Adventurous Theology #7:
Good News for Everyone
Peter is at center stage in these three chapters and then exits for the remainder of Acts. This section, true to form of Acts, begins with signs and wonders (Acts 9:32-43), reminiscent of the healings of Jesus, in particular the healing of the man at the pool (John 5:1-9) and the awakening of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:35-43). The healing ministry of Jesus is alive and well in the early church; the “greater things” Jesus promised (John 14:12) are embodied in the lives of Jesus’ followers. Jesus’ non-competitive gospel inspires abundant life for everyone in everyplace, not just insiders but the whole earth. Jesus wants us to surpass him by continuing and transforming his ministry of healing, wholeness, justice-seeking, and hospitality.
Once again mysticism leads to mission. In the synchronicity of divine providence – the divine call and creative human response – God speaks to and through Cornelius, a Gentile, and Peter, a leader of the emerging church. Like the prior encounter of Paul and Ananias, revelation involves God’s movements in many persons; God is speaking through us to respond to others. We may by our faithfulness be an answer to someone else’s deepest need or prayer. Relationships are not merely a matter of convenience, but also, at some primordial level, vocation. We are called to share good news to one another in the interdependence of interpersonal relationships. Our salvation or wholeness is profoundly relational: we need others to find our way and our destinies are interwoven in unique ways with certain people.
Peter’s vision is highly unsettling to him and to us. God is asking Peter to disobey the rules of his faith, presumably enacted by God in ancient times. These rules shaped the Jewish tradition and Peter’s own understanding of God. While not denying their value and role in nation-shaping and personal spiritual formation, God asks Peter - as Jesus asked him on the seashore - to launch out into deeper spiritual waters. In Acts, Peter comes back with another great catch – this time surf and turf, shrimp, lobster, crab, and pork. “Rejoice and enjoy the unclean foods,” the vision commands. Naturally, Peter resists, but eventually relents as God continues to call him to a new understanding of his faith. “Call nothing unclean. All foods and, more importantly, all peoples are welcome at my table.” Ethnicity makes no difference in revelation and mission. No one is excluded: God embraces Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, and also Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
So Peter goes with Cornelius’ servants, finds welcome in Cornelius’ home and, no doubt, to his surprise, experiences the Holy Spirit falling upon these faithful Gentiles, inspiring them to speak in the language of holiness. All people are holy, all creation is welcome, and all can share God’s revealing wisdom. There is nothing to hinder universal revelation, baptism, or salvation.
We are here as Christians in North America because of the boldness of Peter and Cornelius. Their willingness to go beyond their spiritual comfort zones, to be themselves, makes it possible for us to be ourselves as persons of faith. There is no “don’t ask, don’t tell” among Christians; we are welcomed at God’s banquet in our amazing diversity, uniqueness, and beauty.
What’s to hinder the Spirit from calling us today – what new horizons of spirituality beckon us forward as God’s partners in healing the earth?
Bruce Epperly is Professor of Practical Theology and Director of Continuing Education at Lancaster Theological Seminary. He is the author of 17 books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living and Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry.