1st Scripture Reading: Acts 11:1-18 & Psalm 148
“What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”
It was not until after Jesus’ death and resurrection that the gospel began to be taken to non Jewish people. The Jews at that time had very strict rules about what they could eat, how it must be prepared, and who they were permitted to eat it with. In fact their whole culture was very insular – all their social and religious activities being dictated, shaped, by many rules.
So this vision of Peter’s must have seemed very shocking and counter-intuitive to him. We Jews don’t mix with Gentiles (non-Jewish people), we don’t eat with them or marry them, or worship with them.
What Peter heard in his dream/vision was that it was time to let go of those man-made, exclusivist rules – rules that separated the Jewish people from everyone else – that is, from the rest of God’s Creation.
But it was only Peter who heard this message at this time. Others of the disciples were uneasy with his decision to meet with these uncircumcised people, as he felt guided by his God to do – to go to them, and not to make any distinction between them and his own people.
After Peter explained to the others why he had taken the good news to these gentiles, and how he had seen how the Holy Spirit fell on them – just as it had on them in the beginning, they believed him and praised God, saying: “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
“To repent” is to feel sorry for something you have done or not done – to feel contrition, deep in your heart for having fallen short of the mark. We don’t like to talk about this much these days, many of us having had enough of shaming and blaming in our lives. We like to hear the good news of God’s mercy and infinite forgiveness, but we don’t realize that this alone does not absolve us of our guilt. The key to forgiveness, cleansing, and new life in God and in Jesus, is taking responsibility for our mistakes, allowing ourselves to genuinely feel sorry for what we have done, and to make amends wherever that is possible.
Taking responsibility. That’s a big one, isn’t it? So much easier to blame someone else, or the circumstances, or the weather….anything but face the truth of what we have done.
Easy to look at our fallen neighbours and feel superior. Easy to look at the big problems of our time and excuse ourselves by saying that there is nothing we could do about it anyway. Too easy,apparently, to prioritize jobs and the economy over the inheritance we will leave our children of a degraded environment, massive climate change, and mass extinctions of other species.
The gift of God, people of God, is the gift of repentance and forgiveness that heralds the beginning of new life. What God has made clean we must learn to treat with respect.
Hymn #178 MV “Who is my mother”
2nd Scripture Reading: Revelation 21:1-6 & John 13:31-35
Two things struck me from the reading from Revelation 21 this morning: “Then I saw a new Heaven and a new Earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” And: “See, the home of God is among mortals…”
I find hope in these phrases. I don’t read doom and gloom into this reading, but I do read a whole lot of change! A turning the world upside down kind of change!
I do believe we have profaned and are still profaning virtually every other part of God’s creation – including leaving our space garbage floating around in the heavens. I think of the barge loads of our Canadian garbage the Philippine leaders are demanding we take back from their shores, the massive floating islands of garbage in our oceans, the destruction of habitat of so many other species without concern for their well-being, and the tightening up of our immigration laws, as so many other lands are rendered uninhabitable by climate changes and exploitation by wealthy corporations. So let’s add the cruelty of exclusion of those children of God who are fleeing the ravages inflicted on their own countries to our list of profanities.
This is not easy to grapple with folks. I know I am probably overwhelming you, just as I myself am feeling overwhelmed at times by the evil that we do that is all around us. But Jesus warned us not to go back to sleep, and to open our eyes to the reality of what we have created.
Which brings us to the second phrase that struck me today: “The home of God is among mortals.” Created in the image of the Creator, we are very creative – that is very evident in our technological and agricultural advancements in the last few decades even. What I believe we have not done is take responsibility for the effects of our inventiveness on a global scale. We have acted irresponsibly, in my opinion, as stewards of this great planet, this web of life of which we are a part.
Look around you, folks. Can we survive without gardens to grow our vegetables and fruits? Without pollinators to ensure a crop? Without water to sustain those plants? Without animals for meat? Do you want to live in a world without birds and butterflies? How about a world where there is not enough of anything, and we are constantly at war to protect what little we have left?
I have been painting you a picture, as I see it, of the old world – the world that is passing away. But God promises us a new world – that God who lives in and among us knows that we are capable, if we take responsibility, of creating with God, the new world that will come. In that new world we will demand peace, and justice, and we will love God and our neighbours as ourselves. And God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
Hymn #713 VU “I see a new heaven”