Easter 5 - Year C
"What has God made clean..."
...we must not call profane.
In the face of strict dietary laws prohibiting the eating of anything "unclean," Peter has a dream about God making to him a large offering of animals of all kinds, and an invitation for him to eat. In response to Peter's protests that he has never violated the dietary laws, that "nothing unclean has ever entered his mouth," God rebukes Peter: "What God has made clean, you must not call profane."
So now it's OK to violate the dietary laws and eat a nice pork roast for dinner? It's OK to for Gentiles to receive the "repentance that leads to life" that had been reserved for those chosen Hebrews? Apparently so. At least for those in the early days of the christian movement that arose from within Judaism.
Conservative Jewish Christians objected to Peter's associating with Gentiles. The "circumcised" in Jerusalem criticized him for eating with them. Peter had to 'splain it to them that God apparently had a different idea from all their cherished legal notions. It probably felt like a slippery slope to those who had gone through all the pain of being circumcised: first, circumcision is no longer necessary, poof, just like that (what a waste of foreskin). Next, you don't even have to be among the apostles and believers to be among God's chosen people. Pretty soon they will be letting women in, and then who knows what next? Maybe Muslims and Buddhists or, horror of horrors, New Agers.
So what about our own sacred writ, The UM Book of Discipline? No matter what legalisms get added to that rulebook this General Conference by those who see redemption through strict obedience to church law, no matter how many church trials there may yet be, might God have a different idea?
Eating pork had once been anathema to Peter: one of the worst insults that could be made to a Jew in Peter's day was that you could see the pork stuck between their teeth. Incompatible with Torah. And God was saying now it's OK.
One of the worst offenses a Torah-abiding, temple-worshipping Judean could make was extending the grace of God to Samaritans, or worse, to those Gentiles. Incompatible with Torah. And God was saying now it's OK.
One of the worst things that could happen in the UMC in our day is that we ordain a "self-avowed, practicing homosexual" person. Incompatible with christian teaching... and what is God saying?
Apparently "the Holy Spirit falls up on them just as it had upon us..." May that spirit come and tell us, before it's too late, "not to make a distinction between them and us" (Acts 11:12), whoever they may be, and whoever we may be.
+ Thomas D'Alessio ... filling in during General Conference.
The views expressed are not those of the Management
and may be considered heterodox and dangerous.
Read at your own risk.
Yesterday, with a couple of hours of non-debate, but much parliamentary wrangling, we substituted a multi-layered substitute for a proposal prepared over the previous four years without mention of that longer study. Reconnecting our ministry and resource councils is no more. We have subsequently set the ministry area over the resource area and given that council what I would call an unholy proportion of members to one area of the country. This action, growing out of the reapportionment of General Conference members last time, will further consolidate the Southern religious-right that seems to be most interested in gaining power. The choice here is to listen to a new word regarding G*O*D no longer calling profane or incompatible what they have come to believe is forever profane and incompatible with and unchangeable by G*O*D.
Peter's vision of an open tablecloth silenced the criticism he received regarding his association with the unclean, profane, incompatible persons of his time and place.
What new vision have you had in today's images and experiences that might bring the same happy result in our time? I ask because I do not see such here.
With no vision the well-oiled mechanisms of the religious-right moving toward law and away from grace will continue.
The best I have been able to see is the need for a new order within an old establishment. For the moment I am calling it Wrestling Methodism in honor of Peter wrestling with G*O*D regarding a new vision that moves beyond clean and unclean dichotomies to find that the nature and name of G*O*D is love, not law.
Up to the rooftops, friends. In the midst of our hunger for compassion, may we again close our eyes to lift up our eyes to a new tablecloth about to be put in our midst.
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Wesley, your musings often provide food for thought and/or a creative springboard in my sermon preparation. Thank you for sharing the process. Today I am grateful, too, that you have posted your reactions to the activity of General Conference. It is a sign of hope for me that not all who are there are more pre-occupied with the politics of power than with seeking and discerning the work of the Spirit for such a time as this. Perhaps it will encourage you to know that not all Southerners stand on the "right" side.
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It is always interesting to see who says they identify with Peter and that "the other side" (left, right or middle) is the party of the circumcisers. It might just be the other way around in the mind of God.
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Peter thought he knew what was in the mind of God, but he'd been dead wrong about several important things in his ministry career so I don't know how much to believe what he says.
What's more, I have observed that our Bible appears to be quite adaptable to every point of view. Its perspectives are easily and often appropriated by anyone. Its (sub)texts have been used to justify any and every behavior imaginable, and some that should not ever be even imagined.
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May we all claim that God calls us ALL to grow beyond our boundaries, for surely there is room for all to grow in Christ. Peace Joseph
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My reply to Wesley's posting on 5/6 was my first ever and this will likely be my last ever attempt at dialogue in this type of context. It's hard enough when you can look one another in the eye! Here words are too easily twisted and misinterpreted and motives too easily projected upon the speaker by others.
Wesley, posting on 5/6/04, wrote:
"This action, growing out of the reapportionment of General Conference members last time, will further consolidate the Southern religious-right that seems to be most interested in gaining power."
