There's a rumor going around. Those people have experienced God. Not just any god. “Our” God. They don’t worship like we do. They don’t wear what we wear or eat what we eat. They don’t mark their bodies like we do. They have questionable lifestyles. They don’t understand the rhythm of our worship, and they speak out of turn.
So, Peter, head of the church, what are you going to do about this? What are you going to do with these uncircumcised Gentiles who eat profane foods?
So, Pope Leo, what are you going to do with Martin Luther, who no longer accepts your theology of indulgences?
So, Martin Luther, what are you going to do with Calvin, who might be taking this radical grace thing a little too far, who might be stepping too far away from the correct theology of the Eucharist?
And Calvin, what will you do with Wesley, who’s taking this free will thing a little too far?
And Church of Germany, what are you going to do with Bonhoeffer, who takes a stand against German patriotism and participates in a plot to kill Hitler.
And white mainline churches in the South, what are you going to do with Martin Luther King, Jr. who demands justice while you stand on the sidelines?
And Evangelical Church, what are you going to do with Rob Bell who says “love wins” and Nadia Bolz-Weber who leads a church that welcomes all LGBTQ folks into their church family?
Our Christian story is full of rebels. Folks pushing the boundaries, questioning at the margins, arguing with the status quo.
It’s the pattern of the Christian Church, to widen our arms ever outward. To take steps further and further towards radical acceptance of all people. And Jesus taught this. But it wasn’t until Peter was faced with this question, “do I eat with these Gentiles or not?” that the Church as a family, as the body of Christ, began that all-too-slow, but ever growing, ever cracking, ever widening, journey towards radical inclusion. Sure. It’s not happening fast enough, but it’s happening. With Peter’s decision to let the Gentiles come to Christianity as they are, and not as circumcised and kosher Jews first, the chisel pierced the rock of isolation and separation, and has been driving down further and further as time has passed.
And I believe that it’ll keep cracking through that rock until it hits the end, and the rock breaks apart and everyone is welcome to the Table of Christ, as they are, as family. The cleft keeps getting deeper, separating the only thing that we must be separated from — separation.
This is the obvious interpretation of this passage. Radical inclusion. Keep this passage in your pocket, save it for whenever you feel left out or kicked out or silently judged. Because this passage is on your side.
It’s about radical grace.
What God has made clean, you must not call profane. Peter gets a vision of this sheet coming down from heaven and is told to “Get up” “Kill and eat.” And with this vision, Peter’s entire world changes. And I don't think God is trying to tell him that He hates vegetarians. The narrative that he’s lived in to his whole life is unraveled. The Jews aren’t the favorites anymore. We’re all in the same boat. We’re all beloveds of God. And contrary to some more conservative theological voices, I don’t think this passage is just about how God has given us permission to eat shrimp and cheeseburgers. Because immediately after this vision, three Gentiles come to Peter, and the Spirit tells him to not make a distinction between himself and these men - even though his tradition, his story, has told him to make this distinction his whole life.
Immediately after permission is given to eat food, it’s implications are widened to give permission to eat food with people they weren’t originally allowed to eat with. Imagine how this must have rocked Peter’s world.
It’s a true conversion.
Sure, Peter has followed Jesus, has argued over who will be at his right side, has made stupid decisions over him, has denied him and then professed his faith in him once again, and then has left his home to travel miles and miles to lead this new thing called Church.
But it’s not until right now that I think Peter really gets the fullness of the Gospel. And it’s funny, because Jesus, in body, isn’t even there. After all the concrete experiences with Jesus, it’s this weird nebulous vision that helps him finally get it. That helps him see the length and depth and breadth and expanse of God’s great love for all of us.
And it’s so important that the story is told and retold to us one right after the other, almost word for word. We get Peter’s vision twice. We are told that Peter is told, that what God has made clean you must not call profane three times, twice.
Peter gets this message three times in his vision, just as he denied Jesus three times, just as he professed his love for Jesus three times. Luke, the writer of Acts does not want us to miss this. What God has made clean, you must not call profane.
What God has made clean, you must not call profane.
What God has made clean, you must not call profane.
This is a story of radical inclusion.
