#LoverOfAll is the Podcast for April 24, 2016. The early Christians were first Jews who wanted others to do what they did to become Christians. Have we really strayed that far from our misunderstanding of what God was doing then? God will not be tamed. Listen here in this reflection: Download it into your phone. #MSAWordfortheDay # MySpiritualAdvisor #Sermon #Homily #Gentiles #GentilePentecost #Melkite #Coptic #Armenian #SyroMalabar #Catholic #Peter #JewishChristians #Love #GodLovesAll
Lover of All: A Reflection on Acts 11:1-18
Full Text of Podcast, Open Here
For listener supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 4/24/2016 The 5th Sunday of Easter.
Please pause this audio and read Acts 11:1-18.
It is beyond our comprehension how radical and amazing the person of Jesus Christ is. I am not talking about post-modern re-writers of history who say “Everything the Christians touch is evil.” I am not talking about atheists. I am not talking about agnostics or people who are spiritual but not religious (who, by the way, are at least seeking truth). I am talking about Christians.
Is Christianity for bringing obedience into the home for children to satisfy parents? Is Christianity so that society is properly ordered to satisfy governments and rulers? Is Christianity for a personal enlightenment that does not place any expectations on others? Is Christianity a way to make us feel good in trying times?
There are times when faith in Jesus Christ should cause our children to be disobedient. There are times when faith in Jesus Christ should cause us to be civilly disobedient. There are times when faith in Jesus Christ confuses us. There are times when faith in Jesus Christ causes us to suffer.
We sometimes come the faith with our restrictions. For example, we would look at how Peter healed Aenaes earlier in Chapter 9 of Acts, a preamble for this speech he gives in Chapter 11, and say, “That was then. God doesn’t do that now.” Or, we look at how he raised Tabitha from the dead and say, “God can’t do that now. He doesn’t do that now.” If we cannot see it, smell it, taste it, touch it, or hear it, it did not happen on our watch. This denies spiritual and religious knowledge, philosophical contemplation, and all sorts of insights into reality that we have as human beings. It diminishes what it means to be human frankly to make the scientific deductive method the ONLY method of acquiring knowledge.
Or, we can look at all the tribulations of life and say, “Well, evil often prevails, so I am going to play it safe.” What if Paul did that? Where would we be now?
We are talking about the Word through whom all things were created, this Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us, sinners. This person is the Word made Flesh. He is Lamb of God, the Sacrifice that atoned for all sins for all times. He is the One who is Resurrected from the dead to lead all creation into newness of life. The whole order is reconstituted by him, with him, through him. This is the one into whom each one of us is baptized. He claims our life and makes us one of him, how is it then that we can limit his power to transform others?
This is the question of this passage: who is impure?
Peter finds himself in a situation where the Jews were gathered at Pentecost and experienced the flames of fire of the Holy Spirit on everyone. The Holy Spirit caused ecstatic speech and the ability of persons to speak in other languages. So, the Jewish Christians thought this meant that they were the “keepers of the Holy Spirit.” They thought that the coming of Jesus did nothing to make those who were impure pure. Gentiles were people who worshiped false gods, ate meat that was unclean, and were generally considered unclean, or not worthy to worship God. It would have been unthinkable to them that God would do anything to include the Gentiles. Jesus himself said to the Gentile Woman, “Woman, I have come for the lost children of Israel.”
So, Peter, just like Jonah, is in Joppa, along the coast of the Mediterranean. He is called to go to the house of Cornelius, a Roman, soldier, and Gentile, who prays and gives alms to the poor. He has just healed two Jews in Joppa, Aeneas and Tabitha. Now, he has a vision that shows this sheet of unclean animals from all over the world and is told that he should eat. He refuses to eat, much like Jonah refused to go to Ninevah to preach to the Gentiles there. Then the Lord says, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”
So, Peter gets up and goes to Cornelius in Caesarea in Galilee. While there, he preaches to the Gentiles at Cornelius’ home and there was the same experience of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The passage reads, “The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.” (Acts 9:45). They were astounded? Why? They were astounded because they thought they were the exclusive keepers of the keys to salvation. They assumed that God has put them in place and exclusively worked through them. We are going to see with St. Paul that God is not going to be boxed in.
Slave owners kept the slaves from having the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, but that didn’t stop God. The Holy Spirit flowed upon the slaves and created dynamic preaching that caused millions to come to the faith. Imagine the reaction of the slave owners when they came to learn that the very people they had depicted and believed to be subhuman animals received salvation! It is the same reaction that the Jewish Christians had about the Gentiles: Gentiles are not worthy because they have not performed the necessary rituals to be clean enough to be saved.
That, my friend, is backwards. We are not saved because we are able to put ourselves in the right purity to be accepted by God. We are accepted by God and then he makes us pure. Paul says in Romans that the three requirements for being loved by God are: to be weak, ungodly, and a sinner.
So, when Peter says this about the Gentiles, “If then God gave them the same gift [of the Holy Spirit] that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” The Jewish Christians were speechless, not a mumblin’ word. If God has given them the same gift of the Holy Spirit, then who are we to hinder God?
Think of what would happen if churches in apostolic succession were to look around and see other churches that are not in apostolic succession, but clearly have the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and think like this? What if the Churches clearly in apostolic succession were to look at one another and just accept that there are going to be differences in liturgy and culture, but the essentials are the same? Why do we have to be under one leader, in one city, in one place? Why do we all have to have the same requirements for clergy? Why do we have to have the same this, the same that, the same, same, same? Why can’t we accept others legitimacy if they are not the same in non-essentials?
Peter, here is saying, “God has already done it, who am I to say no to his decision?” Who are we? Who are we to limit God’s work? Why must we always look so hard at what divides us and not look at what unites us?
I have some links to some unofficial videos that show expressions of liturgies from some of the Churches that are in apostolic succession. They vary widely in the amount of ornamentation, when the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood, how people are blessed, etc. Yet, they all agree on the essentials, but it is a wild mishmash of who is allowed to receive Communion in what churches. I wonder where the churches begun by slaves who were not allowed to have apostolic succession would fall in here.
Where else do we fail to recognize God’s work? I invite you to leave a comment online of possibilities of where we exclude others because they don’t fit our understanding of who deserves God’s presence. Think of how you react to others and people in your life. Do you treat others as if they must pass a litmus test before they can receive the Holy Spirit?
We must be careful. The Father is not captive to us. The Son is not captive to us. The Holy Spirit is not captive to us. He will love whom he will love, and that is everyone: the weak, the ungodly, and the sinner. Have we heard Peter’s word? Are we speechless? If so, then think of what the hearers of Peter’s word did next: they celebrated and praised God. We ought to do the same. Amen.
This audio is under the copyright of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated and may not be used, reduplicated, or distributed for commercial use without the express written consent of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated. My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated, 2016.
Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian