THOUGHT FOR THE DAY SUNDAY 15th May

15th May 2022

Readings

Acts 11.1-18

Peter Explains His Actions

11 The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him 3 and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

4 Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. 6 I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. 7 Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’

8 “I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’

9 “The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ 10 This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.

11 “Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. 12 The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. 14 He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’

15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with[a] water, but you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit.’ 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”

18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

John 13.31-35

Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial

31 When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Thought for the Day

Would you go on a picnic with Peter? Look at the food he laid out on his picnic blanket: four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air..... Would you eat any of those?

Now you probably know that Peter's people the Jews had very strict food laws, then, as they still do now. But you know, it's not just the Jewish people who have strict food laws, it's us too. It's not just the Jewish people who have very clear ideas about what food is clean and what food is unclean, what food is 'ours' and what food is 'other' which we wouldn't touch even if our life depended on it because we'd feel contaminated by it. Think of the foods which some other people eat, but you would definitely not eat: frog's legs, monkey's brains, tripe perhaps - and consider the reason why you'd not eat them.

The reason why we’d not eat these funny foods is that we are all guided by food 'laws' - unwritten laws, mostly, instinctive, intuitive but very firm ideas about what is clean and what is profane. Laws which can change as society changes, over time, but strong influences on us all the time.

Our modern-day obsession with purity, with cleanliness, tied in with health and safety, is just as strict and restrictive as the cleanliness obsessions of Peter's day. In the UK each year we throw away 8.3 million tonnes of household food, most of which could have been eaten. Sell by dates have a lot to do with this. We consider something unclean now, and feel unable to eat it, if it's past its sell by or use by date. Even though it is actually still perfectly edible.

If Peter was around today and his picnic menu included some bread and butter and some ham which were each just over their use-by date, and some very strong smelling cheese well past its sell-by date, would you eat a sandwich with him?

Some of us would, but others might turn up our noses, say politely, 'no thanks', go home and gossip or make jokes about Peter's horrible picnic food. Even gossip or make jokes about the people who had said yes and eaten with him.

What you eat is sometimes used as a form of insult towards you. For example some people call Asian people 'Bug-Eaters' as many Asians eat bugs such as locusts and grasshoppers. Germans call Italians 'cat eaters'. If you’re from Wigan you’re a ‘pie-eater’. (‘What do you call a balanced diet in Wigan? A pie in both hands’). And so on. All of this might help us to understand the struggle that Peter was having in his head and in his heart about whether or not he should be eating Gentile food.

Remember that in the early years, Christianity was a Jewish faith. It took a good deal of teaching from Jesus to make his fellow-Jews realise that his message - of the coming of the kingdom of God - wasn't just for people like them. It was for everyone. Even Gentiles.

So when the Jewish Christian leaders of the Jesus People began to see Gentiles come to faith, it was a tremendous challenge to them. They had to change so many of their ideas about these other people. They had to learn to share their faith with them. And in many ways even more challenging - they had to learn to share their food with them. They had to learn to eat their food.

So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticised him, saying, 'Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?' Peter explained to them the dream that God had given him, in which God asked him to prepare a meal from food that he wouldn't normally touch. That tasty selection of four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. It was rather like you or me being asked to cook monkey's brains.

Peter refused at first saying, "[No], Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth." He didn’t want to have to try eating 'other'. But God insisted, "What God has made clean, you must not call profane."

Then Peter realised the significance of what God was saying. Because he knew that the food wasn't the real issue. The real issue was the challenge of having to accept that in God’s eyes, people of a different culture were clean, and pure, and good, and loved, and that he, Peter, was called to open his arms and share his faith - and his table - with them.

God told Peter not to call anyone profane or impure. At that moment Peter realised something profound about the kingdom he was in, the subversive upside-down Kingdom of Heaven, a kingdom in which ‘there are, in fact, no impure or profane people, where not even disgusting people consider themselves disgusting, [a kingdom] where we have learnt to disbelieve, and to help them to disbelieve, in their own repugnancy’.

If we are living with a foot in both kingdoms - the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Heaven - then we are called to unlearn our habit of calling others profane or impure.

If we are living with a foot in both kingdoms - the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Heaven - then we are called to help those who are different from us to see themselves as equally invited with us to receive the grace of God, inheritors with us of his Kingdom. We are called to help people we may once called 'disgusting', to start to disbelieve that.

It's a wonderful calling and it's a sign of God at work in the world. It’s one way we can obey the ‘new commandment’ which Jesus gave his followers, ‘Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.' This new commandment means unconditional love for all people. Love, with no questions asked. Love, for people who may look differently, talk differently, pray differently, and even more noticeably, eat differently - than us.

Loving different foods is a positive step towards loving people who are different, accepting who they are and what they do and what they eat. Such love - is a joyful thing. It’s a sign of the Kingdom of Heaven. Today, Jesus once again invites us to the table in which we all share his bread and all drink from his cup. No longer profaned but loved. And learning how to no longer profane others but to love them - unconditionally - instead.

Prayer

We pray, dear God,
for places where there is division and for countries in the grip
of civil war...may your Holy Spirit bring peace;
for countries where there is religious persecution…
may your Holy Spirit bring unity;
for towns and cities where gang warfare brings fear…
may your Holy Spirit bring hope;
for communities where there is inequality…
may your Holy Spirit bring dignity;
for workplaces where there is insecurity…
may your Holy Spirit bring confidence;
for homes where there is brokenness…
may your Holy Spirit bring healing;
for churches where there is dilemma…
may your holy Spirit bring life:
to your glory.
Amen.