Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Acts Passage – When to refrain from judgment calls

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?” (Acts 11:1 – 3)

While some things may be very different today than from the early Christian church, here is a constant. Often, too often, when you reach out to someone who is not part of the mainline belief group, someone is bound to criticize you. It happened to Jesus, and it happened to his disciples. And it happens up to and including today – in fact, it is very much an issue in our modern times. The “them” and “us” division is strong and very critical in the church, and in all the denominations.

“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.” (Verses 4 – 10)

For those of us grounded in a grocery store/prepared/pre-packaged mentality, this must have seem very strange. But I believe if one just sets substitutes the idea of endless rows of foreign food, the point of the vision will become clear. The other thing to remember is the immediacy of this vision ending and the household where Peter was having the visitors come to it.

“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?” (Verses 11 – 17)

What does a Christian believer look like, beloved reader? What is the psychological make up of a authentic Christian believer? What mode of dress should they be wearing? What should their customs be? What language should they speak? What job skills should they have?

Some of the judgment calls we make about people are based on what Jesus the Christ exemplified to us – caring, compassion and the whole list of the fruits of the Spirit. But some judgment calls come from our own human background and personal experience. We see uncleanliness where the Divine sees inspired diversity.

“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.” (Verse 18)

In my work life I have worked with many diverse populations. I have tried not to make judgment calls, but . . . . you know, like is drawn to like. In my faith life I make no judgment calls; everyone I meet is a child of God and worthy of the relationship that the Divine has extended to me. The task, beloved reader, is to make the way we relate to the rest of humanity confirm to the way the Divine relates to us. And if, beloved reader, you truly believe you can judge people by outer appearances and your own standards, then I gently suggest you re-think the way you perceive the Divine relating to you! Selah!

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