5th Sunday of Easter
May 6, 2007
Uniting Head and Heart
We sometimes run headlong into a situation that makes us stop in our tracks and pay attention. Sometimes we get booted out of our ruts and made to wake up. Today’s selection of scripture does just that. It grabs us and makes us listen with fresh ears and see with fresh eyes.
Simon Peter had been on the housetop praying when he “fell into a trance” (10:10). Whatever this was, he had a vision that changed his life and, ultimately, the entire church. In the vision he was instructed to kill and eat certain animals. But he objected, noting they were ceremonially unclean. The voice in the vision said to Peter, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (10:15).
That instruction seemed strange to Peter and he wondered what it meant. But he did not need to wait long before its meaning became clear. He was invited to accompany people who were considered “impure” by the Jews. These people were the Gentiles. While Peter was with them speaking to them about God, “the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message” (10:44). Peter realized that the Gentiles were given the same grace as the Jews. God was active in saving everyone and no one was to be considered as unclean and outside of God’s care.
Everything was fine until Peter got back to Jerusalem and the other apostles and others heard about what Peter did. They demanded an explanation. Today’s text is Simon’s answer. It shows us how to add clear thinking – our head – to warm feelings – our heart, to move toward spiritual maturity. How should we respond when others question our actions and motives?
I. Pay Attention to the Criticism
The church in Jerusalem was in a crisis because its leaders did not understand what Simon Peter had done. They thought he was guilty of perverting their newly-formed faith by his associating with the wrong kinds of people.
Peter had two choices. One was to ignore the criticism of those who did not understand. Well-meaning people sometimes council others to ignore all criticism aimed at them and to go on with life. But if we never listen to anyone else, especially when they have legitimate concerns about our actions, then we will miss many opportunities to learn and grow.
Simon Peter showed a second way to deal with concerns. He paid attention to it and took seriously the people who raise the issues. By doing that he illustrated the truth of a wise person who says this about misunderstandings: “Never attribute to malice of the will what might only be ignorance of the facts.”
II. Give Clear Explanations
After listening to the concerns of his fellow Christians, Peter went on to explain what he had done and what the results were. He led the church in Jerusalem through the narrative of the vision, the encounter with the Gentiles, and how the Holy Spirit had visited the Gentile church.
Clear explanations have a way of preventing, or at least halting, many misunderstandings.
III. Point to the Unexplainable Facts
Peter could have been mistaken about the events he talked about except for one thing – God demonstrated the truth of the vision by giving the Holy Spirit to the church.
In his book Finding God in Unexpected Places, Philip Yancey tells of meeting a South African woman named Joanna who began a prison ministry that radically transformed one of her country’s most violent prisons. When Yancey asked her how she did it, she said “Well, of course, Philip, God was already present in the prison. I just had to make Him visible.”
Often that is our task: to make God visible to those around us. We do that by explaining what seems to be unexplainable. That is, we point to the power of God to transcend our experiences.
IV. Don’t Hinder God’s Word
Peter said that he did not want to “hinder God” (v. 17). He did not want to argue with the housetop vision or the inclusion of the Gentiles. That, too, is instructive. Our goal is to further the cause of the church rather than hinder its work.
The result of this is that the church gained a clearer and fuller vision of what God was doing. Since God is still working in the world through the church, we further His kingdom by putting our head and our heart together. (Don Aycock)