St. John’s Episcopal Church
207 Albany Avenue, Kingston, NY 12401

Sermons

  • Peter’s Vision of a New World – The Rev. Michelle Meech

    May 15, 2022

    Today, and every Sunday during the Easter season, we have a reading from the Book of Acts – the amazing revelations given to the apostles after the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. These revelations power their deeds and redefine their understandings of God and of their messiah. They offer a blueprint, if you will, for how this community will come to define themselves in the days after Jesus’ death.

    The book details the Acts of the Apostles as told by Luke where God is always trying to get the attention of these followers so that they can come to know the Good News for themselves and come to teach and spread the Good News for the whole world.

    And this vision of Peter’s is definitely a revelation of profound proportions. Peter is learning something that is incredibly disruptive to the status quo for the religious leadership in Jerusalem. He has been given a new vision of community, a new vision of who’s in and who’s out, of what’s clean and what’s profane.

    And Peter is sharing his awakening with the other people in Jerusalem, the rule-makers, who believed that the messiah had come only for some people, that God’s love was only for some people. They had challenged Peter, demanding to know why he would betray his fellow Jews and commune with Gentiles, or in Hebrew, Ummot ha-olam… the nations of the world. For the Hebrews at this time, to be in relationship with people of other nations wasn’t seen as fancy or cosmopolitan. It was seen as treachery, as treason, as a threat to the survival of their people.

    And Peter responds to their challenge by explaining it to them, “step by step” so they don’t misunderstand. Because Peter’s revelation is a vision that redefines boundaries and rules and morality for an entire people. It’s a vision of God’s unbounded love.

    The voice from heaven in this vision of Peter’s proclaims: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

    Well, how do we know what God has made clean?

    If we’re honest, this is usually discerned by our own sense of morality and is, therefore, completely subjective. It’s hard to get beyond that, frankly. It’s hard to expand the understanding of who is worthy of receiving God’s love beyond who we feel is deserving of it based on what we determine as “good” and “bad.” And, if we’re not paying attention, it can be easy to let this determine who we define as worthy of being a part of our community, who we will eat with, who we will accept as one of us.

    We are human and, simply by being a part of the world, we are inevitably going to meet people who drive us crazy. Admit it, there is at least one person in your world that makes you cringe, that you desperately want to avoid, perhaps even someone who you feel deserves to be ostracized. Perhaps this person offends our sensibilities or aggravates our peace of mind. We have decided that this person is wrong-headed in some way, that they are more deserving of your offense than of your acceptance.

    It might be someone you know personally or someone you work with. It might be a political candidate or a celebrity. It might be someone who has hurt someone you love or respect.

    Now, I want you to imagine breaking bread with this person.

    Whoever it happens to be, this person is somehow different enough from us that we cannot seem to grant them acceptance. There are all kinds of factors that determine our lines of acceptance: Behavior, Clothing, Intelligence, Income level, Grooming habits, Education level, How old they are, What baseball team they support, Political party affiliation, How much they weigh, The type of computer they use, The kind of car they drive, The person they love, The way they express their gender, The color of their skin, The language they speak, The way they worship God… or the fact that they choose not to worship God. The list is endless… literally endless.

    This is exactly what Peter’s vision is about – how we are called together despite what we find to be acceptable or agreeable. How we are called to reconciliation, how we are called to love.

    And this Table is the very place we are called to practice reconciliation every week. This is where we are called to practice Love. Because everyone is invited to this Table, regardless of any limitations or boundaries we see, this Table is for everyone. We break bread with everyone at this Table.

    So, the person that drives you crazy?… they are at this Table with you.

    And this is why it’s called the Table of Reconciliation – because here we are reconciled to God and here we are reconciled to one another. And, frankly, there is no difference between these two – being reconciled to God and reconciled to one another. It doesn’t mean that we give people access to us if we think they are unsafe. But it does mean that we stop giving them so much space in our heads, we stop blocking our hearts and shoring them up in fear. In other words, we forgive

    The Gospel today tells us of Jesus’ new commandment: To love one another, just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

    If you’ve ever received an email from me, you might have noticed the quote on the bottom of the page:  “the real “work” of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me… to gently push aside and silence the many voices that question my goodness and to trust that I will hear the voice of blessing– that demands real effort. ”
    Henri J.M. Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World

    I think so many times, we harbor judgment about others or we build up walls between us and other people because, we somehow believe that we are the ones who unworthy in some way. We are afraid that we aren’t meeting some imagined standard. So it’s easier to caste stones… to create a scapegoat, like we were talking about last week.

    So it we wonder why it’s so hard to love others, we may begin by asking the question: why is it so hard to love myself? The Table of Reconciliation, then, also must be a path for reconciling us to ourselves.

    “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

    In the moments when it’s possible for us to see ourselves anew, to see others anew, to reconcile the world with God who is Love, these are the moments when we start to understand, really understand Resurrection. And the words we hear in the Revelation to John start to make sense: where the one on the throne says, “See, I am making all things new…”

    At this Table, in this Love in this reconciliation… God whispers to us: “See I am making all things new.” We are being made new. We are being made whole.

    The Glory of God, is a spark that lies in all of us, indeed, in the soul of all life. And, as Christians, we recognize that Christ is the manifestation of that spark of divinity. Christ is God incarnate. We claim that Jesus is the one who lived and continues to live to teach us the way so that we might live into the resurrection, where all things are being made new. Christ is the Alpha and the Omega – the gamut of all that is incarnate in the universe and carries within the Glory of God.

    Love one another as I have loved you. This is why Jesus is our savior – because he gave us this commandment to help us rethink our narrow sights and cast a wider vision of God’s unbounded Love. And include ourselves in that vision.

    We are saved, we are made whole, as we come to the truth we find as we immerse ourselves in God’s love at this Table: There is nothing wrong with us. There never was. And this truth, when we can finally accept it, feels like cool water on a hot day. We are strengthened and renewed.

    “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”