9 At noon on the following day, as their journey brought them close to the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted to eat. While others were preparing the meal, he had a visionary experience. 11 He saw heaven opened up and something like a large linen sheet being lowered to the earth by its four corners. 12 Inside the sheet were all kinds of four-legged animals, reptiles, and wild birds. 13 A voice told him, “Get up, Peter! Kill and eat!”
14 Peter exclaimed, “Absolutely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
15 The voice spoke a second time, “Never consider unclean what God has made pure.” (Acts 10:9-15 Common English Bible.)
In this passage of scripture, Peter has a vision that will expand his understanding of God's realm. It is a vision that opens up the gospel (the Good News of God's reign) to Gentiles. Those who had been deemed unclean, were now clean.
The Christian Church (broadly speaking) has long struggled with what it means to be inclusive. We struggle with boundary issues -- just like every religious community. I think that there have been times when the church, or parts of the church, have been on the right side of the question and many times when it has not been.
I want to risk the interpretive rules for a moment by thinking out loud what it means for the church to be a truly inclusive community without loosing its core principles and ideals. What have we declared unclean that God has perhaps, through the Spirit, declared clean?
There are a number of areas where we struggle with a changes in the way the world exists. Here are some areas we must examine as people of faith:
- Our relationships with people of other faith traditions. Where do they stand in our estimation and our perception of God's estimation. I have long been involved in interfaith work and attended last night a special event in Detroit called the World Sabbath for Religious Reconciliation. How do we engage in this work?
- I'm reading a wonderful book by Amos Yong called The Bible, Disability, and the Church: A New Vision of the People of God. He asks us to consider how the church can be truly inclusive of those who are disabled -- whether this physical, emotional, or intellectual. We don't have a very good record on this, and its not just making sure we have ADA compliant facilities -- it's the way we think and speak of people whom society deems less able to participate fully in the community.
- And of course there is the question of gender. There are still too many places in the church where women are hindered from using their gifts for the glory of God.
- And then the ever controversial issue of including those who persons who are Gay and Lesbian. Society is changing. There is greater acceptance of the presence of homosexuals in our communities, but there is still a stigma. There are still barriers. But do we hear a word from the Spirit of God, speaking to us, as the Spirit spoke to Peter, inviting us to consider persons that have traditionally been excluded as fully included in the body of Christ? That is the word I have been hearing for some time. And I'm seeing others also hear this vision. I believe my congregation is seeing this vision.
How is God expanding your vision of inclusion? I realize that not everyone is at the same place. But what do we hear from this passage from the Book of Acts? What is it saying to us in this time and place? How might we expand the circle of inclusion?