Rev. Katherine Todd
Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.
Do we have what it takes to follow God?
By all logical and reasonable assessments, the answer is no. We surely do not.
And yet God has a pesky habit of calling people to follow who don’t look like your usual suspects. Jesus called Peter – a rash, impulsive, unfiltered, uneducated…passionate, risk-taking, bold, courageous man. God called Paul – a legalistic Jew/Roman citizen who was passionately persecuting Christians.
God calls us.
God calls them.
God calls the them that we avoid and do not like…
And who are we to stand in the way of God!??
We hear this story of Peter as Peter’s explanation of to the Jews of Judea who are appalled to have gotten word that this leader in the faith has broken the Jewish rules and eaten with Gentiles. He has been called to account for his actions. And so he explains to them why he broke the rules.
He had been praying on the rooftop in Joppa – famished, as he waited for a meal to be prepared – when God sent a vision to him. It was a large sheet being lowered before him from heaven, with every kind of bird and beast. And there was a voice saying, “Peter, get up, kill, and eat.” But he replied, “No Lord, for I’ve never eaten anything profane or unclean,” for the spread of animals before him were those that Jews were forbidden from eating. But the voice then said, “What God has made clean, you must not call unclean.” This dialogue occurred three times before the sheet was pulled back to heaven, and immediately 3 men from Caesarea arrived asking for him. Though these were Gentile men, requesting his presence, the Spirit of God told Peter not to make a distinction between them & the Jews but to instead go with them.
So Peter, trying out his new Holy Spirit capacities, listens and obeys. He goes with the men. When he arrives, the head of the house explains that he had seen an angel standing in his house who told him to go to Joppa and get the man called Peter – that Peter had a message for them by which his entire household would be saved. And so he had sent his men to find Peter and bring him to them.
At this Peter begins to share the good news of the gospel, and even as he began to speak to them, the Holy Spirit fell on these Gentile people – in the same manner in which these Jews had also received the Holy Spirit. And so Peter reasons that if God is accepting these people into the faith, then who is he to stand in the way of God.
Our God is unfathomable to us. Our God is inconceivable. Even our best imaginings of God fall dramatically short, for we cannot perceive our God. Our God expands beyond our best understanding, our best knowledge, our greatest wisdom. Our God is not contained in our books, in our words, in our hearts, in our communities, in our churches.
Our God is out and about!
Our God is continually surprising.
Our God is continually astounding.
Just when we think we understand, we go deeper and find new caverns and worlds to explore of God’s goodness, God’s mercy, God’s unfailing love, God’s fierce justice, God’s heart for the lost…
This is why we need to take care that we follow God – FOLLOW, not lead.
Usually we wouldn’t presume to LEAD GOD, …but we often presume to lead others.
And this is a beautiful thing. Many, if not all, of us are called to lead in some way. We lead in our jobs. We lead in our families and homes. We take leadership among friends. And we take leadership in church. This is called showing up and getting our skin in the game. This is called investing in our communities and our community of faith.
But we must ever take care, that in every arena – home, work, church, friends – that we are FIRST followers.
IF God were predictable. IF God could be fully known and understood. IF God were somehow contained in scripture or our churches…then perhaps we might could lead without listening to the Spirit. Perhaps we could KNOW the way to go. Perhaps.
But indeed God is far greater than we can begin to imagine or perceive or ever rightly anticipate. THEREFORE, we are only right with God, insofar as we follow. Follow.
We are not called to know all things.
We are not called to understand all things.
We are not called to see the future.
We are called to follow the One who does.
We are called to follow the One who knows what is best.
We are called to follow the One who loves us with an unbreaking, never-giving-up love.
We are called to follow the only One who is worthy of our lives.
And what a sweet, sweet calling that is!
We get to be a part of what God is DOING, here and now!
We get to be part of the Spirit’s healing and saving work in our neighborhoods, in our friendships, in our families, in our homes, in our churches…
We are invited to join with the Maker of the Universe in making all things new!
And we are only powerful and effective, caring and well-cared-for, peace-making and peaceful, insofar as we are following.
Now God does not guarantee us wealth and prosperity in this world. God does not guarantee us happiness and success. The pathways can be fraught with calamities and injustices. But what we find in God is better than anything we could have bought or pursued, imagined or created for ourselves.
And so I ask you – are you getting in the way of God’s Spirit?
Are you fighting God?
Are you listening?
And are you following?
LIFE, abundant life, is what’s at stake. That quality of life that makes life worth living is what God is offering us here. And we open ourselves to this gift by following.
“I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly,” Jesus says.
Will we live life abundantly?
Will we follow?