I am not cradle Episcopalian. I was raised in the Baptist Church…Southern Baptist in Texas. Grew up with the beliefs, the traditions, the doctrine, and the expression of that denomination within the Christian faith. I am an alumnus of Baylor University which is the Baptist university within Texas. I will return to this in a moment.
Peter, from our first reading for the morning, has a vision, a dream, a trance of a sheet coming down from above. Within this sheet are all the creatures of earth that can be consumed. God tells Peter to eat of these, and Peter responds that he cannot. These creatures are unclean, unacceptable according to the tradition of his upbringing. Peter receives new information from this dream and is made new. His ideas are transformed.
And Peter shares this information through a story that Luke writes. This is a story that is expressed to others for a purpose. But, it is a story.
I remember when I was in my early 30s, and I was at home visiting my parents. In this one instance, my dad and I were engaged in a discussion, which became a heated, tense conversation, about a couple of specific beliefs within the Baptist church. And I was questioning these beliefs. As we stood in the middle of the living room floor, my dad expressed that he would not sit next to someone in church who was a homosexual. He would not shake hands of the visitor welcome with someone who was homosexual. That person would be disgusting, and he would not have anything to do with them. End of discussion.
My response was that if he believed that homosexuality was a sin, then he was the same as that individual because he too had sin. I remember expressing my disdain at that belief because it assumed an arrogance, an elitism. And it assumed an internal system of sin hierarchy…that some sins were worse than others.
This conversation that happened some twenty years ago angered me at the time. At the bigotry and attitude much like the Pharisees within the period of Jesus.
And my father is still in this system of doctrine and dogma and disgust at the homosexual.
And I was challenged in that I was questioning the ways in which I was trained and taught and indoctrinated. Were the dogmas of my childhood still true for me, and were they accurate to my understanding of the teachings of Jesus and to the larger foundation of Holy Scripture? Within this conversation with my father, my beliefs were changing.
And my system of belief has been fully transformed, has been remade into something wholly new.
Peter, within this dream, receives new information, and, as a result, his beliefs were changing.
But what is happening here in our text this morning from the book of Acts is that Peter, through Luke, is sharing his story. He is telling his story. He is sharing an episode, a very personal one, from his own life. And this story is the vehicle of Peter’s truth of transformation as a result from an encounter with The Almighty.
Peter is not laying out an outline of doctrine with bullet points and subsections. Of specific and clearly defined “do’s” and “don’t’s”. No, he is sharing an intimate and vulnerable expression of personal awareness. And this story comes from the result of engaging in relationship. Of sitting in the presence of another and sharing his heart.
Telling stories is what Jesus does with the parables. The rich young ruler. The prodigal son. The seeds falling on different forms of earth. This storytelling is a much more subtle, and intimate, expression of relationship. Of trust and hope in the listener’s ability to perceive. It comes from a place of equality and mutual sharing.
If Jesus had outlined the system of The Way for his disciples and those vast crowds of people with whom he broke bread and healed and talked, it would have been a system of hierarchy and rules and checklists that would result in fear and guilt and inadequacy and shame.
Fear and shame and checklists were not the way of Jesus.
His way is illustrated in the way he engages with his disciples in our Gospel passage of John from this morning. What does he say? What does he call his disciples? “Little children.”
Like gathering the vulnerable and innocent to himself, he calls them “little children.” This expresses such intimacy! He tells them that he is going to have to go away for a while, and they will be alone. He tells them that things are going to get worse and that pain is coming. For himself and for them.
But he also tells them that they will be okay. They will not be alone. They will have one another, and they will have their faith that has been renewing itself within them as they have been learning and growing and digging more deeply.
As you and I continue in these next days, especially these next days, we must gather together within the bonds of relationship and share our stories. The hard ones. The ones that catch in our throats. The heavy ones. The ones that speak to the tender emotion of our experience and survival. Let us be like Peter as we express the transformation of the heart through the beauty of story.
Will we always agree? Of course not! We are Episcopalian so we are broad in our faith expression and personal doctrine. But may we share our stories in an intentional effort to enter more deeply into relationship.