This story we heard from Acts today is a powerful one in many ways, but most especially, I think, in the way it shows growth and change. When we look at the life of Simon, now known as Peter, we see his continual transformation to become more and more whRead Now
This story we heard from Acts today is a powerful one in many ways, but most especially, I think, in the way it shows growth and change. When we look at the life of Simon, now known as Peter, we see his continual transformation to become more and more who God wants him to be.
Peter began his life in the Bible tellings as a fisherman, whom Jesus met as he was fishing with his brother Andrew. Jesus tells the pair that they will become fishers of humans, and they immediately drop their nets to follow him. In the Gospel of John though, Andrew is a follower of John the Baptist and he brings Simon to meet Jesus, but all the Gospels say that Simon was a fisherman, invited by Jesus to join him.
The first transformation of changing from a fisherman to a disciple was soon followed by a name change for Simon. Jesus says, in John’s Gospel, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas”. Cephas is Aramaic for “stone,” and the gospel writer adds that this means Peter when translated. This is why Peter is sometimes referred to as “the rock.” In the Gospel of Matthew, he again is called Peter the Rock after he identifies Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus tells him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
We also know that Peter was one of the disciples that struggled with both courage and fear.... He climbed out of the boat to walk on water... and
succeeded until he realized what he was doing. He was the one to call Jesus who he was. He told Jesus he would never betray him and then promptly denied knowing him as Jesus was being led to the cross. And after the resurrection, Peter is the one challenged again by Jesus with the “Do you love” me questions in John’s Gospel:
“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’
‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’
Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’
The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said,
‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep.’
And now we have the story from today where Peter’s heart and belief is again tested.
This being courageous and then remembering who he was plagued Peter for a long time, but in the end, courage won out!
In 64AD, Peter was put to death as a Christian Martyr by the Roman Emperor Nero. He served as the Rock, the pillar of the early Christian Church for 31 years after Jesus was killed, denying him no more as he brought many to the Christian faith.
What does all this tell us about Peter? As I sit with the story of his life, I see a man who, at the beginning of the accounts we have of him, thought he knew what he knew and that that was the truth. Up until he met with Jesus, I doubt he really questioned a lot. I imagine him to be a devout Jew, a scholar of what was right and wrong. He probably had all the 613 rules in Leviticus memorized and never ate shellfish or pork, never dressed in mixed fiber clothing, had no tattoos, never gossiped, shaved or cut his hair, never touched a weasel or rat or lizard, never lied or reaped the fields to the edges, never swore on God’s name, never kept a grudge, never mistreated foreigners, and never sold land, to name just a few.
And yet, when Peter goes up to the roof to pray, he has a vision that repeats itself not just once, but three times. A blanket filled with forbidden food is lowered and the voice of God speaks to him saying, “Get up Peter. Eat.” Peter reminds God that he is a good, devout Jew who follows the rules and has never eaten anything he should not have.... Nothing profane
or unclean. But the same thing happens again and again, until the voice says, “God has made this clean. You cannot make it profane. Eat it!”
Then these three visitors show up at the house Peter is staying in and tell him Cornelius was looking for him. And Peter realizes that he is not to call any person profane or unclean either, and to accept all as worthy of hearing the word of God. He has been transformed to a person who is inclusive and welcomes everyone.
And what a gift this is for us too.... To know that our journey is full of transformations and we never need to be so stuck in a belief that we cannot change when we listen to God’s call on our lives, when we open ourselves to visions and dreams and allow them to show us new ways of being that are more in line with Love, more in line with grace, more in line with seeing the interconnected nature of us all.
For in Christ there is no East or West, In him no south or north. But one great fellowship of love, throughout the whole wide world.
When we remember this, we can become a little squirmy though as there are many people we probably don’t really want to be related to. Depending on our individual tastes, we would rather get to choose who our relatives are.... And we are challenged to ever expand that view until we see how we are related to all.... Yes, everyone.
World Communion Sunday brings this to the forefront of our minds when we remember Christians around the world celebrating this day with us, each taking communion in their communities remembering us here also taking communion.
