We all like grace right?
And more importantly, we all need it.
But like we noticed in the last post, we don’t always understand it.
About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him,“Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there.
While Peter was still thinking about the , the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.”
Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?”
The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.” Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests. Acts 10:9-23
A regular rhythm that my wife and I have is to invite people over to our house. So far, it has taken on a lot of different shapes. When we first moved to Denver, it was a Saturday morning brunch for people on our block. We’ve also hosted Bible studies, thrown parties, and spontaneously started a BBQ just for the sake of getting to know others. We allow people to come, with their similarities and differences, and make no expectation as to language, worldview, or religious preferences. Sometimes, we even have people over knowing that they will disagree with others, so that we can foster a community beyond typical worldly barriers.
“Why do you guys have people over all time? Isn’t it a waste? Isn’t it hard to do?”
“Well, it’s never a waste, but sometimes it is hard, sure. But be honest with me. You’re here and we’re going to talk about God and how he can help us in our brokenness. If I were sitting in my office right now, would you go over there and be willing to have the same conversation?”
“Huh. I guess not. It makes sense now, there’s something about food that can bring us together and allow everyone to talk.”
Luke has already shown us the eventual outcome of the story in the previous section. Cornelius hears from an angel and is given a promise: Peter will go with him and tell him more about God’s Kingdom. Peter, as we see in this part of the chapter, doesn’t know it yet. Luke gives us his perspective.
And God uses an analogy of food to help Peter understand. Food has this important nature to it, not just for survival, but for community. Around a dinner table, strangers become friends.
Tom Wright points out:
At this point we must remind ourselves of one of the basic points about the Jewish food laws. It wasn’t just that the Jews weren’t allowed to eat pork. There was a whole range of meat which they were forbidden; they are listed (for example) in Leviticus 11, and were much discussed by later generations. And these food laws, whatever their origin, served to mark out the Jewish people from their non-Jewish neighbours, a rule reinforced by the prohibition on Jews eating with non-Jews, sharing table fellowship. The reasoning was clear: the people you sit down and eat with are ‘family’, but the Jewish ‘family’ has been called by God to be separate, to bear witness to his special love and grace to the world, and must not therefore compromise with the world.*
This, of course, forces us to ask the question: “So what is God up to?”
Simple. He’s expanding the role and rules for family. We’re now all one. Through the work of Jesus there is no ‘us vs. them’ no ‘insiders or outsiders’, there is just family. The challenge to Peter is not to decide clean or unclean, but to break down his barriers of who gets to eat with God in table fellowship?
And the answer? Everyone. Even an occupying Roman soldier.
So what can we learn from this? Here are three quick takeaways:
1.) The Person of Peace. Sometimes we find them, as Luke points out in his Gospel. Our job in a life on mission is to find them and work through them. And sometimes they find us, as Luke shows us here. Either way, it is an ordained time for us to engage others with the transformative power of the Gospel.
2.) Understanding Holiness. We often think that holiness (which means to ‘set apart’) mandates that we don’t engage in the world or cultural battles. When we do this, we fail to understand holiness. Holiness sets us apart in our actions because we are to be like Jesus. Holiness doesn’t not set us apart in our relationships. We are to be salt and light, and we are to eat and fellowship with ‘sinners’ just like Jesus. Holiness sets us apart in action, not in relationships.
3.) Never underestimate the power of table fellowship. God has called and reconciled all of us and desires for everyone to be in relationship with him. The use of hospitality and the power of food can bring people together like nothing else.
Wright, Tom. Acts for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-12. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2008.