Sunday April 23, 2023 – Peters Vision
Christ is alive, and comes to bring good news to this and every age,
till earth and sky and ocean ring with joy, with justice, love and praise.
© Hope Publishing Company used by permission OneLicense #A723256
Acknowledging the Territory
Once again, we acknowledge that the land upon which we live, work and worship is the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. We offer our deep gratitude for this land and we commit ourselves to use and share it wisely.
Lighting the Christ Candle
In the light of this Candle, we see reflected the light of Christ. And as it shines for us, it reminds us that we too must shine with the light of Christ wherever we go.
Call to Worship
Here in this place, there are no foreigners, for all are welcome in God’s house.
Here in this place, there are no strangers, for all are known to God.
Here in this place, there are no enemies, for all are loved by God.
Here in this place, all are welcome, all are accepted and all are loved.
And so, here in this place, we gather to worship God.
Divine Mystery, some of us are here out of habit because this is just what we do on a Sunday morning. Some of us are here out of curiosity hoping to learn something new. Some of us are here out of desperation, terrified by what we see happing in the world around us and seeking to find comfort and reassurance. Some of us are here out of gratitude, wanting to recognize and acknowledge the blessings in our lives. Some of us are here for a combination of reasons, and some of us may not even be sure exactly why we are here. But we are here, and you welcome each one of us fully, including us without restriction. And so, as we gather here, unite us with you and with one another in your loving embrace. Amen.
Gift of Music In Christ There Is No East or West #606
This morning we move from the Gospel According to Matthew, which we have been looking at since Advent, and begin to explore the Acts of the Apostles. We begin with Peter, with a vision and a call that confirmed for Peter the inclusive nature of God’s love.
Acts 10:1-18, 34-48 New International Version
A man named Cornelius lived in Caesarea. He was a Roman commander in the Italian Regiment. Cornelius and all his family were faithful and worshiped God. He gave freely to people who were in need. He prayed to God regularly. One day about three o’clock in the afternoon he had a vision. He saw clearly an angel of God. The angel came to him and said, “Cornelius!”
Cornelius was afraid. He stared at the angel. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.
The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to poor people are like an offering to God. So [God] has remembered you. Now send men to Joppa. Have them bring back a man named Simon. He is also called Peter. He is staying with another Simon, a man who works with leather. His house is by the sea.”
The angel who spoke to him left. Then Cornelius called two of his servants. He also called a godly soldier who was one of his attendants. He told them everything that had happened. Then he sent them to Joppa.
It was about noon the next day. The men were on their journey and were approaching the city. Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry. He wanted something to eat. While the meal was being prepared, Peter had a vision. He saw heaven open up. There he saw something that looked like a large sheet. It was being let down to earth by its four corners. It had all kinds of four-footed animals in it. It also had reptiles and birds in it. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
“No, Lord! I will not!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything that is not pure and ‘clean.’ ”
The voice spoke to him a second time. It said, “Do not say anything is not pure that God has made ‘clean.’ ”
This happened three times. Right away the sheet was taken back up to heaven.
Peter was wondering what the vision meant. At that very moment the men sent by Cornelius found Simon’s house. They stopped at the gate and called out. They asked if Simon Peter was staying there.
Then Peter began to speak. “I now realize how true it is that God treats everyone the same,” he said. “He accepts people from every nation. He accepts anyone who has respect for him and does what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel. It is the good news of peace through Jesus Christ. He is Lord of all. You know what has happened all through the area of Judea. It started in Galilee after John preached about baptism. You know how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Jesus went around doing good. He healed all who were under the devil’s power. God was with him.
“We are witnesses of everything he did in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by nailing him to a cross. But on the third day God raised him from the dead. God allowed Jesus to be seen. But he wasn’t seen by all the people. He was seen only by us. We are witnesses whom God had already chosen. We ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people. He told us to tell people that he is the one appointed by God to judge the living and the dead. All the prophets tell about him. They say that all who believe in him have their sins forgiven through his name.”
While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. Some Jewish believers had come with Peter. They were amazed because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. They heard them speaking in languages they had not known before. They also heard them praising God.
Then Peter said, “Surely no one can keep these people from being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
Favorite Hymn Request How Great Thou Art #238
Facing the Truth About Equality
We often tend to thing about the Acts of the Apostles as the story of Paul, and that is true for much of this book. But it begins, not with Paul, but with Peter. It recounts how Jesus is taken up to heaven, how the followers decide to find someone to replace Judas as part of the inner circle of twelve, and it tells of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
It goes on to talk about life among the early followers and it becomes clear throughout these early stories that it is Peter who emerges as the clear spokesperson and leader of the group. We hear the story of the stoning of Stephen, the first recognized Christian martyr, an execution overseen by Saul. And we hear about Phillip preaching the good news to an Ethiopian. All of this before we hear about the conversion of Saul.
