Psalm 148 & Acts 11:1-18
Rev. Tina Walker-Morin
Pilgrim Congregational Church, UCC
April 24, 2016
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Earth Day was this past Friday, which lead me to include both the Psalm from the lectionary as well as the scripture from Acts to the Apostles.
As I read this Psalm feel free to read along with me, or close your eyes and listen. As you listen notice what stands out or what comes to mind.1 Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise him in the heights!
2 Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his host!
3 Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars!
4 Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!
5 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for he commanded and they were created.
6 He established them forever and ever;
he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
7 Praise the Lord from the earth,
you sea monsters and all deeps,
8 fire and hail, snow and frost,
stormy wind fulfilling his command!
9 Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!
10 Wild animals and all cattle,
creeping things and flying birds!
11 Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the earth!
12 Young men and women alike,
old and young together!
13 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for his name alone is exalted;
his glory is above earth and heaven.
14 He has raised up a horn for his people,
praise for all his faithful,
for the people of Israel who are close to him.
Praise the Lord!
Now think how does this Psalm connect you to Earth Day?
What image or action is sparked in your mind?
Do you feel compelled into action?
Or is something stirring inside you?
If so I would argue that is a vision from God and it is the Holy Spirit working in you.
Now please join me as I read from Acts to the Apostles 11:1-18:
Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, 3 saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” 4 Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. 6 As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7 I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 10 This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11 At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.[c] These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14 he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16 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.’ 17 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?” 18 When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
Visions are important components to the scriptures. In the Old and New Testaments many messages from God were received through dreams and/or visions.
Many people have asked me, both clergy and others, how did I know that Pilgrim was the place for me? During my search for a church I had several interviews and there one place I thought would be perfect. I had a great skype interview with that church and one of the members of the search committee even asked “so when would you be able to start?”. I thought I was in! But then they turned me down. I was so bummed and on an emotional low. So I turned to God in prayer. As I prayed about the situation I had a vision. An image came to mind of flat gray stones. At first, I took this vision to meaning God will lead me through the stepping stones. Which worked for me and gave me comfort.
Then I came here to Pilgrim and before my interview we went over the beach near Webb Park. As I stood there with my toes in the sand praying for guidance, I noticed the same flat gray stones which were in my vision. I took it as a sign from God that I was being called to this place.
This experience is like what Peter encountered in today’s scripture from the book of Acts.
Prior to today’s passage the reader learns of the conversion of Cornelius, a Gentile, who is described as a centurion (a Roman army office in charge of one hundred men) of the Italian Cohort (a unit of the Roman Army) in Acts 10:1. Cornelius had a vision, as described in Acts 10:3, “One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius”. He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon” (Acts 10:3-4). That Simon being Peter. So Cornelius did as he was told and sent three men to Peter and asked him to come back to Corenlius’ house to teach him about the way of Jesus.
Meanwhile Peter also had a vision. He recounts this vision in our passage today: Peter tells the other apostles and believers who are with him that as he was praying in Joppa he fell into a trance and during this trance he had a vision from God. Peter said this huge blanket came down from the sky. On the blanket were four legged animals, reptiles and birds. Then Peter heard God say, “get up and eat.” Now this surprised Peter because he was a good Jew. He followed the Jewish laws in which some of these animals, but not all would have been prohibited from being eaten. Peter replies to God that he follows the rules and nothing unclean has ever touched his lips, to which God replies “Peter, Peter, Peter, I am God and whatever I have made is clean and don’t you dare call it profane.” In true Peter fashion this dialogue of “no God I can’t eat it” and “oh yes you can” goes on three times (remember he also denied Jesus three times and was asked by Christ three times if he loved Jesus) (Acts 11:5-10).
Now still referring to the chapter before today’s scripture, Peter was sitting thinking about the vision he just had when the Spirit said to him, ‘Look, three men are searching for you. Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.” (Acts 10:19-20)
So Peter goes with these men and upon entering Cornelius’ house Peter said something like: “Cornelius, you know it is not cool or lawful for me, a Jew to hang out with you being a Gentile and all.” Yet Peter continues and tells Cornelius, “but no worries friend, God told me through a vision that I am not to call ‘anyone profane or unclean.’” (10:28) Peter goes on to say, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality” (10:34). Yeah, good job Peter!
When Peter returns to the church at Jerusalem he recounts this time in Joppa with Cornelius. The Jewish Christians, (the circumcised believers) are upset with Peter for having eaten with uncircumcised men, aka Cornelius and the other gentiles.
There is a dichotomy here, an “us vs. them” way of thinking. Today, psychologist would call this Social identity, which is a person’s sense of who they are based on their group membership.
Psychologist Tajfel (1979) proposed that the groups which people belonged, like social class, religion, family, teams etc., are an important source of pride and self-esteem. Groups give us a sense of social identity: a sense of belonging to the social world.
Social identity theory states that the in-group (us) will discriminate against the out-group (them) to enhance their self-image. This is what the circumcised, the Jewish Christians, Peter’s followers, are attempting to do. The people in Jerusalem to whom Peter returns want to keep separate from “them”, from the Gentiles. Yet God responses to this type of thinking and acting. God responses through a vision to Peter. God taught Peter that all of creation is created by God and that everyone is included. “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?” Peter says.
It is easy to get trapped into binary thinking, the haves and the have nots, us vs. them, liberals vs conservatives, the big church vs the little church. Yet God tells us we are all part of God’s creation and we are all equally worthy.
Being present with God can be challenging at times and trying to decipher what God is telling us can be even more challenging. Yet the disciples give us the answer. The first step to deciphering what God is telling us or where God is leading us is to pray.
Peter’s step by step explanation of what happened went as follows: 1) he prayed 2) he had a vision 3) the Holy Spirit fell upon him and 4) he gained greater understanding, he made meaning.
Peter came to make meaning of his vision through the power of the Holy Spirit. In verse 28 Peter declares his vision meant0 that God welcomes everyone, “God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean” (10:28). In reaction to this revelation Peter continued Jesus’ mission of including all people just as Jesus did in Luke 15:2, when Jesus ate with the sinners.
Have you ever had a vision, dream or ah-ha moment that shifted your life? Maybe it was a realization of where you are supposed to live and work, what you are called to do, or maybe a deeper understanding of who you are and what you are passionate about.
For me, my vision of the flat rocks came during prayer and was my ah-ha moment. I took that vision to be a message from God. A message that I am called to minister here at Pilgrim. Sometimes God is as clear as daylight to us and other times we plead to God to send us answers or information. Rest assured friends God is still speaking. Speaking through our scriptures, dreams, visions, prayers, thoughts and even through the voice of a close friend or loved one.
When we read the Psalm what did God pull out for you today? What stood out and why? Is God calling you to do something for our great Earth? This spring as the weather becomes nice I invite you to make meaning, to aside time to pray, dream or envision, allow the Holy Spirit to fall upon you and gain some greater understanding from God.
One thing God is definitely telling us today is that you as Pilgrim Congregational Church are worthy. We have a special community here and though we maybe small in number, we are thriving in love. As a community we are called to embrace ourselves and not compare “us to them”. God has made us clean and we have been baptized and blessed by the Holy Spirit. No matter our size, stature, tradition, or history, we are enough and we have been given the “repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18).
Thanks be to God.