Homily for Easter 5, Year C, 2010
Sunday, May 2nd, 2010
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Acts 11:1-18
“Who was I that I could hinder God?”
Peter had some explaining to do. When he returned to Jerusalem from his journey amongst the gentiles, word spread quickly that he had baptized some of them. The leaders of the early Church in Jerusalem were scandalized. The Church, to that point, had been made up of Jews who had followed Jesus, yet had continued to keep the laws of the Torah. Thus, when Peter returned to the Holy City, he was not met with open arms, but with bewilderment, consternation, and anger. He had violated the Law of God, by not ensuring that the new Christians he had baptized were first circumcised according to the Law of Moses.
Peter had some explaining to do. He told the Jerusalem brethren that while he was staying in the city of Joppa, in a trance or dream, God gave him a vision in which he was commanded by God to kill and eat all manner of unclean animals. These would have been animals that the Law of Moses prohibited men from eating. This dream or vision would have been more akin to a nightmare for Peter, for it was asking him to forsake the laws and traditions of his fathers; indeed, it was commanding him to act in a manner contrary to sacred Scripture. He pleaded with God, “By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.” The vision was repeated two more times until he was awoken from the vision by three men from Caesarea (who were gentiles) who asked him to come with them to certain house. When they arrived, they were met by a man who also had a vision. In his vision, an angel told him to send for Peter and that Peter had a message for him that would tell him how to be saved. Peter must have been dumbfounded, for there was only one message that Peter had to share as he travelled about. His message; that Christ Jesus, whom God raised from the dead, gives forgiveness and life to all who believe in him.
Peter stood there, before these gentiles; people who begged him to share God’s message with them. When Peter received his vision he had just finished preaching that God shows no partiality, but did he really believe it. Did he believe it enough to put away the Law of Moses? Did he believe it enough to let it challenge his entire understanding of his religion and faith? Did he believe it enough to let it change the Church? And as he pondered these things, and as he began to share his message, the message of Christ raised from the dead, the Holy Spirit fell upon that house. Then he realized that God truly shows no partiality and that God is ever and always doing a new thing.
Thus, Peter returned to Jerusalem with some explaining to do. But was he afraid? He was not. For as he unfolded this tale of radical inclusion in the kingdom of God he offered this word of wisdom to his brethren back home, “If then, God gave them (that is, the gentiles) the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” Indeed, who are we that we can hinder God? To this, the brethren in Jerusalem responded, “Then God has given to the gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
In Peter’s openness to being changed, God did a new thing. God forever changed the Church. However, the reality is this: God would have changed the Church with or without Peter. Peter had a choice to be part of God’s plan, and he took it up. Wisely, the brethren in Jerusalem saw the wisdom in Peter’s decision and joined him in faith and journeyed into the unknown.
Baptism is always a time of journeying into the unknown because that is what a leap of faith is about, is it not? We have tasted the Spirit of God working in our lives. That is why we come to be baptized, and why we bring our children to baptism, because we know that the Spirit of God is alive and working with a reconciling love that transforms us and transforms the world. In baptism we say “yes” to being a part of that plan, but in doing so we take a risk, because we do not know what that “yes” will mean for us. We do not know where it will lead us or what will be asked of us, we know only this, that God will forever be with us, wherever we go and whatever we do. Our trust is in the fact that God is doing a new thing as each new Christian is baptized.
That risk is felt not only as we begin our faith in the baptismal journey, it is felt again and again as we journey through our lives as Christian people. This certainly was Peter’s experience. Peter and the rest of the Jerusalem disciples thought they understood the faith. They thought they understood what God was asking of them. They thought the Church they knew was the Church that would always be. Ah, but God was doing a new thing!
This is at once the most frightening and the most exciting thing about the Christian faith, God is always doing a new thing. It is frightening because the world we have grown to love will not always be the world it once was. It is frightening because the Church is called to change and grow with each generation and it will not always be the Church we have come to know and love. It is frightening because the things we once thought unclean, have been made clean by God. It is frightening because the person I am today is not the person I will be tomorrow.
But! It is exciting and hopeful because God is doing a new thing! It is exciting and hopeful because the world we have grown to fear will give way to a new and glorious day! It is exciting and hopeful, because the Church that has excluded and hurt others by its unwillingness to embrace and change and hear the prophetic voice of God will come to hear that voice and be transformed! It is exciting and hopeful because we now learn, like Peter, that things (and people) we once thought unclean have been sanctified by God as good and holy! It is exciting and hopeful because the person I am today is not the person I will be tomorrow.
And this is why I have hope for the world, and for the Church, even in the midst of so much uncertainty, and yes, so much conflict.
I have hope for the world today because as I look out at four new Christians, babes in arm now, but ever and always children of the living God, I am not afraid, for I see God doing a new thing.
I have hope as I look about this worldwide Anglican Church, and all its conflicts over whether or not we should bless same-gender unions or ordain women as bishops. I am not afraid, because I see God doing a new thing.
I have hope as I look to this very community here, with so much change, and yes much grieving over the losses we are facing and will face in the not-too-distant future. I am not afraid, because I see God doing a new thing.
Peter had some explaining to do, and he explained it very well saying, “God is doing a new thing, who am I that I could hinder it?”
Who are we indeed, if we think to hinder the work of God; it is but for us to join in, with these new Christians and their sponsors when asked if we shall follow him into the great unknown of the future, with a resounding “yes” and the proclamation, “I will, with God’s help.”
c. 2010, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves