Acts 10:1-17, 34-48
I present to you an exhaustive list of the personal, cultural, and societal characteristics that exclude someone from the love of God and prevent full inclusion in Christian community.
In case you couldn’t hear me, what I said was nothing. Nothing excludes someone from God’s love or from membership or even leadership within the body of Christ. Nothing. God shows no partiality.
And I can hear you: “but Megan, what about…” No. Not even that. Nothing prevents anyone from fully joining Christian community. In fact, the only thing that might exclude someone from full participation in Christian faith could be the belief that there are those who do not deserve full participation in Christian faith. Being a disciple of Christ means living in radical, culture-busting inclusivity. The gospel of Jesus Christ is for all, without exceptions, without exclusions, without explanations.
Rev. Eston Williams, a pastor in the United Methodist Church, has been widely quoted as saying, “At the end of the day, I’d rather be excluded for who I include than included for who I exclude.” His congregation risked removal from their denomination because of their position of radical inclusion of all into the full life of the church. He and other pastors like him do not prove unfaithful to scripture, nor are they doing something outside of Christian tradition. Their constant move to include still more people into God’s family, and to include them exactly as they are without insisting they change, is Biblically sound and in keeping with the long history of the church. As we hear in the story today about Peter and Cornelius, this is part of God’s continuing action to ensure all are welcome into the life of the church.
To better understand what exactly is at stake with Peter and Cornelius and this weird vision of animals and a bedsheet, you have to understand the legal parameters of Peter’s faith. Peter, like all the rest of the disciples and most of those who believed in Jesus at this point, like Jesus himself, they all followed a very strict series of laws that dictated the boundaries of faith, life, behavior, and community. What you ate, who you socialized with, how you prayed – all these things were determined by laws given by God to the community thousands of years ago. These aren’t just silly guidelines or health codes. These set God’s people apart and make them holy as God is holy. They keep the faithful distinct and obedient to God as the only God of their lives. Ancestors in faith have chosen death over disobedience. These laws are the shape of faith in God.
When Peter has this vision of God presenting all animals as clean and able to be eaten, Peter thinks it’s a trick. Peter knows that he can’t eat pork, or fish that don’t have scales, or animals with cloven hooves. He’s so sure of it that Peter keeps refusing to obey God. God has to reassure Peter: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”
To drive this point home, Peter meets Cornelius. Cornelius is, as we hear, “a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God”. This sounds like he must have been of the same religious tradition as Peter, but no. Cornelius is culturally different from Peter. While Cornelius recognizes the oneness of the true God, he doesn’t follow the same religious laws as Peter. Cornelius cannot be accepted into full participation in the church.
But God told Peter: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” Peter puts the pieces together and declares: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality… [Jesus] commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Nothing, not one thing, stands in the way of full inclusion.
To drive the point home, everyone who hears Peter speak receives the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t matter if they were those who followed the rules or not, those who had been part of an elite community or not, those who spoke one language or another, who belonged to one culture or another – none of it mattered. God chooses to come to all people. Jesus Christ has saved all people. The Holy Spirit comes upon all people. God shows no partiality.
Jesus is the only thing that defines a Christian community. God will even eliminate God’s own rules if it means we use them to keep people away from the good news. Our obedience to God means we must listen for what God is doing now and what God has done before. Just as God did a new thing when God opened faith to all people, regardless of religious practice, so too will God continue to do new things among us today.
When we financially support the good work of global mission at Augustana, we’re not doing it to make other churches look like ours. We’re not doing it because we as Americans or Lutherans or Minnesotans or Augustana members do it the right way and want to make sure we export our singularly perfect knowledge of God to others. No. We do it because we know that the body of Christ is not complete without the fullness of God’s good creation.
We commit ourselves to full partnership in the gospel, confident that God shows no partiality, astounded at the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on those like us, those unlike us, and those we could never imagine. Together, we support Global Mission so that the good news of Jesus Christ will know no boundaries. We act in humility, trusting that the work of God will look different to different people in different parts of the world but that it is still God’s work, and it is good indeed. We look to our living savior, who shows love and grants grace to all people, all people, and we rejoice that we get to join him in that good work. Thanks be to God. Amen.
 Quoted, for instance, at: https://www.cedarcreeklake.com/lake-life–Aley-United-Methodist-Church-embraces-samesex-marriages/3712. Accessed 2 May 2019.