Peter had a problem. All his life he had lived one way, with one set of rules. Up until this very moment Peter could always count on knowing what was right and what was wrong. Beef was good, pork was not. Folks from his tribe were good, others were not. If Peter had a problem he would flip through the Levitical laws and find a solution. He might not like what he found but he was sure he knew what God expected.
Then one night Peter had a vision, or to be more exact, a nightmare. A sheet was lifted down from heaven. On the sheet were all the foods that Peter knew he should never consume. There was pork, shell fish and other delicacies that had never made there way into Peter’s palate. He was repulsed by both the sight and smell. Then God sat down at the table with a rack of ribs in one hand and a napkin in the other to wipe off the sauce that was dripping off his chin. “Peter, pull up a chair. You won’t believe how good this is. Grab some of that barbeque over there and slap it on a bun. It comes from a place called North Carolina. You have not lived until you’ve tasted the sauce.”
Peter protested. “God, I can’t eat this stuff. I would be breaking the law. It is just not right.”
God grabbed a tooth pick and started to work on a strand of pulled pork that was lodged in his teeth. “Peter, one of these days you are going to have learn sometimes there is a difference between what is right and what is righteous.”
“But God, Your Word makes it quite clear that pork is not one of the recommended selections on the menu.”
“Peter, sometimes you are way too literal. Besides, this conversation is not about a ham sandwich, it is about a man named Cornelius.”
Peter’s handbook, The Torah, or what we now refer to as the Old Testament is an incredible collection of 39 books that lay out a complex understanding of each writers understanding of God. The Old Testament is filled with stories, poems and songs. It centers on the travels and travails of a particular group of people who had the audacity to refer to themselves as the children of God. What makes the Old Testament amazingly unique is each time we open those ancient pages we risk the possibility of being overwhelmed by a fresh, radical passion that brands our souls. Peter grew up understanding the Torah as a rule book. Somewhere he missed out on those writers who wrote about the God of the Wilderness, the God who marches through the waters of chaos, the God who preaches of mercy and grace, the God who places righteousness above everything else. Peter was about to have a panic attack because God was offering him a ham sandwich while the real crisis was downstairs. Cornelius was about to knock on Peter’s door.
Can you imagine what the neighbors were thinking? Cornelius was a Greek. There was nothing kosher about this guy. He was a goy, a foreigner, an outsider. The neighbors were pulling down the shades, locking the doors and calling Peter by cell phone to ask him if he knew what was headed his way. But it was too late. Peter had just tasted the imagination of his transcendent God and there was no going back. imagine what Peter thought as he took that first bite of ham? “This is different…….. this is good…… I’ll have seconds.
Of all the things that I don’t understand about the history of the church the toughest is we seem to have our biggest fights over who is invited to God’s party. In the beginning, only Jews could be Christians. Then we included Cornelius and his family. Paul traveled to Greece and Rome. The church moved all over Europe and then sent missionaries throughout the world. But there was always something odd about the early missionary movement. For centuries we sent missionaries to Africa and Asia but seldom invited black folks to church. If you weren’t white, you weren’t right. Then somewhere along the way God reminded us it was not about being right, it was about being righteous. It wasn’t about being a particular family, it was about becoming one diverse family, filled with all kind of flavors, filled with new and creative ways of celebrating God.
Do you remember the mess the auto company Ford was in a couple decades ago? The once proud auto producer was being blown out of the water by Honda and Toyota. The Ford executives, the same guys that had given us the Pinto and the Edsel, put their creative minds together and came to two observations. First, every one in the room thought alike. Second, this one way of thinking was sinking the company. So they went out and brought in a bunch of new folks to design their next car. Only these folks weren’t just engineers. Most of them were ordinary folks off the street. They had never designed a car. None of them drove a Ford, and they had no desire to begin driving one. Ford asked this group of teachers, soccer moms, policemen and farmers what they wanted in a car. They responded. Each time a prototype was built it had to be inspected by this original group. If something didn’t work, it was dropped. Finally the car was built and placed in the market. They called it the Taurus. I never owned one but I know it singlehandedly put Ford back on the map. Five years later Ford decided to build the Taurus II. A bunch of Ford engineers designed it. None of the original group was consulted. Anyone remember the Taurus II? Exactly!!!
Peter was one of the great saints of the church. But the Church was going no where without Cornelius and those other creative folks who had new ways of praising and understanding God. I contend what has allowed the church to survive for 2,000 years is not our sameness but our diversity. What a shame it would be if everyone in this church only listened to classical music, or for that matter folk. What a tragedy it would be we all read the same books, liked the same movies or had the same hobbies. Think how dull it would be if in November every one at Rockfish voted for Obama……. or Romney. Think how disastrous it would be if membership into this church required everyone think the same way. Our love of God’s incredible imagination and our respect for each other’s vision is the glue that holds us together.
Open your minds…..Open your hearts….to God’s banquet.