The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles…
EVEN on the Gentiles! Just imagine!
Most followers of Jesus today are gentiles and, we are no longer astounded to find all kinds of people who seem to have the gift of the Holy Spirit. But, for Peter and his friends it was revolutionary.
There is a story leading up to this morning’s reading.
The story is that Peter, who was one of Jesus’ first followers, had done his best to both follow Jesus and remain a respectable Jew. It must have seemed clear enough: Jewish Christians kept kosher, Gentile Christians did not. In other words, food was the dividing line. It determined who was in your group; who was in, and who was out.
But, as the story goes, Peter had a vision which caused him to question these boundaries.
In the vision, a sheet was lowered from the heavens and there were all kinds of non-kosher animals on the sheet, and a voice from Heaven told Peter to kill and eat what was on the sheet. Well, that was a boundary that Peter was not prepared to cross, and he said so. But, Peter was told not to make unclean those things which God had made clean. This happened three times, so you know it’s important. And then the vision ended.
Right after the vision ended the Spirit came to Peter and told him that some men were coming to visit him, and that he should not hesitate to go with them. Since they were Gentiles Peter might have hesitated, but the message is clear: Don’t hesitate, and don’t judge. Just go.
So, Peter invited the Gentile messengers in and, apparently inspired by his vision, he put out a meal for them, he made them his guests. That was a boundary crossed.
Then Peter went traveling with the Gentiles. That was another boundary crossed.
Finally, Peter met with Cornelius and his guests who were assembled to hear what the great apostle would say to them, and that is when Peter said, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right, regardless of what kind of food they eat…”
In this speech, Peter basically says that the boundaries are out. Food will no longer determine who is in and who is out. The thing that matters is whether or not you fear God and do what is right. And as Peter delivered that boundary-breaking speech the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles, just as it had on the Jews. It was the Gentile Pentecost!
And the Jewish Christians were astounded that even the Gentiles — the non-kosher Gentiles! — could receive the Holy Spirit.
Where there are no boundaries, the Holy Spirit flows.
Yet, we still have our boundaries regarding who is in and who is out. Food no longer defines the borders of our community life. Now it’s sexual orientation, gender identification, socio-economic status, body size, being married, lifestyle choices, even being a woman can get you on the other side of the boundary in some places.
When someone who is vastly different visits your parish, or your home, is it an occasion of joy or discomfort? Because that might provide some clues about where our boundaries are.
When the single lesbian comes to church do you imagine that she might be a new friend… or, is it something else?
What about the fat man? Do you assume that he is lazy, or that he is a child of God?
If you are in one of those hip parishes where everybody does Sun Salutations every morning and burns incense, what’s it like when a corporate-type walks in wearing wing-tips and looking tense. Does he get herbal tea, or does he get left out?
These are important questions…
Is the not-fully-transitioned trans-person a living icon of God’s power to transform us all… or, is it something else?
If you’re in one of those buttoned-down parishes where everyone dresses appropriately, what happens when one of your homeless neighbors walks in, or the cross-dressing teen from down the street?
I don’t know. It may be all good where you are. I hope it is. But I suspect we all have some boundaries we could cross, some places where the Holy Spirit might flow if we’d let her.
Pentecost will be here before you know it. Let’s get ready.
Where are your boundaries?
Go on across… It’s OK.
Linda McMillan “Lindy” lives in Shanghai, China
Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program. Unknown
Pentecost, probably 1170s, Tempera colors, gold leaf, silver leaf, and ink on parchment
Leaf: 28.2 x 18.9 cm (11 1/8 x 7 7/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. 64, fol. 117v