Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
This morning we are immersed into story! The Book of Acts is a collection of stories of those first disciples that began to preach and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ as they witnessed it and received it in their hearts. Story is what connects us to our ancestors and others of previous generations. Historians share with us the stories that they have pieced together from various resources and research.
Each and everyone of us has a story to share. I truly enjoy sitting down and getting to talk and listen to you so that I get to know your stories and what you are passionate about. All of our stories collectively connect to the broader story which is Trinity Lutheran Church.
It is possible at times to get so connected to our stories that we have a hard time letting go, or we simply take the story at its word and do not question it. Society and culture changes overtime and sometimes the old stories must shift or change as well. We have the ability to be overwhelmed with stories in our current time. Not only do we have stories spread by word of mouth, stories are also spread through print, television, social media online. If you would like, your life could be filled with a constant stream of stories. And at many times those stories conflict with one another.
It is the believers in the Acts lesson this morning that struggle with the story that they are hearing from Peter. Peter confirms what they have heard about eating with Cornelius and several Gentiles in Caesarea. It goes much farther than this, as they receive and accept the word of God. This story does not sit well with those believers in Jerusalem. They are connected with the story of their ancestors and the laws that were presented to them in Leviticus. Laws that they believe are not to be challenged or changed. It is with story that Peter explains his actions.
Peter has to be just as surprised as those that he is now explaining his story to in Jerusalem. For an Orthodox Jewish man to be receiving a vision of animals that are considered unclean and to be told to kill and eat would be shocking and almost like a nightmare. This happens in the typical Peter way, receiving the instructions of God three times and responding in the negative until he finally gets up and fully understands what God is telling him to do. “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”
Peter is not the first one to be confronted about eating with Gentiles and those that are not quite like the Jewish people. If you recall in Luke, “the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”” This fellow that they are speaking of is Jesus. If you ask me, this is pretty good company that Peter finds himself in.
This story can be seen as the pivot point for the rest of the book of Acts. It is here that the mission of the disciples changes course and the Good News of Jesus Christ becomes a good news that can be shared with all people.
Peter learned some things while breaking bread at the table of Cornelius and his family. He learned their story and where they came from and how God has had an impact upon their lives. This story of Peter sharing the good news beyond the Jewish believers is essential to our faith today. It is important, if not necessary, to engage with others that are different from ourselves. We are encouraged to do so as we worship together with our ecumenical partners. We are encouraged when we welcome all people into our loving community with open arms and a bright smile. Still the reality is that the ELCA is one of the least diversified denominations within the United States. How do we go about changing this? How do we reach out to those that are different from us?
It all starts with story. Peter shared his story of the visions from God to the believers in Jerusalem and they believed! We’ll look beyond the issue that he had to explain himself in the first place. The story that he shares is one of inclusion and love for the neighbor. Mirroring our gospel lesson this morning as Jesus instructs the disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” I do not hear Jesus saying to just love your Jewish brothers and sisters. He is calling for the disciples to love everyone.
Are we sharing our stories with one another? Are we sharing the stories with our spouses, children, parents or others of how we experience God in our lives? Are we sharing those stories of how God has changed our minds, guided our path, or opened new horizons for us? As we share these stories, others will begin to see God in ways that they may have never expected.
Let us pray, God, you come into our lives through story to shake up our complacency and comfort. You speak into our lives in ways that we could never imagine. May we be bold to share our stories with those that are in need of hope and love. May they experience you the way we do. AMEN