Adapted from a sermon
Delivered May 6, 2007
Immanuel Presbyterian Church
Rise Up, Kill and Eat
You’ll notice that there are a few changes in the liturgy this morning. They come as a result of these two church consultants that visited us for a few days last week. They seemed to be encouraging us to lighten up a bit and had all sorts of suggestions for our consideration.
when John (the senior pastor) called
Thursday from the hospital and asked if I would preach and develop the
bulletin, I thought – here is an opportunity to maybe experiment with the liturgy. I poked around on the Internet and found my
favorite Progressive Post Liberal Christianity website with preacher Rex Hunt
That’s how the Lighting of the Candle comments found their way into the bulletin, and I borrowed Rex’s Affirmation of Faith and communion service, too. But one can take part of a suggestion without taking it all. True, I used some of Rev. Hunt’s words because they seemed to fit us. But his worship service starts with someone banging a gong three times. I couldn’t bring myself to call Linda (the choir director) to see if she had a gong.
Sometimes one must make change fearlessly and with gusto. But change also comes in smaller steps after much prayer, discussion, and discernment. Be careful though, one of these days I might find the perfect gong.
The morning scripture lesson is among my favorites. It, too, is about change, scary change. “Rise Up, Peter, Kill and Eat!,” a very pro-active order. Get up, take action, and get on with it.
Let’s take a minute and think about Peter. Here we have a guy trying to be a good Jew; trying to be a good apostle; and no doubt, trying to be a good man. He trips up occasionally and he gets scared at critical moments, but with all his failings, Peter had his strengths. And remember that it is upon this kind of a man, Peter, that Christ built his church.
After Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter has taken up the call to take this Good News to people throughout the region. But some questions arose. Originally there was some dissention around whether or not the message of Christ was for gentiles as well as Jews. Then the fight was over whether or not a gentile man had to be circumcised and become a Jew before becoming a Christian. As our reading opens this morning, Peter is being criticized by his colleagues for eating with uncircumcised heathen. Peter tells them about a vision he has recently experienced, a vision that changes his entire world view.
This change of outlook was no easy conversion for Peter or any of the other apostles. They were religious and sensitive men. They were concerned about their spiritual well-being or they wouldn’t have been interested in following this wandering preacher Jesus in the first place. They, like most people, wanted to know the truth and tried very hard to live by that truth, whatever it was.
So here is Peter, a God-fearing follower of the Messiah, born and raised in a Jewish home, living most of his life in the close vicinity of his birth, trying to ready himself for the task at hand. How was he going to maintain the Jewish purity laws if he went among the Gentiles, an unclean group of people with whom Jews definitely did not eat. If he wasn’t careful, he might not only have to eat with them but eat their food, as well! And the Lord only knew what they really ate!
Peter’s dilemma was worse than it would be for us to visit a different culture for the first time. It is one thing to be encouraged to try a little raw fish, or roasted alligator, or a bit of muktuk. In Peter’s case, it wasn’t just that these gentiles were different. The problem was that they were dangerous. Associating with them, eating with them could be spiritually dangerous. To associate with these people was against God’s law. To eat their food could and would offend the Lord God. But the Lord God had some other ideas.
We know that this passage is about more than food, but food is a good place to start. Peter was being encouraged – no, he was being ordered – to expand, try something different, and to do so with some enthusiasm and passion. Rise Up, Kill, and Eat.
Peter was also being enlightened in a different way. Hadn’t God provided the rules for Hebrews to live by? Hadn’t the rules already been established? Well, hanging out with Jesus for three years, no doubt, taught Peter to re-think that assumption. Peter had already learned that God had spoken to His people in one point in time, true – but then Jesus spoke to them in a different point in time -- and the rules changed. The whole basis for rule-making had changed. And, now this dream with the table cloth full of unclean animals. Rise up, Peter, kill and eat! Was God still speaking, still revealing.
Peter was being told to violate some of the most basic tenets of his upbringing and religious faith. Can he really be faulted for hesitating a bit before taking action?
My point is that for some of us
raised in contemporary
As Protestants, we have a tradition of challenging religious authority. We are part of a spiritual movement that prides itself as Reformed, but Always Reforming – continuing to seek the will of God through contemporary revelation – difficult as that revelation is to discern most of the time.
We can remember when the church thought slavery was maybe okay – even supported by scripture. We remember when women could not vote, let alone be ordained. We remember when, no matter what the circumstances, divorce and re-marriage was a sin. And I promise you we will look back in a few years, and remember when gay and lesbian church members felt unwelcome, even unclean. And we will wonder, “What were we thinking?”
How do we make these major changes in our life together as the Body of Christ? It isn’t easy. And good people come at the questions from radically different perspectives. Variations of these and other issues are still with us today.
I read a book a while back called “The Biography of God.” The theme of the book is that God’s relationship to his human creatures has changed over the millennium. Notice I didn’t say God changed; just that God’s relationship with us has changed. It reminds me of a parental relationship. In the beginning, God created rules – for our safety and well-being. Later on, as we grew, God modified these rules and allowed us more freedom – with the one caveat: Love One Another, As God Has Loved You. Make you decisions and take your actions based on love and concern for those around you.
Near the end of the biography, God’s relationship with God’s people was changing again – God was expecting men and women to begin to not look for set rules but to wrestle with the questions themselves; to think for themselves; to take some small and some very major risks. God was always pushing Her people to challenge the old ways, speak out on behalf of the weak and lonely, to risk ridicule and even death for the truth – as we were beginning to understand it.
So Immanuel is about to begin on a discernment project, a self-study. The idea is to take stock of where we are and where we hope to go. Most of us have a pretty set idea of who we think we are and what we think we represent. We think we have pretty much identified our friends and those who may not have our best interests at heart. We have the Book of Order and we know how many committees there are supposed to be. We know darned well what Jesus wants us to do in this community and what he wants us to believe.
But what if we suspended some of these certainties for a little while. What if a big white table cloth were to descend from the heavens containing some other points of view? Would we be able to take a deep breath and look over the edge and to what’s in there? Might we even find ourselves wrestling with these new ideas, and even embracing some of them? Perhaps. Rise Up, Peter, Kill and Eat.