May 17, 2020

The Setup

Preacher:
Passage: Acts 9:32-43

Bible Text: Acts 9:32-43 | Preacher: Rev. Dennis Howard | The book of Acts sometimes reminds me of those movies that tell their story by slowly weaving together the lives of seemingly unrelated characters.

The creators of movies like this take their time developing their characters.

They seem to take pleasure in leaving their audience hanging;  wondering what one character has to do with the other.

Wondering even,

“What is the point of this movie?”

But if you are patient, the plots of such movies gradually thicken, eventually coalescing into a cohesive whole.

The story is told, the creator’s point is made.

The End.

When I read our scripture lesson for today I felt a bit like I was watching just such a movie.

Over the last several weeks of reflecting on the book of Acts we have heard from a number of characters:
~Peter (a lot of Peter),
~John (who does not have a speaking part but is mentioned fairly often),
~the apostles (mentioned as a group only, not individually named),
~Stephen who had a major, if rather brief, role,
~Philip,
~Saul for the first time very briefly in Acts 8:1 and then a second time in Acts 9:1-31.

So, many characters, coming and going.

But where are they heading?

What’s the point of this movie?

In particular what is Luke getting at in today’s lesson; where suddenly, rather abruptly,  Peter is back on the scene.

If the first few chapters of Acts were a movie the film editor would have been kept very busy during post-production; snipping and splicing away like mad at the bits of film footage, working bravely to weave this list of characters together into a cohesive whole.

If you were a film critic, you would be forgiven for wondering what the editor of Acts-the-movie thought he was doing by tacking today’s twelve verses about Peter onto the end of the story of the conversion of Saul.

Acts of course is not a movie.

The Book of Acts is holy scripture written by St. Luke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

This being the case it would serve us well to not criticize the editor of the movie.

But rather to reflect on why he chose to edit this twelve verse Peter-vignette into the story where he did?

So, let’s do that.

Let’s reflect on this question.

Today’s Peter scene which begins in Acts 10:32, opens with him travelling about the country.

Remember back in Acts 8:14-25?

Peter and John were sent by the apostles from Jerusalem to Samaria because God was using Philip through signs and wonders to convert many of the locals there to being followers of the Way?

Well this travelling about the country which we are told of today in Acts 10:32 is likely that story being picked up again after the author filled us in on what was happening with Saul, specifically with Saul’s conversion.

So, again why this short piece about Peter inserted here just before a much longer, a two-chapter long, piece about Peter’s exploits outside his comfort zone in Jerusalem are the two even connected if so how?

To work at answering this question let’s look briefly at the historic setting Peter lived in.

Peter was a Jew.

For centuries the Jews had excluded from their religious life all the nations that surrounded them.

They had in fact forgotten that God had created them as a nation that was blessed to be a blessing to the nations.

The Jewish nation at the time of Jesus and for years before that had forgotten their God given purpose of being a light unto the nations. A light for their healing and wholeness.

Instead of remembering why God had created them as a nation,  they focused on their Law using it as a means of setting themselves apart from the nations of the world.

Thereby hoarding God’s blessing for themselves.

All of a sudden Peter, a Jew, and the rest of the apostles, all Jews, hear from Philip the news that God is out there in the world  pouring out his blessing on, of all people, the Samarians.

Samaritans, who were a nation and people long held as enemies by the Jews.

So, there is that part of Peter’s setting to consider in trying to understand the placement of our piece of scripture in the broader story of the Bible.

Where else can we look for understanding of Luke’s editorial decision?

We were taught in seminary that when we are trying to deepen our understanding of the meaning of a piece of scripture, we should consider its location within scripture.

We were taught to look at what comes before the scripture in question and what comes after it.

In the case of today’s lesson, we have seen already that it comes just after the story of Saul’s conversion.

And we know Saul’s conversion is a big deal because Jesus appears in it twice.

Any time in the Bible that God appeared in person to people it was a big deal.

Think of Moses on mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments.

Thing of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration receiving God’s endorsement as his Beloved.

During Saul’s conversion God doesn’t appear once but twice.

Once to Saul and once again to Ananias.

So obviously Saul’s conversion is a big deal.

It was a big deal just because Jesus appeared to Saul.

But it was also a big deal because of what Jesus said to Ananias about the reason for Saul’s conversion.

“Saul”, Jesus said to Ananias, “Is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the gentiles.”

So, there is Peter, travelling about in gentile territory, in enemy territory, right after the stupendous event of Saul’s conversion.

Something is clearly afoot. The plot is beginning to coalesce.

We are made to wonder, “Are the plot lines of Saul and Peter’s lives being brought together by a common purpose? What might that purpose be?

