2022-05-15 Easter 5
Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
A billion years ago, when Regan my now wife and I were engaged and planning our wedding, there were many instances of compromise. Like any relationship, it’s 100% made up of give and take. She wanted nice little daisies for her flowers. I wanted orchids. … We had daisies. She wanted chicken and perogies for the dinner. I wanted prime rib. … We had chicken and perogies. She wanted a nice, quiet, down home wedding. I wanted a medieval wedding where the men would ride in on horse back, slaughter a wild boar with a spear and then cook it on a spit in the front yard over an open fire! … We had a nice quiet, down home wedding! See, marriage is made up of compromise! And, notice how it goes both ways. Equally. After I was robbed of my medieval wedding, I vowed that if I ever became a TV preacher with my own show, I’d call it “Arise, Peter, Kill and Eat Ministries!” It would be all about barbecue and bible study! A unbeatable combination, this that’s for sure!
“Rise, Peter, Kill and Eat!” We have a rather interesting reading from Acts today. We read the book of Acts throughout the Easter season in place of the Old Testament to remind us that God still is at work in the lives of His people. And today we have this very mysterious vision that the Apostle Peter sees. He is praying on the rooftop of a house in the city of Joppa, a nice little seaside port town that was the chief sea port of ancient Israel. It’s 12 O’Clock noon when this vision occurs. Peter says he was praying and he sees his vision while in a trance. ‘Trance’ isn’t really all that great a word to use here to describe what took place. ‘Trance’ for us usually brings up images of witches and seance and halloween. The real Greek word here is ekstasis from which we get our English word Ecstasy. But that’s not a great word for us either as it conjures up meanings of dangerous street drugs! Suffice it to say that Peter has a Divine, religious experience, caught somewhere between fear and wonderment. We could say that Peter’s mind and senses hop in the back seat as the Holy Spirit takes the lead. Prophets like Daniel would receive messages from God in this way. And that’s exactly what happens to Peter, he receives a Divine message from God.
It’s a weird scene to say the least. Something like a huge bed sheet being lowered down from heaven by the corners descends in front of him. And on it, there’s all kinds of creatures. Four footed animals and wild beasts to lizards to birds. And the message from God: ‘Kill and Eat’. Perhaps we could say ‘slaughter and eat’ or ‘sacrifice and eat.’ No matter how you slice it, it should be clear that this sheet was more of a divine ‘picnic blanket’ than anything! Immediately Peter recoils at the idea. “What?! Yuck! Gross!” you can almost hear him say. “We Jews don’t eat that stuff” Peter replies. For Jews, certain foods were unclean dating waaay back to the book of Leviticus. We’re familiar with the prohibition on pork, but there were scads of other things the Jews just wouldn’t eat because it said so in the Scriptures. But now, Peter is shown a bonanza of num-nums that are forbidden! Yet God in this vision tells him that the buffet is ready! Peter instantly blurts out “By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth’” (Acts 11:8) But the voice from Heaven answered again “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 11:9).
This is really a jarring experience for St. Peter to say the least. We don’t really have an equivalent for it in our society. It would be something totally radical like CNN supporting Trump or David Suzuki voting Conservative or a 4H Beef Show getting the meal catered by Kentucky Fried Chicken! Something totally off the wall and contrary to custom! It’s jarring for Peter because here in the New Testament, God upgrades the Old Testament laws. He updates them for a new mission. It’s a changing of the old guard. New paint and new carpet in an old house. God fulfills the law for us and our salvation.
But what’s a good little Jew to do? Peter knows God’s laws. He’s been following them keenly his whole life. But now, these animals that were once forbidden to eat are OK now. ‘Welcome to Big Pete’s Barbecue! We have a special on lizard pot pie!’ But the buffet isn’t really the point of this strange ecstatic vision. Rather, this is about opening the Christian faith to everyone, not just Jews. The Jewish people pretty much stuck to themselves. Other nations, the “goyim” as they were called, were unclean just like the ham hocks and pork chops. They were to be avoided at all costs. However, it’s tough to preach the Gospel to the pig-eating world if you won’t have anything to do with them. It’s hard to Baptize and teach ‘all nations’ when you won’t go anywhere near them! And this is the true meaning of Peter’s revelation from God. “Go. They’re not unclean. Preach the Good News. Christ is risen from the dead!”
And here we see the amazing nature of Christianity. There is no Jew, no Greek, slave or free, male or female. All the labels of the world are removed. Now we see in the scriptures that all people are on an equal playing field, made in the image of God. And, we are all sinners in need of salvation. God has provided just that in Christ Jesus our Savior. His precious blood was shed on the cross for everyone, no matter who they are, where they come from or where they’ve been. His arms are wide open on the cross, welcoming us and all people who will repent and believe the good news. The dividing walls that separated things have been torn down. The unclean has been made clean in Holy Baptism, that unifying sacrament and promise that God gives to all who would follow Him. Of course, this new found freedom of the Gospel that knows no boundaries didn’t sit well with everyone. There were still many Jews who didn’t think the promise of being God’s people by faith extended to the Gentiles. But thankfully, they were wrong!
There are many, many people all around us who don’t know this amazing news. And that number increases every day. Or, maybe they have heard it before but choose to ignore it, so be it. But that’s on them. God simply calls us to reach out and preach His unimaginable grace and promise of sins forgiven in Christ. There are people all around us who need this message. People who are hurting, people who feel like nobody loves them, people who have been marginalized or discriminated against, people who have been judged or attacked. This is a fertile ground for the Gospel and from these less than ideal situations, God can and does work His miracles time and time again. It is this awesome, life changing news that has set our own hearts to fear the Lord and to seek His will. It is His Baptism that has touched our lives and made the unclean clean by faith. His mighty arm has broken down the walls that separated us and even bashed down the gates of hell that threatened to separate us eternally. To all people, “he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household” (Acts 11:14). Our Lord, rich in grace and mercy, has done this and He will continue to do this now until life everlasting. Thanks and praise be to God! Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!