And so today we look not at Paul, but at Peter, and a vision that is given to him early on in his time as leader of what would become the Christian Church. It is also a story that has had a lasting effect on that church.
Peter is on the roof of a house praying and waiting for food to be prepared for a meal. As he waits, Peter has a vision. He sees a great sheet being lowered down from heaven containing animals, birds, and reptiles of every kind. A voice says,
Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” Peter is appalled. Not only are many of the animals unclean according to Jewish law, Peter is being instructed to kill them himself with no consideration of the laws around how animals are to be slaughtered in order to ensure the meat is considered Kocher.
When Peter protests, insisting that he would never eat anything that was not pure and clean, the voice responds, “Do not say anything is not pure that God has made ‘clean.’”. We are told this message is repeated several times before the sheet disappeared and the vision ended.
At that very moment a group of men arrive at the house looking for Peter and Peter learns, as we already learned at the beginning of this scripture, that they have been sent by a man named Cornelius, a Roman Centurion from Caesarea, who has had a vision of his own.
There are two very important things about Cornelius’s vision. First, this vision occurs while Cornelius is praying to God. Although he is a Roman Centurion, we are told that he and his entire family, are faithful worshipers of God. Prayer and almsgiving are both important parts of Jewish worship and we are told that Cornelius is very regular in his prayers and very generous in his almsgiving.
The second important thing to note is in the words with which Cornelius’s vision begins. An angel tells Cornelius “Your prayers and gifts to poor people are like an offering to God.” As a Gentile and a Roman Centurion, Cornelius would probably not have made offerings in the temple in Jerusalem, which was where offerings were traditionally made. To be told that his prayers and almsgiving were an offering to God was a recognition that his devotion was pleasing and acceptable to God. After arriving in Caesarea and hearing Cornelius’s story that Peter responds with these words. “I now realize how true it is that God treats everyone the same …people from every nation… anyone who has respect for him and does what is right.”
Peter’s vision was not about food. Peter’s vision used food to make a much broader point. The dietary restrictions laid out in the laws of Leviticus, regardless of what their original intent may have been in the time of Moses, had become a cultural identity for the Jewish people. Although the surrounding cultures may have seen them as restrictions, for many of the Jewish people, and clearly for Peter, they were a point of pride, something that separated them from others and marked them as God’s Chosen People.
Even today, food is often a way in which we divide people into groups. Only the wealthy can afford certain types of food and so those foods become more desirable and exclusive. Some ethnic foods elicit less than positive responses from many people, and things that may be considered indulgences in some countries are seen as disgusting in others.
When I asked our Bible Study group what things they would absolutely NOT eat, insects as the most common response, although that green stuff inside the lobster seemed to come in a close second! When I asked why they wouldn’t eat insects it was “because they’re insects” or “because they’re gross”. Yet, in many countries, insects are a staple of the diet and some particular insects are considered delicacies.
The problem is not with what we eat or what we refuse to eat. The problem is with how we judge those who eat differently form the way we eat. We may look down on those who eat only prepackaged foods or what we consider junk food. We may see those who eat insects as primitive or uncultured. And we may even complain silently or out loud about the smell of some ethnic foods.
It is these divisions, conscious or unconscious, that Peter was expressing when he responded, “I have never eaten anything that is not pure and ‘clean.’ ”. It is his prejudice against anyone who would eat such things that become clear in how he responds. And it is this prejudice, not his dietary choices, to which God responds, “Do not say anything is not pure that God has made ‘clean.’ ”.
The amazing thing is that Peter gets it. It may require a few repetitions, but in the end, Peter understands. When the group of men from Caesarea beg him to accompany them home, he not only goes to Caesarea but he goes straight into Cornelius’s house, even though it was against Jewish law for a Jew to enter a Gentile home.
And after hearing Cornelius’s story he responds, “I now realize how true it is that God treats everyone the same.” “[God] accepts people from every nation. [God] accepts anyone who has respect for [God]and does what is right.”
Our scripture then tells us that the Holy Spirit came on all those gathered there, which included not only Cornelius and his family but a large group who had gathered there to meet Peter. Peter responded by baptizing them in Christ’s name. This, along with the baptism of the Ethiopian official by Philip, were the first recorded baptisms of Gentiles.
