Peter’s Shifted Vision of God
Bible Text: Acts 10:1-48 | Preacher: Rev. Dennis Howard | Peter, as a good first century Jew understood the God of Israel as being the God of the Israelites only.
This understanding of the nature of the God of Israel, held by first century Jews, was demonstrated in the way they practiced their religion, in the way they lived.
To exclude non-Jews from their religious and cultural life was the Jewish norm in Peter’s day.
The newly converted Jews, those now following the Way, clung to these religious and cultural norms.
Their vision of God, Peter’s vision of God, as being exclusively for the Jews was very durable.
Peter’s exclusionary vision of God had survived his witnessing the resurrection of Jesus.
Jesus rising from the dead surely had informed some part of Peter that God was up to something different, something amazing even.
Clearly, as witnessed by the resurrection, God was not limiting himself to operating within the world’s normal way of things.
But even after this stupendous, norm shattering event, Peter still allowed his vision of God to set strong boundaries around where God could possibly be going with the new thing that was afoot.
Peter still figured that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus was for a select group of people, not for the whole world.
And that select group of people, was of course, eople like Peter; people from his cultural and religious group.
If the stories in Acts flow chronologically, Peter’s durable vision of a limited God ad survived even his own more recent experiences.
During his just reported trip to the Samaritan people, Peter had seen his God pour out the Holy Spirit upon people who he personally considered to be his religious and cultural inferiors and enemies even.
Peter’s vision of God – a vision of a God who perpetuated racism and cultural and religious intolerance had survived, even seeing with his own eyes, the out pouring of the Holy Spirit upon the hated Samaritan people.
Clearly, the penny had not yet dropped for Peter.
As we have said, Peter’s erroneous vision of God, his prejudicial, hateful really, way of seeing God was incredibly durable.
As we read today, it took direct action by God to break down and amend Peter’s religiously and culturally acquired vision of God.
God in God’s mercy and grace intervened in Peter’s life super-naturally to correct his vision of God.
Peter may have been slow to catch up to what God was about. But once he got the picture, he was very obedient.
When God, using the super-natural intervention of a vision, figuratively bonked Peter on the head to get his attention, Peter’s vision of God literally shifted.
And he obeyed God’s counter-cultural command, followed Cornelius’ men into his home, which was forbidden territory for a first century Jew who wanted to remain ritually clean.
And we know from the story what God was able to do for the members of Cornelius’ house. All because Peter obeyed God by allowing God to transform his vision of God by breaking down his culturally formed religious barriers.
Because Peter allowed his vision of God to be transformed by the new vision God gave him, the people of Cornelius’ household were converted to the Way.
People who just days before Peter would have shunned as being unacceptable to God were welcomed into God’s Kingdom and received the sacrament of baptism and the blessing of the Holy Spirit.
Peter had lived his whole life according to the Law.
Peter had lived his whole life under an interpretation of the Holy Scripture, which judged all non-Jewish people as being unclean. Unclean and therefore not worthy of God’s loving mercy and grace.
And then suddenly one afternoon God showed Peter who God really is.
And Peter’s vision of God, the way he knew God to be was powerfully transformed.
The Christian church, we practitioners of the Christian faith, are still learning Peter’s lesson from Acts chapter ten.
We constantly and continually need to allow our vision of who God is, how God is, to be transformed by the insights into living the Christian life that can come to us only through the super-natural intervention of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
We must always remember that God’s grace and mercy is much larger, much more inclusive than our human understanding of cultural and religious boundaries is prepared to allow.
I am not advocating here a no-holds-barred, anything-goes, life style or belief system.
But I am encouraging each of us to always prayerfully examine our image of God.
I am encouraging each of us to hold up our understanding of how God is and let the light of God’s word shine in upon it.
Shining in to reveal to us the ways in which our God –
our image of God –
our vision of God is too small.
Too religiously and culturally influenced.
The risen Jesus said to Peter’s face, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Pretty plain language, very clear instruction.
“Go to all nations”, Jesus said.
But it still took God coming to Peter in a vision explicitly saying, “Do not call anything unclean that God has made clean”, saying it three times actually.
This is what it took for Peter to get the message and then to apply it to each situation that God led him into in life.
It is good for us to read about and to remember this lesson that was so hard for Peter to learn.
It is good for us to admit that we need to learn and relearn this lesson each day of our Christian walk.
Because God is out there in the world bringing the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all people.
We the church, we God’s people, do well to remember, to try always to conceive of, how large God’s heart is for the world that God created and called good.
Let us each one, allow our vision of God to expand until it spreads across God’s world like the light of the rising Son; bringing the life and THE love of our God to all.