For the last few weeks, we have been discovering the early church as told in the stories of the Acts of the Apostles. We remember Saul, who was persecuting Christians, met the risen Jesus face-to-face on the road to Damascus—and became the apostle Paul.
We talked last week about TD, Tabitha or Dorcas, a woman who touched people with the work of her hands, and with the love of her heart. And Peter came to Joppa to bring resurrection life to her.
Today we have heard a story about Peter communicating with the “home base” in Jerusalem. Peter had been telling the story of Jesus to a Jewish audience when Cornelius from Caesarea (who was a Gentile) asks for Peter to come and speak to him and his household. Now remember that in those very early days of Christianity, it was mostly Jewish people who were followers of Jesus. Jesus had been Jewish, and so, you can see why some in the followers of Jesus would think that you needed to become Jewish (which would mean being circumcised, AND following all the Levitical laws—such as eating only certain foods) you would need to do that BEFORE becoming Christian.
The long and short of the story is that Peter had a dream, and felt God was telling him that they were on the wrong track. Peter heard God say, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” So Peter went to talk to Cornelius. In telling the story to his Jerusalem brothers he says, “The Spirit told me to go … and not to make a distinction between them and us.” And even if Peter had his doubts, the Holy Spirit stepped in and fell upon those gathered, just as it had at Pentecost. And Peter says in conclusion, “Who was I that I could hinder God?”
Today, I have three things I want us to think about. First, the clean/unclean dichotomy. Let’s leave the food stuff alone. Here and now—we need to hear a word about clean and unclean. To me, God is saying—there is nothing that cannot be used by me. To me, God is saying—all of creation, all of the gifts I have given you (in mind, body, and spirit)—all of that is part of my realm. To me, God is insisting on Radical Solidarity with our world and all that lives within it, and this would mean recognizing our profound entanglement with the birds of the air and the creatures of the forest and the fish in the sea as well as the air, the land, and the water on our planet. All is beautiful in God’s sight.
Next, I want to lift up the idea of “distinctions.” Peter said “The Holy Spirit … said not to make a distinction between them and us.” To me, God is pointing out the danger of thinking there is us and there is them. The danger of living in siloes (places where we gather only with those we know, those we like, those we agree with). To me, God is calling us to Radical Solidarity with our fellow humans. The Apostle Paul put it this way, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28)
The poetry of the words is uplifting—the reality of making it so is pretty uncomfortable. For we are talking about gender differences (male and female), you know that men are from Mars and women are from Venus stuff! We are talking about socio-economic inequalities (slave and free), you know that haves and the have nots; those who are benefiting from the stock market climb AND those who haven’t had a true raise in years; those who wonder where their next meal is coming from—and fresh anything is a luxury--AND those who have so much we can afford to throw 40% of our food into the waste stream. And we are talking about racial/ethnic/cultural worlds (Jew or Greek) , which can span everything from what we call God (or if we call to God), to how we communicate with each other, to who we feel comfortable hanging out with.
It’s all well and good to talk about Radical Solidarity—about being one in Christ, (even wider being one with all that God has created—see point 1), but the boots on the ground, details of the plan, living out of that vision is another story. And here I want to say, that is the excitement and the growing edge (the work) that will have to be done as United (8 and 10:30) marches into the future. I am not naïve that we will just hold hands, sing “we shall overcome,” and that’s all it will take. Radical Solidarity does not say that we will erase difference—it says we will not prioritize one over another, it says we will find our unity even in our diversity.
So we are to be in Radical Solidarity with our world. We are to be in Radical Solidarity with our brothers and sisters. And lastly, we are to be in Radical Solidarity with God. I know some of you are going Huh? We are with God, and God is with us. Isn’t that why we are here? Yes. But to me, God is saying: Radical Solidarity means being open to God working in totally unusual, out-of-the-box things. To me, God is saying: Radical Solidarity means making sure you are watching for the movement of God in the world, listening for the whispers of God in our time, and being willing to get up and go out with the prodding of the Spirit.
Peter said, “Who was I that I could hinder God?” And I think this reminds us that God is moving, whether we like it or not, whether it is comfortable or not, whether we want it or not. Radical Solidarity with God is a recognition that it is not all about us, it may not all be done “decently and in order,” but that the Spirit of God is not dead, we just need to raise our sail, and allow the Holy Wind to start taking us where we need to go.
God spoke to Peter, to Paul, to TD, and to those in the early church—just as God speaks to us today. Together, throughout the ages, this cry has gone up:
We believe in a Radical God—who creates out of nothing, who decides to yoke God’s Self in a relationship with all of us, who picks people up and places them where they need to go. We believe in a Radical God—who comes to be with us in the form of one called Jesus, who overthrows death with resurrection, who pulses into US at Pentecost. We believe in a Radical God—who has proclaimed again and again that we are beloved, we are blessed, we are to be a blessing. We believe that this Radical God has plans and dreams for us—as individuals, and as a community.
And I hope you will join me in pledging today that we will work, we will pray, we will be in Radical Solidarity with our world, with one other, and with our God. If you so pledge, please stand and find someone with whom to hold hands.