But it is much more than that. Until that time, in order to be accepted into the followers of Christ, a convert had to first become a Jew by circumcision. Now, there were no longer such restrictions. For the first time, everyone was truly welcome to worship God and follow Christ without limits.
“I now realize how true it is that God treats everyone the same.” This proclamation by Peter is much more than an acceptance of non-Jews into the newly formed Christian community. It is a profound statement that we would all do well to explore more honestly in our own lives.
Do we truly believe that God does treat everyone the same? And perhaps more importantly for us, do we truly treat all people the same? Are there still prejudices in our own lives, conscious or unconscious, that we need to face up to? Are there barriers, physical, phycological or social that we need to break down so that everyone can be treated the same?
Peter didn’t just say that everyone should be treated the same. He set aside his own prejudices and did the very things that made him uncomfortable, the very things that demonstrated his commitment to live the equality he saw in Jesus and that was affirmed for him in his vision.
For me, this is the challenge of today’s scripture. This is the challenge in my own life, to set aside my prejudices and pre-conceived ideas and learn to truly accept all people as beloved Children of God. It is a challenge that I know I will spend the rest of my life working on. Amen.
Gift of Music We Meet You, O Christ #183
We Offer Our Gifts
As we gather here in worship today, we offer what gifts we have for the work of our church and for the work of the Spirit everywhere. And so, as we sing our offertory response, we bring forward the gift of our offerings.
Offertory Response VU#549
For all your goodness, God, we give you thanks.
And so, we offer you, all that we have and do,
to serve and honour you and give you thanks.
© Daryl Nixon 1987. All rights reserved. Used with permission OneLicense #A7323756
We Offer Our Prayers
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
Your compassion, Divine One, reaches out to us and touches our hearts compels us to reach out to others. And so, we come before you in prayer, seeking your comfort, your guidance and you direction as we struggle to set aside all that holds us back from being the people you have called us to be.
We pray for all those around the world, crying out for food, for clean water, and for safe and comfortable homes. Open our hearts to them. Grant your blessing on all those who work to end inequality and show us how you would have us respond…
We see the desolate eyes of refugees, plodding along war devastated roads, or looking out from behind the barbed wire of transit camps, searching for some glimmers of hope. Open our hearts to them. Grant your blessing on all those who work to find safe and welcoming homes for the displaced, and show us how you would have us respond…
We hear the stories of those who are vulnerable, abused and frightened, cringing at reports of family violence, of murdered and missing indigenous women, of children and teens exploited by sexual predators, of all those bullied, humiliated and verbally abused, and afraid to stand up for themselves. Open our hearts to them. Grant your blessing on all those who work to create safe homes, communities, schools and work places, and show us how you would have us respond…
We hear the tears of the broken hearted, those betrayed by spouse or lover, those deserted or cut off from family or friends, those keeping vigil at the death bed of a loved one or following a hearse to the cemetery. Open our hearts to them. Grant your blessing on all those who offer comfort and care to those who are suffering, and show us how you would have us respond…
We see the pain on the faces of those whose physical, mental or emotional health is precarious. Open our hearts to them. Grant your blessing on all those who care for and bring healing, and show us how you would have us respond…
We hear about disasters around the corner and around the world, devastating car crashes and other accidents, floods, droughts, fires, hurricanes and tornados and other eruptions of nature, and the effects of disease, wars and climate instability. Open our hearts to them. Grant your blessing on all those who work to prevent climate destruction, all those who work to protect and care for those effected by such events, and show us how you would have us respond…
We think about all those struggling with problems we will never know or understand, those fighting against loneliness and isolation, those filled with self-doubt, those weighed down with pressures that threaten to crush them. Open our hearts to them. Grant your blessing on all those who work to bring your love, your peace and your comfort where they are most needed, and show us how you would have us respond…
Divine One, as we call on you in prayer, call on us and show us how to be part of your answer. Amen.
Gift of Music Draw the Circle Wide MV#145
And so now we go out into a world that can, at times, seem very big and scary. But we need to remember that we are not alone. We are all connected. We all share the joys and the sorrows of this world and we have God’s promise that wherever we go, God will be with us, Christ’s example leads us and the Spirt walks beside and within us. So let us go with God.
Choral Blessing VU#169
Your name we bless, O Risen Lord, and sing today with one accord
The life laid down, the life restored: hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.
© 1958 renewal 1986 Hope Publishing Company All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission. OneLicense.net#A-723756