So I’m like, “great. What now? At Hot Metal, at least on paper, we do this radical inclusion thing pretty well, or at least we want to do it pretty well, we want to be radically inclusive, we want a bigger table with more place-settings and more acceptance and more connection. We’re all about bridges here. When it comes to inclusion, though I’m sure we falter, and there’s room for improving, when it comes to inclusion we are working it. And pat yourself on the back, Jenn, ‘cause you’re not one of those pastors who preaches judgment and morality from the pulpit. Your not like those pastors who are still standing on their deteriorating soap boxes to demand from you what you think is necessary to get in to the Kingdom of God and what screw-ups will get you kicked right out.
There’s nothing new in this passage, for me, I accept everybody. You’re all in. Love wins. C’mon in. Well, that’s not true if we’re being honest, but I sure do want to accept everybody.
Except there’s this one person I just can’t embrace. She’s just such a mess. The skin around her belly has never bounced back into its pre-baby version. She got an A- in Prophets and Psalms and could never figure out calculus. She leaves her wet towels on the bedroom floor and is far too willing to go to bed with dirty dishes in the sink.
She gets so wrapped up in romantic love stories that her expectations for real relationships are completely unrealistic. She’s 37 and has never had a career, doesn’t own a suit, and has no idea what the difference is between a Roth and a Traditional IRA and how are those different from a 401K? Her kids love going to McDonalds and is constantly worried that her house smells like cat pee but that she’s gotten so used to the smell that she doesn’t notice it anymore. She still feels like that awkward, tiny, flat-chested freshman trying to figure out her locker combination, except she’s not so tiny anymore.
Sometimes she says stupid things to people without thinking. Sometimes she’s so critical of herself that she misses it when someone else is really struggling. She takes a handful of meds every day and about 73% of the time, still thinks the world would be much better without her.
I can accept anybody, drunks, addicts, abusers and walmart shoppers, even Nickelback fans. I can accept the mentally ill and the prisoner, the socks-with-sandals wearer, and the texting drivers who forget what a turn signal is for.
I can accept anybody
The sheet lowered down to me from the sky is full of high school drop outs and cheaters and gossips and racists, and fundamentalists and Trump supporters. It’s full of everyone, but me.
To myself, I’m still the Gentile, on the outside looking in, feeling like it’s right and good that everyone else is sitting at the table passing the lemonade and the casseroles and the jello salad and I’m out here in the cold, watching through the window. Hell, I’ll even open the door for you as you reach to ring the doorbell, c’mon in, let me hang up your coat, come, sit down, you are welcome here.
Am I really alone in this? I sorta don’t think so. Because if we all knew that we were welcome, that the radical inclusion included even us, then maybe we wouldn’t cut each other off in traffic so often, or yell at the telemarketers, or ignore the weeping woman at the bus stop, or want to build walls and send refugees back. Maybe we’d be better recyclers and we’d read all the books we’ve bought and get oil changes exactly every three thousand miles. Maybe if we knew we belonged, we wouldn’t be so afraid of those who seem so different from us.
What would happen if you knew that you were welcome here?
What would happen if you knew that you were one of those who you thought were profane but God has made clean?
Honestly, for myself I don’t know how to get there. I just hope that if I keep showing up, keep welcoming others, keep paying my therapy co-pay, then maybe, someday, I’ll have the courage to let myself in, to include myself amongst those made clean. Maybe I’ll have a vision where I’m sitting on that sheet coming down from heaven. Maybe I’ll be one of those whom God calls “clean.” “good.” “welcome.”
If I keep my toe in, if I keep showing up, if I keep participating, no matter how little, in this grand human story, then I might be an acceptable sentence, or noun, or conjunction, or punctuation mark in this messy human narrative. Maybe I’ll be part of the cleft in the rock of division. Maybe, when confronted by those fundamentalist, boundary-obeying, rule-following, original believers who have this Christianity thing all figured out, maybe when they criticize me for welcoming someone unlike them to the table, I can stand up to them like Peter did.
Maybe, someday, that will give me the strength to let me enter the dining room and find a place at the table myself, maybe someday I can stand up to this destructive thing inside of me, and like Peter does, maybe I can share my story with others, value my own story, and then maybe the negativity and the voices in my head and the constant failure narrative that is the running film in my mind will be silenced, and I’ll praise God saying, “Then God has given even me - even me- the repentance that leads to life.”
For now, I know this is true. You are welcome here.
What God has called clean, you must not call profane.
Thanks be to God.