Sermon: “Who was I that I could hinder God”? (May 15, 2022)
Our reading this morning from Acts once again features Peter and his emerging role as a leader and guide of the early Church. This story of Peter’s vision was so important to the early Church that it is told twice in the Book of Acts. It is told in both chapters 10 & 11!
Peter has been staying in the house of Simon the tanner. You may remember that he went there after raising Tabitha. While a guest in Simon’s home Peter has a very clear vision that will impact the faith in extraordinary ways.
Peter sees a large cloth descending from heaven and it is filled with all sorts of animals - animals that would have been considered unclean to the Jews. Peter is commanded to kill and eat these things & at first he refuses. Peter would not eat of an unclean animal. But the vision continues and Peter hears that God makes all things clean. God makes all things good.
After the vision Peter is visited by 3 men who ask him to come and teach. Peter is guided by the Holy Spirit and he accompanies them. And then it gets a bit sticky. Peter eats with the gentiles.
As a result it seems that Peter must justify his actions with the leaders in Jerusalem. Peter has come to the conclusion that God’s love is to be shared with everyone. Peter is seeking to widen the space at the table. Peter does not use arguments to persuade the leaders in Jerusalem. He tells a story - a captivating story. And at the end his audience is left in silence. Their hearts have been changed in the hearing of the story.
The mission to the Gentiles is officially authorized. The stories of Jesus and the Kingdom of God will be shared with all. Love looks like inclusion, community and acts of care.
But the controversy of who was in and who was out did not end with the mission to the Gentiles. Christians have always struggled with ideas of membership. Who belongs and who does not. Peter’s vision has always challenged the Church.
“Who was I that I could hinder God?” Or perhaps the Church could and should say “Who was I that I should hinder God?”
Peter needed the help of the spirit to release distinctions between Jews and Gentiles. We need the help of the spirit to help create widening communities of faith. We are continually called back to consider who remains excluded and then then do something about it. Widen the space at the table.
I was thinking about this in relation to both Holy Communion and Baptism. I believe in an open table - where the bread and wine are for everyone. In the past Pastors were expected to keep track of who communed. In order to maintain membership once yearly was necessary. In the past only baptized people could receive communion. In the past there were age requirements or the requirement that you had to be confirmed. That is not an open table! No one will ask you for proof of baptism at this table.
Because we have to ask Peter’s question - who am I that I could hinder God?
If something brings someone to the table then God and the Holy Spirit are at work.
I feel the same about baptism. I feel baptism is a time of celebration. It is an emotional time as a new person formally joins God’s family. Some people may feel cynical about baptisms. Some people feel that children may be brought to baptism because of family pressures, ie. “Grandma wants the baby ‘done’”. Or what about the old belief that if a child died without being baptized they would not go to heaven?
Something draws people to the sacrament of baptism. Who am I that I should hinder God? Why would we say no to someone who wanted to be baptized -themselves or their children? We can never know what the act of being baptized might mean. We do not know what the Holy Spirit is up to! Where God’s voice and vision may play out. None of us has any idea how the Holy Spirit is working in people’s lives or how the Holy Spirit is working to change hearts and minds.
Who are we as a Church to make the circle smaller not wider? Who are we as a Church to hinder God?
Peter’s vision and realization that God’s love is for everyone should be our guide. As followers of Christ we proclaim through thought and word and deed that everyone is God’s beloved child.