Updated: May 20, 2019
In the 1950s, whenever Ricky would find out what Lucy had done, she always had some
'splaining to do.
That is the unenviable position in which Peter finds himself.
The church council found out that he had visited, baptized, and, most
outrageously, eaten at a Gentile's table.
They react like you would upon seeing a picture of your pastor on Facebook worshiping
Satan while wearing a Giants jersey.
They organize an intervention.
They confront Peter about his idolatry, his fundamental betrayal of his identity,
his indefensible blasphemy against God and all that is holy and good.
He has spit in the face of the tradition that gave and preserved his life.
He has betrayed his people and denied everything they held dear.
He has abandoned all Scripture and sense, ignoring the laws of God and the faithful practices of hundreds of years that have kept his people unique, alive, and in good
standing with the one holy God.
He has crossed the uncrossable line.
Peter has some 'splaining to do.
Maybe Lucy also had to do that with her parents once upon a time when she came home
with the Hispanic man she loved.
Many others have had to face their parents with the truth that love has crossed a line,
leaving them with the wrenching choice of disowning the child or erasing the line.
Either way feels deathly.
Why couldn't she just bring home a man?
Why couldn't he find and fall for a nice girl who is like us, whether racially or religiously
or whatever is so important and defining for the family?
Why did this person I love defy the deepest values that make us who we are?
"Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?"
Like so many preachers since, Peter asserts his own faithfulness and then blames God.
Three times I refused the unclean animals; nevertheless, God persisted.
The Holy Spirit tornado tossed me there and then reignited Pentecost in the centurion's
The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us...
the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning.
And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, 'John baptized with water, but
you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'
If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus
Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?"
That settled it, but not really.
Four chapters later there is a full congregational meeting in Jerusalem addressing
what to do with Gentiles, whether to welcome them and on what terms.
Like so many church fights since, people on both sides of the issue were seeking to be
faithful to God.
The authority of God's word and the sacred identity of God's people were at stake.
How can you be a part of the covenant without the sign of the covenant?
How can uncircumcised Gentiles be among the saved?
How can homosexuals, or women, or divorced men be pastors?
If we say yes to any of these, we are undermining the authority of the Bible, losing our
integrity, jeopardizing our identity, losing ourselves in idolatry.
If we say no to any of these, we are rejecting the Holy Spirit, which Jesus said is the one
unforgivable sin, shunning and defying God, losing ourselves in idolatry.
Either way feels deathly.
Why would God draw a hard line and then cross it?
We expect more consistency from God.
But God is much more than consistent; God is love.
There is an uncrossable line between human and divine; God crossed it.
There is an uncrossable line between death and life; Jesus crossed it.
There is an uncrossable line between Jew and Gentile; the Holy Spirit blows the church
Every one of these border crossings is punished.
Jesus gets crucified, after saying to Peter and his friends, take up your cross and follow me.
For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake
will save it.
This is not just true of individuals; it is also true of communities, of nations, of families,
of congregations, of the circumcised, of the baptized.
We can defend our identity or die into God's next idea, which throughout the long
trajectory of Scripture is always crossing a line and widening the circle of grace.
The one seated on the throne is not content just to make some things new.
Those on the outside are made new, welcomed into the circle of God's borderless,
bottomless, limitless love.
Those on the inside are made new, stripped of their faithfulness, robbed of their religion
like Peter on the roof and Saul on the Damascus road, their beautiful life crucified
to position them for Easter, which reveals that the lines we love so much were drawn to serve love, not to restrict it.
Peter was called on the carpet and Saul was blinded and Ananias felt the need to inform
God about his reputation and the temple was in ruins and Rome was in charge and
attendance was down and the grey hair count was up and it felt like everything
was going to be lost, and the panicking church needs to call a meeting.
What is God doing now, and what does it mean for us?
This is why I applaud this congregation.
Central to the fatihful legacy and identity of Shepherd of the Valley is the
elementary school this congregation had the courage to close.
Reading the winds, or Luke would say following the lead of the Spirit, Shepherd leaned
into the pain of death, closed its wonderful ministry and then opened a preschool.
It is new and messy and difficult and growing.
It is a burst of Easter following a Good Friday that still leaves so many of us sad
I hope many of you will join me this Wednesday at our preschool's Spring Sing, to hear
the kids and see their artwork and embrace their families that God has been
preparing for Shepherd and eat at their table on their terms instead of sitting back and expecting them to come to us, because Christ is not content to make only
some things new.
This is no fun, of course, when you liked things the way they were.
If it ain't broke, God still fixes it.
God does not cling to God's past successes but ventures forward to reach people like the
Gentile stranger in Caeserea, and also to reach the familiar heart on the rooftop
which is beautifully faithful but also confined inside a wise line that God is determined to lead it across.
There will always be hell to pay for doing this, especially from the people committed to
heaven, which of course is the story of the cross.
Order is much safer and easier than love.
Religion is much safer and easier than faith.
What we know is much safer and easier than God's next idea, which is why we must keep
O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending,
by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown.
Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your
hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.