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Unsettling Dreams

Acts 10:1-16++


Announcements: We’re still looking for pictures and videos. Would you like to record some liturgy? Pastoral visits will resume. Congregational meeting July 12; Outdoor worship July 19.

Hymn # 317 In Christ There Is No East or West

Prayer of Invocation Eternal God, you have called us to be members of one body. Join us with those who in all times and places have praised your name, that, with one heart and mind, we may show the unity of your church, and bring honor to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Call to Confession Our Lord Jesus said: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” As God has instructed us in these great commandments, and because we have not lived in full obedience, let us now confess our sins to God, trusting Christ as our Savior and Lord.

Prayer of Confession Gracious God, we believe that Christ's work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another, yet we confess that we do not always live up to our beliefs. We do not live into the unity of the church, as Christ has called us to be one body. We see separation and hatred between your Children, O, God, yet we do not do enough to mend the breaches. Help us, God, to love one another and practice community with all of your children. Help us, God, to be agents of unity, in the church and in the world that you have created. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Passing of the Peace

Minute for Mission: Yvonne Delgado-Lindner

Prayer for Illumination

Acts 10:1-16 In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. 2 He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. 3 One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” 4 He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; 6 he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.” 7 When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him, 8 and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa.

9 About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” 15 The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.

Sermon: Unsettling Dreams

Good morning! Are you confused yet? It turns out, so was Peter. According to verse 17: “Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate.” The problem is that this is a really long story, so I’m going to summarize the next few verses.

So, just to recap, there’s a Roman centurion named Cornelius. He lives in a town called Caesarea. Cornelius is an upright man—he believes in the God of Israel, though he probably doesn’t know anything about Jesus yet. This is likely just a few weeks after Pentecost. Cornelius is a Gentile, not a Jew. This is a very important detail.

Cornelius has a dream, in which he’s visited by an angel. The angel tells him to send for Peter, the apostle; the very same Peter who denied Jesus three times. That Peter, the rock upon whom Jesus would build the Church. Peter is staying in a town called Joppa, not far away.

A day after Cornelius has his dream, Peter has a dream, too. The Holy Spirit comes to Peter and shows him a vision of all sorts of animals, and then the Spirit tells Peter to kill and eat. But Peter still sees himself as a faithful Jew, who happens to believe Jesus is the Messiah. The animals in the vision are not kosher. When the Spirit tells Peter to kill and eat these animals, Peter says NO. The Spirit has to tell this to Peter three times. Hmmm. I wonder if that’s significant…

Right after Peter has this vision, Cornelius’ men arrive at the house where Peter is staying. Peter welcomes them in. The next day, Peter, some of the people who were hosting Peter, and all of Cornelius’ servants travel back to Caesarea together. Then Peter enters Cornelius’ house. This is a big deal, as Peter informs them:

“You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?” (Acts 28-29)

Cornelius explains to Peter that he, too, had a dream. In that dream, an Angel said, send for Peter, and now it’s time for Peter to preach:

34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. (Acts 34-36)

Peter then goes on to summarize the good news of Jesus Christ. There’s more to the story, but I’m going to save that for later.

The Book of Acts begins with the story of Jesus’ ascension into heaven. In that story, Jesus tells the apostles: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (1:8). This morning’s reading from Acts shows Peter living into that call.

Peter’s dream seems strange at first. Why would the Holy Spirit tell Peter that he could now eat the meat of any animal, whether it was kosher or not? What is that even a thing? We get a clue in verse 28, when Peter says it is unlawful for him to enter Cornelius’ house. But why?

In the Near East there was—and still is—a great culture of hospitality. If you had a house, and someone came to your door seeking shelter, you were obliged to let that person in. You had a duty to provide whatever hospitality you could. At a bare minimum, you had to provide food and shelter, especially if that person was any sort of a relative. It would have been a great shame to turn a traveler away.

