Posted on May 10, 2015
Our reading from Acts this morning is all about boundaries and it is an important turning point event in the early life of the church. The story really begins at vs. 1 of chapter 10:
Peter and Cornelius are two very different people, from very different cultures with clearly defined boundaries between them. Peter is a Jewish Christian who carefully observes a kosher diet. Cornelius, a man who fears God, is, however, about as Gentile as one could get – he was a Roman centurion.
But the Holy Spirit has something other than segregation in mind. Peter comes to Caesarea at the request of Cornelius. The centurion has seen a vision in which he is instructed to send for Peter. At the same time Peter has seen a puzzling vision in which he is told that he must not call profane that which God has made clean.
Peter speaks to Cornelius and his people, saying that he has come to know that “God shows no partiality.” Peter then bears witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. As Peter speaks, the Holy Spirit falls “upon all who heard the word” and “the gift of the Holy Spirit [is] poured out even on the Gentiles.” Hear the astonishment in the author’s voice? EVEN on the Gentiles!
The Gentiles speak in tongues and praise God. Peter’s Jewish colleagues are astonished. Peter continues saying, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit?” Cornelius and his people are baptized.
The boundaries are crossed, the barriers smashed; and once again we witness the inclusive extravagance of the Holy Spirit and the wideness of God’s grace. Nothing more and nothing less. Where might we find – or not – such Spirit-inspired demolition today?
This from a May 4th article on The Episcopal Cafe website:
“Rich McCaffrey and his partner Eric are new fathers. They have been attending the Episcopal Cathedral of St Luke, Orlando, FL and wanted to have son Jack baptized. Rich posted on FB:
‘We spent time discussing our desire to baptize Jack with the Dean, Anthony Clark. We were open with him about our family and that we wanted the focus to be placed, where it should, on Jack. The Dean was welcoming and open about the congregation, explaining it was a mix of conservative- and liberal-minded people. He agreed to Jack’s baptism, and recommended we opt for the 6 p.m. service, since those who worship at that time tend to be the most “open’.
“And so the baptism was scheduled for April 19, and friends and family were coming from far and near. But shortly before the day, something went wrong.” Rich continues:
‘On Thursday, April 16 we received a message from Dean Clark asking us to contact him regarding “a development” concerning the baptism. With relatives in the room, I called and what I heard still creates a lump in my throat. The Dean shared there were members of the congregation who opposed Jack’s baptism and although he hoped to resolve the conflict, he was not yet able to.
“[The Dean admitted] that “the issue is with you and Eric being the first two men who will baptize their child at the Cathedral.” He offered his apologies, explaining this was a bigger deal because of the exposure that comes along with the baptism taking place at the Cathedral. In essence “this is not ‘no’ forever, just not now”.’”
Boundaries. Still real. Hearts hardened by the politics of protecting “their” vision of God’s Kingdom are still erecting barricades against the work of the Holy Spirit, even within parts of today’s church.
But then there comes this from the newsletter of First Baptist Church, Greenville, SC:
“–We are a covenant people, bound together, not by agreement on all issues, but by our desire to worship and serve together, and by our commitment to embody and embrace the spirit of Christ. We welcome, honor, and respect the views of all members.
–Being open and welcoming to all people is part of the essential nature of our community of faith. [Therefore] in all facets of the life and ministry of our church, including but not limited to membership, baptism, ordination, marriage, teaching and committee/organizational leadership, First Baptist Greenville will not discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”
–We are a community of believers in God as revealed in Jesus Christ as Lord. We believe in the authority of the Bible, the equality of all members, unity in diversity, and the priesthood of all believers. In communion with and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we follow the Way of Jesus Christ and share the Good News through worship, education, ministries and missions. As an autonomous Baptist church, we value our heritage and the freedom it allows us to minister alongside other groups, both Christian and non-Christian. We express our love for all in gratitude for the love God has shown to us.’”
These are dangerous stories – one dangerous in its insistence that Christ’s very own church is able to erect barriers and block the work of the Holy Spirit; the others in their witness to what the Spirit just might break through and do for those who abide in Christ’s love by living out his commandments so that they might love one another as He loved us.
For perhaps, just perhaps, the Holy Spirit will pour down EVEN on Trinity Church, Clarksville TN; empowering us to see visions and dream dreams – to cross boundaries, destroy barricades and enter ever more deeply into the extravagantly inclusivity of God’s grace and kingdom – EVEN here, EVEN now.