Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?

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Where we last left off, God spoke to Simon Peter, a Jew, and Cornelius the centurion, a Roman to get together. For this to happen, there was hardness of heart to get through but not in the Roman surprisingly. 

            So now Peter shows up as directed and is taking a step of faith.  Due to the deeply entrenched oppression by the Romans for a few generations  Peter may have longed for the leap of faith in walking on water to Jesus.  After all, the water never did anything to him personally. 

Acts 10: 34 “Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

            Right here Peter talks about how God provides equal justice.  He will not tip the scales over any person over another by superficial standards in terms of His judgment.  Next, Peter recognizes signs of light in those that are different from him.  More than that, those who have faith and does what is right are acceptable to what he used to think was only a Jewish God. 

            Peter then brings in a serious drive to the point.  He quickly says Jesus is Lord of all.  This is not an authority trip.  Yes, authority is part of Jesus being Lord, but it also involves how he is personal and not a person on the other side of the universe.      

43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”  If you remember from last post, Jesus tells Peter to not call unclean what He calls clean.  Forgiveness is there even for those people.

But the teaching and experience that Peter brings to these gentiles is not just an emphasis on what American Protestants called, “Confessing Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.”   If people come into Jesus, then it is meant to be lived out in a corporate context and on the other side of a solid, measurable dividing line. 

44 “While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47 ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ 48 So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.”

            The Holy Spirit falling down on the gentile crowd is powerful.  Peter sees that grace of God on the people that confirms not only redemption but a call to communion in fellowship.  You see, in the Church, knowing Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior is a start.  But with the Holy Spirit active and crying from our hearts, we can call God “Daddy”.  Peter sees that they share the same Daddy.  I long for the day that no Christian fellowship on earth is an ethnic or racially based church! 

            The next part is about recognizing the grace of God in fellowship.  This is why the Catholic Church recognizes the coming of the Holy Spirit to enlighten one to be a fully active member in the visible body.  The gentiles received a touch of God’s grace in their hearts, but baptism would further enlist their experience as a solid context for their bodies too to experience the New Covenant (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-5 to see that passing through inspired water is covenential). It is baptism that seals the mark salvation (1 Peter 3:21). 

            So Peter has come a long way.  He swallowed his ethnic and religious pride. Further change is happening and Peter had to roll with it.  Do we?  Where is our prejudice?  Are we content to keep the Other, Other?  Or do we want to be like Simon Peter or the Good Samaritan and take our own part of being a bridge to those that are yet seeking God in their understanding.  

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MLK, Mr. Miyagi and Living The Lesson of Both

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         As I write this post it is MLK day.  It is an important day for everyone in our country and in some ways for the whole world because of The Reverend’s dream for freedom and unity. 

            But such a dream existed long before that great speech on an August day in DC.  Ultimately this dream existed in the mind of the Creator who created all of us to be equals to each other.  For those who seek God with a whole heart the cry of “Free at last!” is music to the ears, but for the hard of heart it is nails on a chalkboard.  For a person in the latter category there is a call for repentance to open up ones heart.  To do so would be a conversion.  This is not the same as coercion, but I will get back to that.

            One such conversion is documented on Simon Peter.  He was a Jewish man by birth in the first century.  He spoke Aramaic at home, Greek in the market and Hebrew in the synagogue (when he was not banned).  Greek or Latin were languages of conquerors to his people.  He had grown up praying for a hero to fight might with might and drive “those people” out. 

            But then God gets Peter’s attention to address that.  First, He tells a gentile centurion who learned to worship the God of Israel and showed kindness to the poor to send for Peter.  Then with that part in motion, He warms up Peter’s heart muscle to go beyond his xenophobia (fear of the Other).

Acts 10:9  “About noon the next day, as they [Roman soldiers] were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 Then he heard a voice saying, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 14 But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.’ 15 The voice said to him again, a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 16 This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.”

            God pulled a Mr. Miyagi on Peter.  For those of you who have not seen the Karate Kid, the movie has a karate tutor teach karate first by telling the kid to sand the floor, paint the fence and “wax on, wax off”.  These tasks were menial, humbling, beneath him. But the lesson was in the labor waiting to be revealed.  God talks to us in ways where we understand slowly by perking up our ears and often it is stretching us beyond how we think things ought to be.   

