidelity to the laws of Moses. What’s at stake is simply the entire future of the Church—who can be included, and who will be left out?!
Peter sees the puzzling vision while he is praying up on the roof of Simon the tanner’s house in Joppa by the seashore, where he is staying. Beginning at verse 11, Peter “saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners.In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air.Then he heard a voice saying, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.’ The voice said to him again, a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.”
If you are thinking things often happen in 3’s with Peter, you’re right! He denies Jesus 3 times before the cock crowed. And the risen Christ asks Peter 3 times if he loves him, charging him with the care and nurture of his flock.
The vision that at first glance seems to be about what’s OK for Peter and other Jewish Christians to eat is really about who is profane or unclean in the Kingdom of God Christ has ushered in. What’s the answer? No one is unclean or profane! No one!!
In Christ, we are all NEW CREATIONS in him.
Friends, turn to your neighbor and say, “You are a new creation!”
The apostle Paul will say in Galatians 3:28, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Brothers and sisters, how shall we respond to our Acts reading today?
Let’s get ready for the unexpected! God is about to do a new thing. It is easy for us to get comfortable with our traditions and our circle of friends and family. None of us like change—just like the religious leaders in Peter’s time.
The future of the Church is outside these walls, as well as inside. It’s in our homes and schools. Our places of work. It’s in doctor’s offices, restaurants and grocery stores, gas stations and train stations, and shopping malls. On the highways and side roads and at the beach. You get the idea!
We have to be faithful all the time. That doesn’t mean we have to be super religious or perfect or even talking about the Church or Jesus all the time. No, it means we have to be who we are in Jesus—who Christ is making us to be. We have to be kind and open to the move of the Spirit, like Peter was, or else we will hinder the work of God.
Behold, the old has passed away. The new has come! God’s gift of life is for all!
Let us pray.
Holy One, thank you for the surprising work of the Spirit in the Church of Peter’s time—and in your Church today. Thank you for your love and for modeling kindness and patience through the apostles, even when asked to defend their beliefs and practices. Lord, we tend to be choosy about who we want to spend time with and include in our circles of friends and close family. We often act in exclusive ways, fearing and avoiding those we perceive as different, just as the religious leaders did to the Gentiles in the early days of the Church. Help us to love as you love—inclusively and unconditionally—and to be open to the move of the Spirit in and beyond the walls of this your Church. Grow us in every way and grant us your joy as we serve you with our lives. In Christ we pray. Amen.