The Scripture Readings this week are:
- Acts 10:1-17, 34-35
- Galatians 3:26-29
Early thoughts: Why are we so good at drawing lines? In every culture, we humans seem to like drawing lines to mark who is a "proper" member of the community. Sometimes the lines are more "in your face", sometimes they are hidden, sometimes we like to pretend they don't exist. But if we dig a little deeper we find that they are always there.
Peter and Paul came from a purity culture. Jewish law was about dividing the pure from the impure, the acceptable from the unacceptable. This shows up in dietary laws (which forms the basis of Peter's dream) and in regulations about dealing with a corpse, and dealing with outsiders and pretty much any aspect of life. To be unclean/impure was to put yourself in a place where you could not take part in the life of the community, usually for a period of time or until you performed some ritual that returned you to a state of purity. Which works great if you want to be part of a closed community.
But the movement which would eventually be called Christianity was growing. And people's understanding of what Jesus of Nazareth had taught challenged those ideas of a closed community consumed with rules about what made them clean. In fact one of the remembered stories and sayings of Jesus challenged the whole idea that some foods made one unclean. And then people from outside the Jewish community wanted to join this new community. What to do?
This was a cause, it appears, of great dissension in the early decades. From the beginning of his public ministry Paul seems to have felt called to be the apostle to the Gentiles. And while he would teach in synagogues much of his evangelism was among the non-Jewish population of the Empire. Peter and some of the other leaders appear to have had more hesitation. This passage from Acts is Peter's conversion to a new understanding (and even then it took three times for it to sink in).
As the spiritual descendants of Peter and Paul. As those who have heard over and over again that God shows no partiality why do we keep drawing lines? Because whether we admit it or not we do.
MAybe the line is around sexuality. Or maybe around theology. Or maybe around gender, or age, or racial origin, or how long one has been around, or any of any number of other criteria. But we draw lines. Sometimes we don't even know that we have done it until we are challenged. Sometimes we have gotten so used to the line that we forget it is even there, and can't understand why folks don't feel welcome.
God calls us to erase the lines (to actually erase them from our minds and souls and actions -- not just from our written rules and structures). God calls us to be intentionally open to being diverse and different. When God names us all as clean and equal God is not making us the same (this is a danger we often fall into -- in our wish to be seen as open and welcoming we try to pretend that differences don't exist). Instead God is calling us to welcome the difference.
Can we erase our lines? What is stopping us?