            Also we should note that three times is more than a charm for Peter; it is a matter of grace.  Peter denied Jesus three times, Jesus forgave him using the question, “Do you love me?” three times.  At this point, Peter may have had at least a guess that he needed to go beyond the box of what he called unclean. Without forgiveness, he himself would be unclean.  

17” Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate. 18 They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there. 19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Look, three men are searching for you. 20 Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.’ 21 So Peter went down to the men and said, ‘I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?’ 22 They answered, ‘Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.’ 23 So Peter invited them in and gave them lodging.”

            With the Karate Kid, the manual labor was to train the kid for real combat but he did not know it at the time.  Likewise Peter opens up to real peace with a Jesus that wanted to break down every wall, because of the cross, and all about the way of forgiveness. 

            Peter starts walking out the lesson by taking them into the house he was staying in.  He cannot deny that this is the hand of God.  What is important to see is that Peter is not coerced but guided into this step. 

            This is why the real heart of unity and freedom comes through the good news of Jesus.  We have had laws on the books increasingly since Martin Luther King Jr, but legislation cannot change people’s hearts.  Laws only change behavior.  Jesus, when represented in humility and collaboration, will change the whole person. 

            I would like to tell you that Peter has a complete conversion on his prejudice, but that is not the case.  Despite the position he was put in, he fails to stand with his gentile brothers in a social situation later.  This is sad because, “Not to stand, is to stand” (Dietrich Boenhoffer). 

            But if we fail to walk in love and stand for those around us who are marginalized, we know we have a reference point to go back to. It is not in laws or social engineering but in that “God so loved the world…” and that He is calling us to cooperate in that broader way of living. 

            

More Precious Than Gold

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I remember a joke about gold when I was a kid.  Goofy but educational.  A guy is walking down the street when a criminal rips off his watch and runs.  The guy says, “AU! Give me back my watch!” AU is the periodic table symbol for gold.  I got this from the Facts of Life.  

That occurred to me in a roundabout way, when I wanting to write this blog today.  Why is gold so precious?  It is not a small thing to appraise something as more precious than gold. 

Gold is shiny. It is dense.  But particularly it does not absorb outside material.  No stain, no muss, no fuss. 

 When it comes to the things of this world that bring us down, how easily are we stained?  The worries of this life?  Ways to objectify people?  I remember the words of John Paul II were something like, “Love people, use things.  Do not use people and love things.”  There are a lot of dirty things that can cling to us if we do not have a fundamental lean to something that really grounds us in what matters. 

Such is on my mind with Simon Peter here. 

Acts 8:14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit 16 (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). 17 Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money! 21 You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and the chains of wickedness.” 24 Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may happen to me.”

There are two things at least we can get from this story.  First, Peter walked with something more precious than gold or silver: he had Jesus and kept Him in mind as his greatest treasure.  Based on some prior verses in Acts 8 we can guess that Simon the magician had bling since his magic show was popular.  

The next thing is “God’s gift” in this context.  Peter could not pretend to sell the gift of the Holy Spirit because it was not for sale.  Jesus defined the Holy Spirit as a gift to be received from your Father in heaven.  God is in the grace business, not in the profit-business. 

The rest of this interaction is profound and a bit complex.  Peter refers Simon the magician to God for forgiveness.  Maybe he knew Simon had been baptized as a believer or maybe no one had told him.  The bottom line is that Peter did not see him as having any “part or share” in the Church. 

This is important because of the response of Simon to Peter.  Simon is repentant perhaps further than Peter might have hoped for.  He asks for Peter to pray to God for the grace to not be cast out or be kept out of the Church. 

To see the full color of this, I should talk about the sacraments. When you are baptized there is a deep, indelible mark on you that saves or makes one whole (1 Peter 3:21).  You have received the good news of God’s love in Jesus.

The next sacrament that is important is confirmation.  Confirmation is for someone to be counted as a part of God’s orchestra called the Church and is infused with the Holy Spirit.  When the Holy Spirit came upon the 120, they were confirmed.  The Holy Spirit speaks to, and then from, our hearts Abba (Daddy), Father. It confirms a key perception by which we can walk in unity with the Head and the Body. 

What this reminds me of is a frequent saying of Dr. Scott Hahn that, “The good news keeps getting better.”  Simon recognizes where he was falling short and had a good idea about this new kingdom on how to fix it. 