It was to this that I responded. The politics of power do seem to dominate UM conferencing (and the Church Universal) at all levels these days. Identifying with Peter or anyone else was the farthest thing from my mind. Suggesting - perhaps not explicitly enough - that not all Southerners can be lumped together as religious right wingers was neither a condemnation of anyone nor a claim to have exclusive or superior access to the mind of God, but rather a statement about the diversity of voices that are present yet so frequently overlooked by each and all of us - including those who sincerely want to and think they are speaking from a nonjudgmental stance - as we attempt to engage in the difficult task of Christian conferencing. We draw lines, take sides, form rank and do battle while sizing each other up as potential allies or enemies, assigning an "identity" to the other rather than seeking to know the other or to welcome the stranger. We're more interested in proving our point or arguing our case than we are in learning from or encouraging each other, or, heaven forbid, seeking discernment together.
So now I think I'll just take my marbles and go home. When I get there I'll add a few more tears to the bottle as I lament the delay in the coming of that graceful new heaven and new earth.
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Thanks for trying the dialogue process. It is certainly far from perfect in that it misses all the body language and other relational cues that we usually rely on.
My quick attempts to connect what I was experiencing at General Conference with the lections certainly left something to be desired. Being married to a Southerner and having lived and worked there, you are most correct that there is not a way to lump them together as religious right-wingers. At the same time. The sociological reality is that the decisions at General Conference are increasingly being driven by the South and its response to the Southern Baptist Church. The new Common Table that will take the place of our General Council on Ministries is dramatically oriented toward the South in terms of personnel on it. The theological dialogue also comes out of the contact with the more literal-oriented Southern Baptists of the modern era.
There is no question in my mind that the politics of the church are currently best viewed through the lens of the organizing skills of Good News, Confessing Movement, and Institute for Religion and Democracy. I think last Friday's (I think since the last two weeks have run together) New York Times had an excellent article outlining how we have come to the open planning to divide The United Methodist Church (amicably, of course) and how that is intended by these groups to be played out between now and the next General Conference.
Whether we like it or not there are sides and a part of Christian Conferencing is the clarification of these differing gifts or perspectives on where G*O*D is moving in our midst and how we are responding to G*O*D's movement and that of one another.
I am pleased that we finally have this issue out in the open as it has been lurking behind the scenes for decades and festering. Now we can better talk with one another about our relationship and the values of moving toward a unitive organization based on purity of doctrine or a multivalent organization based on compassion or some dynamic range between the two.
I join you in weeping at the delay of "that graceful new heaven and new earth." Additionally, I trust you and I and others will continue to engage in catching its vision and engaging our implementing actions to strengthen its presence.
It is good to finally be home again and not to to have a fuller than full schedule to contend with. It is also good to get back to a computer keyboard I can use when the mood strikes and to respond more promptly to messages. Dealing with the time limitations of those available for delegates at General Conference and the one available in the hotel was frustrating.
We just love to interpret G*D to G*D as well as to others who obviously don't understand G*D or they would more quickly agree with us. So our constant surprise is that the limits we have set on G*D are surpassed. Constant, that is, if we are constant in attending to such matters. Otherwise we have periodic big jumps of understanding that are as dramatic as Peter's vision.
Without constant attention we have to be called to attention several times before we catch what is going on.
With constant attention to whatever new thing G*D is up to we tend to lose track of what is happening with our neighbor and are surprised that they are either much farther behind or ahead than we had last noted.
So it is - our understanding of what it means to love G*D and Neighbor always seems to be lagging behind. While we pay attention to one part of that equation we miss something going on in the other.
This is a reason community is so important - helping us correct our understanding more quickly as someone else attends in a different way than we do and is up to sharing that and we are up to being shared with.
All along the way a key to attention is stretching forth to sense, follow, and implement a next stage of inclusion.
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we are known
by our uncleanliness
accepted as sin
we know others
by their uncleanliness
yelled as sinner
the boundaries we set
are our limits
quickly we see differences
slowly we push them back
to find a new grace
by profanity we hedge round
our fears and their behavior
never open to other possibilities
our profane labels
pulls distinctions apart
revealing new gifts
Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea (your community) heard that the Gays and Lesbians had also accepted the word of God. 2So when Peter went up to Jerusalem (your denominational headquarters), the Homophobic believers criticized him, 3saying, "Why did you go to the Gays and Lesbians and eat with them?" 4Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, 5"I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. 6As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7I also heard a voice saying to me, 'Get up, Peter; kill and eat.' 8But I replied, 'By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.' 9But a second time the voice answered from heaven, 'What God has made clean, you must not call profane.' 10This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11At that very moment three Gay men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six Hetero brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the Gay man's house. 13He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, 'Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14he will give you a message by which you and your entire cohort will be saved.' 15And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon Gays and Lesbians just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' 17If then God gave Gays and Lesbians the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?" 18When the Homophobic believers heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, "Then God has given even to the Gays and Lesbians the repentance that leads to life."
A similar miracle can still happen.
Note that repentance here is not about G*D's good gift of personal identity. If you were born with one set of genitals or another or both or none is beside the point. If you came to realize you were erotically attracted to those of a different gender or same or both is beside the point. These are not repentance issues. Repentance has to do with orientation toward G*D, not toward another human being. If we are not following Jesus' model of drawing nearer to G*D and becoming G*D, we are in need of repentance. If we are so engaged, the personal identity issues are off the tablecloth.
Note also the assumption that there weren't Gays and Lesbians present when Pentecost occurred. Knowing what we know about human beings, the odds were that there were some (including the one "that Jesus loved"?) Gays and Lesbians in the first round of having been Holy Spiritized. It is not sufficient to go on the assumption that if it didn't specifically say there were Gay and Lesbians anointed/ordained to the ministry of Jesus to draw near to G*D that they weren't present, closeting being what it has been for lo these many years.