Lectionary: Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35
I think I’m perfect and so do you.
No, I don’t mean you think I’m perfect – although you could be forgiven thinking it since I do have a blog and everything.
What I actually mean is that you think that you are perfect in the same way that I think that I’m perfect.
See what I mean?
Well, we all have opinions and the very fact that we have them means we think they are the best, most informed, most correct opinions. Not to worry, it’s a human thing – we’re all great in our own eyes.
Anyway, this all came about as the result of an innocent home repair that is retold here with the permission of the main character.
Cheryl’s (our) daughter Cindy is a smart, energetic woman. She is willing to take on most any challenge and so she volunteered to repair a hole in their upstairs drywall. She had never before tackled a project like this so she learned how to do the repair, gathered materials, collected the tools and applied herself to the job with the advice and encouragement of her husband Mike.
She cut, plastered, taped and sanded to her satisfaction then went ahead and primed, matched the colour and painted, gaining confidence in her new-found skills at every step. Fully confident in her workwomanship and proud of the finished product she pronounced her repair complete – perfect and invisible like any good wall repair should be.
All was well until a bit later when Mike informed her that, from where he was sitting, her repair was noticeable and it was obvious that she would have to paint the entire wall instead of just the section around the repair.
This information was not well received.
Cindy refused to believe him. She looked at her wall, viewing it from different angles and could not find even a hint of where the hole had been.
Mike was confidently informed of his mistakenness since she could not see the reason for his judgement. I haven’t been told what words were said or what attitudes were had after he shared the observation but my guess is that there may have been some tension following his comment. If any of you are wondering, you will be happy to hear that Mike is okay and there are no new holes in any walls.
It wasn’t until a while later, when Cindy sat in the same place Mike had been previously, that she saw it. From this particular perspective the light accentuated the paint mismatch and it was glaringly obvious to anyone who sat there that the entire wall would need to be painted. She admitted he was right and the wall was completed.
Cindy was an innocent participant but let’s be honest, we can all see ourselves in her story. Our view of most things is perfect only because we see from our perspective, understand from our experiences, judge with our wisdom.
It’s one thing to look from various angles but it’s quite another to see from the same place as someone else. To sit in the same chair. To look at the world with shared understanding.
from Acts 11
Soon the news reached the apostles and other believers in Judea that the Gentiles had received the word of God. But when Peter arrived back in Jerusalem, the Jewish believers[b] criticized him. “You entered the home of Gentiles and even ate with them!” they said.
Then Peter told them exactly what had happened. “I was in the town of Joppa,” he said, “and while I was praying, I went into a trance and saw a vision. Something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners from the sky. And it came right down to me. When I looked inside the sheet, I saw all sorts of tame and wild animals, reptiles, and birds. And I heard a voice say, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.’
“‘No, Lord,’ I replied. ‘I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure or unclean.
“But the voice from heaven spoke again: ‘Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.’ This happened three times before the sheet and all it contained was pulled back up to heaven.
“Just then three men who had been sent from Caesarea arrived at the house where we were staying. The Holy Spirit told me to go with them and not to worry that they were Gentiles.’
… And since God gave these Gentiles the same gift he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to stand in God’s way?”
When the others heard this, they stopped objecting and began praising God. They said, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.” (NLT)
In the Bible reading above we see Peter, a strict Jew, wrestling with the kinds of people he should now spend time with. Jesus’ teachings were fresh in his ears but from his point of view anyone who was not Jewish could not be a true brother or sister. Then he found himself spending quality time with Cornelius, the subject of this story, a Roman soldier and a Gentile. This was someone very unlike Peter, who understood life differently but was created and called by the same God as Peter was.
And that was followed by the dream he describes above where God asks him to eat foods that were ‘unclean’ in his belief system. Yet the lesson that he is learning (and would continue to learn) is that being with changes everything.
Immediately after this story Peter would go to visit another challenging fellow believer named Simon the Tanner. We’re talking super uncomfortable – tanners were avoided because they were ‘unclean’, dealing with dead animals and everything associated with them. Oh, did I mention Peter lived with him in the ocean city of Joppa for a period of time? That, my friends, would have been a stretching experience for ritually pure Saint Peter.
There was so much potential that Peter could not, would not have discovered if not for being open to divine enlightenment.
You see, these verses are about exactly that: crossing borders, stretching, seeing anew. Allowing the Spirit of God to pull us into new places we could not have imagined.
A person’s physical, financial or emotional needs, their addictions, weaknesses, opinions, abilities, joys, hurts, lifestyle and much more are formed by background circumstances we cannot even begin to understand. Unless we find a way to be with them.
Perhaps you heard of the recent passing of Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche communities for people with intellectual disabilities. You can learn more bout his passing here and about L’Arche communities at L’Arche Canada or L’Arche International.
Essentially, when he was younger and looking for his life’s calling, he discovered the need to provide a home for people with disabilities. The name chosen for the home simply meant ‘The Ark’ – a place of safety and living together in close community.
Vanier’s secret was not just to make a place for misplaced people to stay but rather to live with them in a community that shared everyone’s pain, abilities and joys. Workers at L’Arche communities will confess to gaining more from the people they are helping than they could ever give.
God wants us to live with in the same way he has chosen to live with. Perhaps with means in a literal, physical way or perhaps with means a lifestyle of understanding and grace.
Or to take it a step further: it’s the job of the Spirit of God to take us to new places where questions become discoveries and where possibilities become acceptance. Are you open to that voice of enlightenment; to accepting in a new way? Are you available to the small, inner pull of God’s Spirit leading you to live with in new places?
Those places always hold new understanding, freedom and love.