Recently I went picnicking with my family at Disney. Shirt and I sat on our scooters and opened our lunch cooler. We busted open our tuna kit and chips. I was at peace.
It's hard to imagine that the surreal picnic in the reading from Acts was peaceful at all (especially considering its menu). In this re-telling of Peter's rooftop vision, he is attempting to respond to critics who were ticked that Gentiles were being included in the Christian movement. Many of the traditions these early Christians inherited from Judaism concerned purity and distinctiveness. The idea that God was inviting those who were "unclean" or "profane" to the picnic was earthshaking.
This picnic unsettles us still. Although today we take for granted that you don't have to be Jewish to be Christian, we often fail to see where God has given the Holy Spirit and, instead, get in the risky business of prescribing where, in what conditions, and to whom the Spirit is manifest. Today we're given an alternative pattern to such legalism and boundary drawing: discernment.
Perhaps our picnics will be more peaceful once we learn, like Peter, to see in those different from ourselves the gift of the Spirit and respond in kind: Who am I that I can hinder God?
O God, open our eyes to see your Spirit in those different from ourselves, that we may never hinder you. Amen.
Acts 11:1-18 (NRSV)
1 Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God.
2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him,
3 saying, "Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?"
4 Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying,
5 "I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me.
6 "As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air.
7 "I also heard a voice saying to me, 'Get up, Peter; kill and eat.'
8 "But I replied, 'By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.'
9 "But a second time the voice answered from heaven, 'What God has made clean, you must not call profane.'
10 "This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven.
11 "At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were.
12 "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.
13 "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;
14 "'he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.'
15 "And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning.
16 "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.'
17 "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?"
18 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."