On the flip side, any guest was obligated to receive the host’s hospitality. That means that any guest would have to eat what the host sets out. And if the host were a Gentile, then it’s likely the food wouldn’t be kosher. This is why the Holy Spirit came to Peter and told him it was now acceptable to eat animals that weren’t kosher. If the Spirit didn’t remove that restriction, then Peter couldn’t have entered Cornelius’ house; he couldn’t have shared the good news of Jesus with Cornelius!

In a sense, the Holy Spirit ordains or commissions Peter to cross one of the barriers between Jews and Gentiles. Remember, Peter still sees himself as a faithful Jew, while Cornelius is very much a Gentile. But Peter has to do this. Peter can only say that God shows no partiality after he has crossed that boundary and entered Cornelius’ house.

This must have been extraordinarily difficult for Peter. Remember, the Spirit had to tell him three times that it was acceptable for him to eat the meat of animals that were thought to be unclean. It was an unsettling dream.

Peter was a Jew; a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—that same Jacob who was later named Israel. Peter was the descendant of a tribe who had been called as God’s chosen people, Israel. They had an exclusive relationship with God; a privileged relationship.

In some ways, Jewish dietary laws were a reminder of that exclusive relationship. That barrier between Jews and Gentiles was a reminder of Jewish identity. Perhaps Peter felt that he was losing a piece of his identity when he was told that he no longer had to keep kosher.''

Maybe Peter was okay with the ideas of spreading the message of Jesus to Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth, but he hadn’t thought through all the implications. Peter was bringing the good news of Jesus Christ—a message that would eventually change the world and change the lives of all the new believers. Perhaps Peter hadn’t realized that he would need to change, too. Peter never questioned his privileged relationship with God.

Most of us don’t like to think of ourselves as being privileged. I grew up in a small house in a mostly working-class neighborhood. My parents were among the few people on my block who had a college education. But I never saw them as having privilege. I lived in a small town, Washington, PA. I always thought it was those rich people in East Washington who were privileged. Mind you, East Washington was only a block away from where I lived.

Speaking of privilege, I’m an only child. That’s one of the definitions of privilege right there. I never had to compete with a brother or sister for either of my parents’ attention. Even though my parents didn’t earn much money, I had most of the toys I wanted. On my mom’s side, I was the only grandchild. On my dad’s side, I was the only grandchild nearby. So, of course my grandmothers both spoiled me. But I didn’t see the privilege I had. I thought I was normal.

From the time I was a young child, I knew I was going to college. I thought that was normal, too. My parents both went to college. My grandmother on my dad’s side was the first one in her family to go to college. All three of her younger sisters went to college, too. As did my Uncle Dick, my Aunt Diane, and most of the cousins in their generation.

I was a fairly good student, so no one was surprised when I got into an expensive, private university. There wasn’t a lot of hand wringing over how we were going to pay for college. We didn’t worry too much about the cost of the education. We all assumed I’d get a good financial aid package, and I did. That’s also a very privileged attitude.

Kids from poor or working-class families always look at the price tag. If no one in the family has gone to college, then no one knows how to play the game. College seems like an impossible dream, an unbearable burden, especially if no one tells you all the ways to hack the system.

When you know all the ways to work the system—or when you don’t have to worry about how you’re going to pay for college, or lots of other things—then you usually don’t see this as privilege. You just see it as normal. And if most of your friends also went to college, you see that as normal, too. Pretty soon, most of the people you socialize with also went to college, and then you fail to realize how that may separate you from other people.

Now I’m not angry at my parents or my grandparents for expecting me to go to college. I’m not renouncing my privilege, nor am I experiencing guilt for having had the educational advantages I had. I didn’t choose to have those privileges, but I am aware that they exist. I also know that a college education isn’t the norm: about 35% of adults in the US hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. That’s up from 25% in the year 2,000, but it still means that most adults don’t have a bachelor’s degree.