Rev, Diana Haag wrote,
I love this day. It began last night - as we were going to bed—World Communion Sunday. Asian Christians shared the bread and the wine. Churches in China met in secret so that they would not be arrested. Christians in the Middle East and Fiji met under the watchful eye of the government as they celebrated the Eucharist. Just hours ago, in Europe, Christians gathered in churches that used to be much fuller and celebrated the Lord’s Supper. In Africa the sacrament was celebrated by a growing number of Christians, many of whom bare scars of persecution as they commune together.
Those celebrating today include Presbyterians, Methodists, Catholics, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Baptists, Congregationalists, thousands of other denominations, and even those without denominations. Some take the sacrament today with organ music, others with simple singing, and still others in quiet so as not to be arrested.
The bread is wildly varied in types and colors and from many places.
Some created primarily from wheat, others from rice or other kinds of grain.
Some will have bread left over. Some with very small pieces that could barely give every Christian there a morsel. Still - it represents the body of Christ broken and the sustained body of Christ around the world today. The juice around the world will be different. For some it will be wine, some will have juice, some will celebrate with water that had to be carried from a dirty well some miles away. Some will use individual cups, others fancy goblets, still others have been passing around whatever cup was in the home where they were meeting. Still - it represents the new covenant of Christ in their place and in their communities, just as it does in ours.”
And for each of us it is a time to remember not only our relatedness to Christ with the words, “Come, all of you, and remember. This is my body broken for you. Drink and remember.. this is the cup of the new covenant, given for you.” But also to remember our connectedness to one another. Both those we share this day with around the world, but those who do not know or believe Christ’s love for them yet. Those who have turned away from Christ because they have been hurt by Christianity or find it irrelevant to their lives, those who have never heard of Christ’s love for the world, those who follow God in a different way calling out Abba or Yahweh or Allah. No one is profane in God’s eyes.
We are related, and no one is profane or unclean!
Many of us are not quite there yet though. We still see some as profane. And I truly believe that it is only by being open, by praying to God, by listening to one another’s stories, by being open to having our minds changed that we can grow in seeing each person as one who is related to us.
In our area there is a new initiative, brought about by religious and community leaders who have recognized that we still have room for transformation in inclusiveness and is working to change this. It is called Safe Spaces, and it is asking people to invite someone for a conversation to get to know them better. The aim is for 5,000 conversations to be had in the next year. The plan is for individuals to invite someone to meet them for a safe space conversation and to talk about deep things that may challenge or stretch or enhance our understanding of one another. It requires vulnerability, curiosity, courage and deep listening. Some sample questions they offer are
● What brought you/your family to Central Minnesota (whether long ago or recently)?
● What keeps you in Central Minnesota?
● What fears do you have about the future? What concerns weigh on you?
● What are your hopes and dreams for the next generation?
● Describe a time you felt you really belonged and were cared for? ● Describe a time you felt isolated or alone?
● Describe what home means to you?
● What are your strongest values that guide your life?
The deep hope is that people will understand each other a little more and begin to build community at a deeper and more respectful level. That we will not look at the other as a stranger who we need to judge or be afraid of, but that we will see the ways we are connected and related to one another. And they realize it’s a hard ask, so suggest beginning the conversation with a friend or neighbor and then reaching out to someone you don’t know as well, and then someone you may have no reason to speak to in regular life but want to get to know.
We are all related. We are all in this world and this state and this community together. We have to find ways to connect, that go beyond a World Communion Sunday, that challenge us and call us to vulnerability and courage. Peter could have kept his view that Cornelius and his entourage were unclean and never invited them into his home. If he, and all those early followers of Christ had done that, we would not be Christians today. So we thank him for his courage and example, his willingness to be
transformed, his welcome and words that inspired and spread the Gospel around the world.
As we celebrate Holy Communion this morning, we do so with others around the world, who began yesterday and will continue through the day today. We celebrate that we are related. We celebrate that we love and follow a God who does not leave us to be comfortable in our little bubbles, but challenges us to change and grow as we deepen in our faith! Thanks be to God!