As I write this, I’m debating if I should respond to an email sent by an anonymous person to my church. It’s Pride Month so to celebrate, my church hung a pride flag on one of our windows (our church gathers at a retail space that used to be a bakery) for all to see. And see, this person did.
This person was so unhappy that a church—a church—would engage in such a travesty as celebrating Pride Month. Of course the email was accompanied by all sorts of Bible verses to tell me—the pastor—just how far off from God’s word I have led my people astray. The truth is no one’s going to “win” by spouting off Bible verses because we all pick and choose from the Bible. Everyone of us. We pick verses that strengthen and support our own point of view.
If the literalist did take the Bible literally, then we should see more people who’ve gouged out one of their eyes and/or chopped off one of their hands—or declare that they are sinless and never had a sinful thought. If I wanted to play “the Bible Says” game with this emailer, I could kindly point out that, as a female, she really isn’t allowed to send such emails to me, a male pastor, because the Bible says so. But I won’t. I probably won’t even respond because, from my experience, 99% of these emails are less about having conversations and more about wanting to prove me wrong.
Instead of singling out Bible verses and bringing up what the words meant in its original translation (because, as surprising it may be for a few people, the Bible wasn’t originally written in English!) I always come back to the story of An early Gentile convert to the Christian faith. and The disciple who denied Jesus during his trial but later became a leader in proclaiming Jesus in Acts 10.
Cornelius, a A gentile is anyone who is not Jewish. The term, which is derived from words that the Bible uses to denote the "nations" of the world, reflects beliefs that God had designated Israel as a nation that would be distinct from others, and a blessing..., receives a vision from God to retrieve a man by the name of Simon who is called Peter staying at Simon the Tanner’s house (a bit confusing, but I digress). As Cornelius’s men make the trek towards Peter, Peter also has a vision. In the vision, he sees descending from the heavens a sheet (a Holy is a term that originally meant set apart for the worship or service of God. While the term may refer to people, objects, time, or places, holiness in Judaism and Christianity primarily denotes the realm of the divine sheet?) fall down and in it all sorts of animals. Peter hears a voice that tells him to get up, kill, and eat.
“By no means, Lord,” Peter responds. “For I have never eaten anything that is profane or In Hebrew law many regulations warned against impurity. Unclean things were numerous and included leprosy, menstruating women, dead bodies, shell fish, and pigs..”
The voice replies: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”
And this happened three times (Acts 10:11-15). As soon as the vision ended, Cornelius’s men had arrived and the Spirit urged Peter to go with the men.
I love the urgency of the Spirit in this story.
Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation. (Acts 10:20).
Don’t think about it. Don’t pray about it. Don’t give yourself time to wonder what these means and compare/contrast to what the scriptures have said. Go without hesitation.
Peter goes. He enters the house of Cornelius, a Gentile. Peter even lays out what he’s risking here: You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile (Acts 10:28). But Cornelius explains his vision and Peter is flabbergasted by God’s intention and the Spirit moving through Cornelius and those in his house—so much so that Peter ended up baptizing all of them, the Gentiles.
Word got out about Peter’s action and his fellow apostles demanded to know why Peter would go against God’s words; why Peter would break religious laws. But after hearing Peter’s testimony The "beloved physician" and companion of Paul tells us:
they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
The story of Pentecost was originally a Jewish harvest or pilgrimage festival that fell on the fiftieth day after Passover. It was during this festival that the Holy Spirit visited Jesus' followers in tongues of fire and caused them to speak in many languages, as reported in Acts... planted the seeds of God’s plan post-resurrection. I conclude that inclusivity and diversity are woven into the DNA of the Body of Christ. Instead of reversing the Tower of Babel incident by returning the world to one common language, God blessed all languages and deemed all languages worthy of God’s story.
We see the seeds planted in the Pentecost story take life in Acts 10 and it exposes the desire of God: simply that God wants everyone. Our communal history begins with one person. Then it expanded to twelve tribes. The doors of inclusion kept opening wider and wider. Then in Pentecost, the doors were opened as far as they could open.
With Cornelius, the doors were busted down and God’s love no longer had limits; no longer had borders; no longer had boundaries. The gates are flung wide open. No more gatekeeping necessary. Everyone belongs to the The kingdom (reign) of God is a central theme of Jesus' teaching and parables. According to Jesus this reign of God is a present reality and at the same time is yet to come. When Christians pray the Lord's Prayer, they ask that God's kingdom....
Really, boundaries and borders are creations of ours. We (humans) created them to distinguish who is in and who is out. God, on the other hand, wants us all and the profound truth is that we matter to God far more than we matter to one another. Simply put, the story of Cornelius reminds me that God’s desires know no bounds, limits, or boundaries. God simply wants us all; God simply loves us all and that all really means all. Would the people who see the world (and God and scriptures) as my recent emailer does agree? Probably not. But that’s not really my problem, if I’m honest. I have to remind myself, I’m called not to be right, but to be A righteous person is one who is ethical and faithful to God's covenant. Righteousness in the Old Testament is an attitude of God; in the New Testament it is a gift of God through grace. In the New Testament righteousness is a relationship with God.... And more than being called to convince people, I believe that I’m called to love and be loving.