What does God have up his sleeve?

To help us understand we need to take a sneak peak at what happens next?

What happens after the twelve verses we read today?

Remember to understand the point and purpose of a piece of scripture

it often helps to look at what comes before and after it in the Bible.

What comes after the twelve verses we read today is this?

Peter has a major vision where God speaks and as a result of this vision he has an epiphany that God is busting out of Jewish territory. God is moving beyond Jerusalem and Judea.

The Good News of the Gospel is too wonderful for God to allow it to be hoarded in Jewish territory.

God, Peter is learning is moving on, with or without the Jewish nation, travelling outside even distant Galilee, moving out into the Gentile world with the blessing of the Good News         about Jesus.

So, that is next week.

Important stuff.

Stuff linked in its theme and purpose to the conversion of Saul.  Saul the one chosen by Jesus to carry his name to the Gentiles.

Remember we are trying to understand one specific question about this week?

Why are these twelve verses tacked onto the beginning of next week’s big news; next week’s earth shatteringly big news, especially if you are a first century Jew, a new follower of the Way?

Remember again, the Jews and the Samaritans were cultural and religious enemies.

They were like oil and water; they did not mix.

How then was God to break down their mutually prejudicial walls and bring them together for the good of the gospel?

God knew that whoever tried to bring these haters together  would have to command serious credibility on both sides.

And God did just that for Peter.

First God showed Peter that he cared about the Samaritans.

Doing so through the signs and wonders performed by God in Philip’s ministry there.

Then God showed others through the raising of Dorcas from the dead after Peter prayed for her, that God was powerfully in support of Peter’s ministry.

One of the major hallmarks of Jesus’ ministry was that he raised people from the dead before he himself was raised from the dead.

Peter prayed in Jesus’ name and Dorcas rose from the dead.

God was assuredly on Peter’s side in a powerful, life bringing way.

This then is the point we are meant to glean from these twelve verses.

God is about to bless the known world with the Good News of the Gospel.

God is about to use Saul and Peter to perform this task.

This is an easy point for us to get today.

We know from the history of the church that God meant all along that salvation through faith in Jesus is for the whole world.

We have known for centuries that salvation through faith in Jesus as the Son of God is not for any one class, creed, race or nation.

And we know from church history that God used Saul and Peter to carry this news to the church in Jerusalem and to the world.

We know now the bit about the universal nature of the Gospel.

Though we may not always act on that knowledge.

But in Peter’s day the universal nature of salvation through Jesus was a lesson yet to be learned by the followers of the Way.

So, God had to give Peter a no-holds-barred endorsement of his ministry. Both for what he was about to first learn for himself and then teach to the rest of the early church in Jerusalem.

Okay, you say,

fair enough,

so what?

So, what has this ancient lesson, this lesson of the inclusive nature of God, so well learned, so long ago, got to do with me today?

What indeed?

The answer to this question will vary depending on who is asking it.

Try asking yourself this question the next time you come before your God in prayer.

Ask God to show you what areas of your life, what portions of your world view, could do with a review of the lesson of inclusivity that we read about starting a few weeks ago during the Pentecost story, and will continue reviewing next week?

The separation between Jew and Gentile was an absolutely fundamental principle of Jewish religious orthodoxy in Peter’s day.

As a result, this culturally learned world view, that had some justification in scripture, was automatically one of the cornerstone principles of the earliest Jewish followers of the Way.

In Peter’s world at the time if you were a man and wanted to be a follower of the Way, there is evidence in scripture that there was a belief held by the Jerusalem followers of the Way that you needed to submit to their Jewish practice of circumcision.

Here is an example of a world view, based on an interpretation of scripture, that people used to exclude other people from the blessing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I encourage you to always reflect on the fundamentals of your world view, on how your interpretation of the Bible may be affecting your world view to exclude others from God’s intended blessing for them.

As you pray and wait on the Lord, as you read and contemplate the meaning of Scripture, examine your fondest beliefs.

Look at your world view closely in light of what God reveals to you as you pray and reflect.

Check to see where your cultural understandings of the way life is to be lived do and do not line-up with

Jesus’ call to love your neighbour as yourself.

As you read the word of God, as you reflect upon its meaning for you today, consider in your heart the ways in which your most treasured understandings of the way God is, may not actually be in accord with God’s true nature.
With Peter,
with Saul,
with all the saints of God
in all times and places:
watch, wait and pray.

And God, the Holy Spirit, will surely come to you with a vision of the power of the Son’s love.

Making clear to you, all the ways this world’s conventions have darkened your vision of the Father in whose image you are created.

And know this

God loves you.

God the Father desires to set you free in Christ.

Free to grow into the likeness of the Son.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.