That may not seem like a big deal—it may not be a huge divide in our society, but for those of us who have a college education, we don’t even see it as a dividing line. We have the privilege of not seeing ourselves as different. And in our isolation, we fail to see our privilege for what it is.

As Christians, we are called to reach out to the world outside of our church walls. When we are isolated in our own social context, whether it’s based on education level, economic status, or race, we are often blind to the experiences of other people who do not inhabit our social context. We are like Peter. And like Peter, when our privilege is challenged, we get defensive. We dig in our heels. We push back. We shout, “By no means, Lord!”

Our first response, when our privilege is called out, is to listen.

There’s a lot of grace in this story from Acts. It starts when the Holy Spirit visits Peter in that dream and tells him he’s no longer bound by old customs; he’s no longer separated from the Gentiles—but it’s hard for Peter to hear this message. He doesn’t want to listen, but once he does, grace enters the picture. The story also concludes with grace:

44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47 “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. (Acts 44-48)

This story demonstrates that God loves everyone, and God’s message of love, in and through Jesus Christ, is for everyone—God shows no partiality to any nation or tribe. Even the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit. But Peter could only preach the good news to the Gentiles after he let go of his privilege!

If we want to mend the breaches in our world, we have to be willing to change, just as Peter did. We need to die to our old selves, so that we may be resurrected into this new thing that God has been calling us. We need to cast off the things that keep us from building bridges with others, just as Peter followed the call of the Holy Spirit.

This requires us to listen to others, without getting defensive. It requires us to look at the stereotypes all around us, and see them through the eyes of others. It requires us to examine the places in our lives where we hold privilege. And then we have to admit those who are on the outside—the Ethiopian eunuchs, the Roman soldiers, and all the other Gentiles—into the privileges that we have, and we have to do it with unconditional love. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Hymn # 749 Come! Live in the Light! (We Are Called)

Prayer of Thanksgiving We give our thanks through our talents, our time, and our treasure. Thanks be to God; whose love creates us! Thanks be to God; whose mercy redeems us! Thanks be to God; whose grace leads us into the future! Amen.

Prayers of the People First and foremost, we ask that you open our eyes and ears and hearts to all the people around us. Purge us of our indifference, our complacency, and our tolerance for racism around us. Send us your Holy Spirit, so that we may mend the breaches in our society. Equip us to heal the divisions and take up the work of reconciliation.

Continued prayers for Trena Parks, and for all of our African American brothers and sisters in Christ whose faith has been tested during these times.

We lift up everyone whose lives are touched by addiction: those addicts who are lost to their loved ones, those who are struggling with sobriety, and all of the families and loved ones who struggle as someone in their lives struggles.

As always, we offer a prayer of thanksgiving—and prayers for health and safety—for all of the helpers out there. We lift up all the nurses, doctors, lab techs, nurses’ aides, housekeeping staff, and first responders who are on the front lines of this pandemic. We give thanks for all they do and we pray that God continue to watch over them in this time.

Finally, as cities and states emerge from this time of quarantine, we ask for the guidance and wisdom of the Holy Spirit for all our leaders, as they make difficult decisions about how and when to reopen businesses, schools, and houses of worship. And we pray for wisdom and grace for all of us as we navigate the return to parts of our old routines.

The Lord’s Prayer

Hymn # 296 Go in Grace and Make Disciples

Benediction I want to bless you before I send you out into the world, but I think we all need to spend a little more time in prayer. We need to devote ourselves to prayer, like the apostles did, in that time between the Ascension and Pentecost. Let us pray the prayer that’s attributed to St. Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me bring love.

Where there is offence, let me bring pardon.

Where there is discord, let me bring union.

Where there is error, let me bring truth. Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.

Where there is despair, let me bring hope.

Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.

Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.

O Master, let me not seek as much to be consoled as to console,

to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love,

for it is in giving that one receives,

it is in self-forgetting that one finds,

it is in pardoning that one is pardoned, it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life. Amen.

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