Revelation 21: 1-6 Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III
Acts 11: 1-18 April 24, 2016
But a second time the voice answered from heaven, “What God has made clean, you must call profane.”
Prayer: Holy God, please make each of us new today… again… that we may not only give you praise, but also have the courage to live out your vision for humanity. Amen.
Over the last hundred years or so, there have been several boundary busting innovations and technologies invented. These inventions changed things so dramatically that there really is no going back. The automobile was a boundary buster—no more horse and buggies, unless you were Amish. Electricity… first DC then AC—a boundary buster— no more need to illumine your house with candles or heat it with fireplaces. The digital age brought on huge boundary busters—the computer, for example. No more typewriters. Smith-Corona is no longer a company. The digital camera—no more film needed. Kodak and Blockbuster Videos are no longer a company. The Internet—OMG! Newspapers and magazines are scrambling to re-invent themselves as the hard copy for the newspaper is slowly but surely going away. Now we have the Cloud—no more hard drives needed. Drones are making deliveries of packages. No more delivery trucks.
What’s next? Technology is improving the 3-D printer. All kinds of objects can be made. Soon we won’t need to go to the store to buy our things. Just print ’em. Food replication is being explored with such printers. Can you imagine no more hunger? That would be a huge boundary buster!
Here’s the connection: about two thousand years ago, the apostle Peter was right in the heart of huge theological boundary busters! First, he has this vision of a large sheet coming down from heaven filled with animals that were deemed unclean by Moses’ laws. But, the voice in the vision tells Peter to kill and eat any of those animals. He refuses and protests saying that he’s always followed the dietary restrictions of the law. But, the voice prevails declaring that what was once thought of as unclean, God now considers clean, and presumably, edible. This happens three times. So, Jewish dietary laws and restrictions are busted open.
But this vision is much more a metaphor to a deeper, broader boundary buster—it represents an inclusive theology—a theology that says ALL people are declared clean by God. This theology says that the Gentiles, who are all the non-Jewish folk, are no longer “outsiders” but are instead full-fledged members of the emerging Christian movement. Now, that is a huge boundary busted wide open!
The three men that came to Peter from Caesarea are the case in point. They came from the Italian centurion Cornelius, who was a Roman Gentile. When you read Acts 10, you’ll see that the Holy Spirit fell on everyone in Cornelius’ household. It was the “Gentile Pentecost” experience. So Peter, in retelling the story, is defending the breaking down of the barriers between the Jews and Gentiles. He is explaining that he had every reason to eat with Gentiles—because if God’s Holy Spirit fell on them like it did on Peter and his fellow Jews at Pentecost, how can he hinder God’s divine blessing on the Gentiles? He can’t. This is God’s new vision for humanity.
But as always, when such boundaries are broken open, they don’t come without pain and struggle. The horse and buggy makers were really getting good perfecting their trade when the automobile came along. Naturally, they got upset. No one was buying their horse and buggies anymore, except maybe the Amish. Their livelihood was tanking.
When God’s salvation is offered to EVERYONE, well, this is going to hurt a little. Changes are difficult to make at times, aren’t they? Why do you think Peter was dealing with the criticism for eating with the Gentiles? Because accepting the Gentiles was difficult. Undoing centuries of exclusive practices in favor of living with God’s openness to everyone is challenging, to say the least. But, it’s God’s vision for humanity.
Likewise, I think we’re pushed to expand our current boundaries because of God’s divine vision for humanity. Are we willing to embrace the possibility that God is calling all people who follow Christ to an inclusive faith? Are we willing to give up our sometimes narrow viewpoints in favor of adopting wider ones more akin to God’s vision for humanity?
The debacle of the lead-tainted water crisis in Flint, Michigan was once again in the news this past week. Three of the city’s officials had charges filed against them for not fulfilling their duty to the public. But, that’s not what caught my eye so much. What I spotted was a story about
undocumented immigrants being denied bottled water in Flint, Michigan at water distribution centers. Worse, some of these immigrants were arrested for not having the proper documents, such as driver’s licenses.
But, Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church became a water distribution center out of necessity, since so many of its congregants are undocumented immigrants. People from all over the country are delivering bottled water to the church. One such person was a six year old boy from a Catholic Church in Chicago. He wanted to help, and his pastor told him, “Think about it.” The lad thought about it, and convinced his parents to bring 88 cases of water from the Windy City. “It’s amazing to think a 6-year-old boy could think like that,” one of the workers at the church said (http://americamagazine.org/issue/undocumented-residents-face-extra-threats-flint-water-crisis, retrieved April 22, 2016).
Can we be a boundary buster kind of like that 6 year old? We can, but honestly, won’t we be challenged to give up our biases about undocumented immigrants? Won’t we need to give up any self-righteous judgments about people who think and live differently than we do? Who live with different circumstances that we live with?
Perhaps the biggest take away about being a boundary buster is that God loves diversity. Nothing created by God’s energy and spirit of life is unclean in God’s sight. Not the earth and all its majesty. Not the animals created within theearth. Not the people on the earth.
Are we called to love the same diversity? Called to be open to the varieties of ways of life? Called to greet multiplicity of people and life with hospitality?
Can we role-model COEXIST-ence, where people co-exist? Can we be a place right here in E-town where the vision described in Revelation is for real? Where all things are made new? Where the thirsty are given the water of life as a gift? Where God’s salvation in Christ is offered to everyone, no matter what? I believe we can. God’s salvation is for everyone!
Last weekend, I had the privilege of attending a wedding reception, and I was to offer the Invocation and Grace before dinner. But, before I was to pray, the toasts to the bride and groom were to take place. The Maid of Honor toasted the bride, and we all took a sip of champagne. The Best Man was next, and he said a few words, but then he invited each of the groomsmen to say a few words, too, which was fine. But, the last groomsman, already having had plenty of drink in him, got the microphone, and shouted two unrepeatable sentences that were filled with vulgar, obnoxious profanity. And I was next.
After being introduced by the DJ, I got the mic, congratulated the Bride and Groom, and I said, “I get to follow THAT?” gesturing in the groomsman’s general direction. The people all started to laugh. As they were chuckling, I said, “Thank God… Thank God, that God still loves ALL of us.” And, I went on and offered the prayer.
God’s salvation in Christ is a boundary buster because it is offered to ALL of us, to all people no matter what. Even you, O vulgar groomsman. Even you, O Flint, Michigan city officials. Even you who would turnaway the thirsty. Even you, O offensive politicians on the campaign trail. Even you, O war-mongering dictators and oppressive regimes. Even you, O fallible people of God. Even me. There’s really no going back from such an amazing love. Thanks be to God! Amen.