Simon could have gone to any Christian, maybe Phillip the deacon and evangelist for this prayer.  But he responds straight to Peter.  There is a common misnomer in our culture of “Jesus and me”.  But Simon asks Peter instead because Peter was priest as well as an apostle.  Priests administer the sacrament of confession (John 20:22-23, James 5:15-17). In some way Simon recognized that as a newly baptized believer.  

If Simon perceived the Jesus and His Church as just another gig, he would have walked away.  But I believe that by some understanding of the witness of holy living in Peter and the power of Christ’s sacraments that he saw something more.  Simon was working in the wrong currency.  The first pebble he wanted was to be made whole. Since there is not a further comment from Peter I can assume that he showed God’s mercy.  

So in this journey of conversion, if we choose it, what are we wanting for this life that matters and how much do we want it?  Baptism saves us.  Confirmation joins us.  Confession renews us.  God wants us to have it all in at least some way.  Do we?  

Centered on the Head, Centered on The Body.

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The phrase, “I am spiritual but not religious”, is a common phrase spoken in our culture.  But do these terms have to be either/or?  Can they be both/and?  If so, must they be both/and?

2013 was quite a spiritually earth shaking year with the election of Pope Francis.  The Catholic Church had been very vilified for the abuse scandals of recent decades.  For me Pope Francis was interesting because I had already begun my discernment journey toward the Catholic Church the prior winter but saw myself as one fulfilling my evangelical style and not ending it by becoming a Catholic. 

So here comes Francis.  Washing the feet of women, asking the crowd to pray for him the night he is elected, saying, “Who am I to judge?” regarding those in the Vatican that struggle with homosexual desires.  Even many of the most cynical critics of the Catholic Church took notice of this change in expression of the Catholic Church.  What stands out is a renewed credibility of being true to the gospel in being effective yet humble. But he was not the first pope to be like this.  

Acts 9:32 “Now as Peter went here and there among all the believers, he came down also to the saints living in Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden for eight years, for he was paralyzed. 34 Peter said to him, ‘Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed!’ And immediately he got up. 35 And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.”

Just this paragraph alone shows us a lot.

Jesus Christ heals you

Several years have passed for Peter since the last chapter on Peter that I focused on.  The last time he was a part of a narrated miracle he proclaimed a miracle with more wording.  Not that there is anything wrong with how he did it before, but here we see Peter being intentionally more simple because he was consumed with the centrality of Jesus.  It had to come out in his style. 

turned to the Lord.

If I were still a Protestant, I would want to write it that way so there is no appearance of worshipping Peter.  But Luke the writer of Acts saw no conflict. Peter was a Christian with no more value in God’s eyes than the average Christian.  But he was also a sacramental sign of Christ the High Priest.  As an apostle and as the first pope, he is seen as a representative of the Church.  But that Church is designed to be an extension of Jesus’ nature. Peter needed to lead with that emphasis.  

But the humility component is also an emphasis in Peter’s style. 

Acts 9:40 “Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42 This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.”

Peter put all of them outside

This is important because he had a relationship with the audience this time so that he could structure the situation and not let it become a show.  Peter wants the emphasis to be on Jesus every chance he gets.  So should anyone who follows Jesus.  Also the people he puts out are already believers and the scriptures teach us that the miracles are for people to believe. 

This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.

At first glance, I want to say that it is the same result as the first miracle of this chapter, but it is not, actually it is better. 

I believe in two plus two.  I believe in the Grand Canyon.  That does not mean I am deeply inspired to a radical life change by those beliefs.  In the Greek, to “believe in” is better translated as to “believe into”.  I am in this room, I exit into this other room. 

Let’s take that term into a deeper level that is not just Greek but in the context of how it is used in Acts.  It is used in the context of baptism. In the early years of the Church, as it is now, it is customary for the sacrament of baptism to be accompanied by being confirmed as a member of the Church.  But to be confirmed is a religious experience.  We are not supposed to want to be religious, right? I mean that would be a matter of bondage to arbitrary rules that hides us from “freedom”, of course. 

I Timothy 3:15 “if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.”

If you have read this blog enough, you know I have a bias about being Catholic.  But don’t let that cloud your view where it comes to seeing Jesus in the lives of sinful people.  Be spiritual? Yes.  But if you want to call yourself a current Christ-follower, the precedent is that you would be an involved church-joiner as well.  Good pope, bad pope (and there have been several).  Good pastor, bad pastor.  And if the leadership is not living up to Christ’s standard, then pray for them as you hopefully pray for yourself.  We are all in this walk of faith together.