May 15, 2022

“A New View”

(From Acts 11: 1-18)

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God.  So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?”  Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “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.  As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air.  I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’   But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’  But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’  This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven.  At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were.  The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house.  He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’  And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning.  And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’  If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”  When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

Webster’s dictionary has two definitions for the word view.  One definition states that a view is that which can be seen by the eyes from a particular place or location, often in reference to nature.  View is also defined as holding a particular attitude or opinion regarding something, such as a particular person or life circumstance.  We can easily find examples of each of these definitions of the word view within the course of our daily living.  For example, while traveling through the Appalachian Mountains to visit my friend in Virginia, I was awestruck by the beauty of the mountain and valley formations along the route.  I stopped to take a photo, and I opened the “panoramic” lens.  Suddenly, the whole beautiful scene came into my in my photo screen shot.  I could now capture a photo of the full range of the mountains my eyes beheld-I could see the whole view!  That I determined this panoramic scene to be beautiful and worthy of taking the photo was my own opinion, or my view, about the scenery that surrounded me.

     In our scripture lesson for this morning, taken from Chapter 11 of The Book of Acts, we find both definitions of the word view being used to describe a vision Peter recalled having received from the Lord to some “brethren” in Jerusalem.  Each of these two definitions, or ways of understanding the word view are essential to our grasp of the important faith concepts the lesson has to offer us.  Let us keep each of them in mind as we now explore Peter’s vision in greater detail.

     Chapter 11 of Acts begins when some of the Jews in Jerusalem, who believed that circumcision was a requirement for acceptance into faith, heard that Peter had spent time with uncircumcised Gentiles.  They began to rebuke him for this behavior.  So, Peter shared with these people the whole story of how he came to be among the Gentiles.  His story begins with a heavenly vision that was given to him.  A sheet filled with animals of every kind was lowered from heaven before him. Peter heard a voice from heaven say to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”  “Not so Lord!” protested Peter, for he was a conscientious Jew, one who had kept strict the Jewish laws regarding what can and cannot be eaten.  But the voice continued to tell him, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.”  Peter continued to protest, but the voice in his vision continued to remind him that what God has cleansed cannot be considered as common and profane. 

     After this vision appeared to him, Peter shared how he awoke to find three men from Caesarea who had come to see him.  The Spirit urged Peter to go with these men, without doubt or hesitation, to the house of Cornelius the Centurion, who had sent them to him.  When they arrived, Cornelius shared with them that an angel had told him to send for Peter, and Peter would have the “words by which you and your household will be saved.”  So, Peter shared the good news about Christ Jesus with them.  As Peter spoke, they believed, and the power of the Holy Spirit fell upon them.  Having observed the power of the Spirit in these people, Peter then asked, “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”  When the group Peter was addressing heard his story, they fell silent.  They then gave glory to God for granting even to the Gentiles the gift of repentance that leads to life. 

     Now that we have the series of events captured in our scripture lesson for today, let us delve into the message of truth they have for us today.  In Peter’s vision, a sheet is brought down from heaven filled with animals of every kind.  A voice from heaven tells Peter to rise and to kill and eat of the animals that had been provided for him.  The problem for Peter was that his view, that which his eyes beheld, conflicted with his view as an opinion about the animals presented to him in the vision.  There were animals on the heavenly sheet that Jewish Law did not consider acceptable to eat; for only those animals that chew their cuds, such as oxen, sheep, goats, deer, gazelles and antelopes are permissible.  As pigs do not chew their cuds, they are not a permitted animal under Jewish Kosher Laws.  Despite Peter’s continual protesting, the voice from heaven declared to him that what God has cleansed cannot be considered common, or unacceptable.   This vision led Peter to become open to new understandings, so that he might experience new events by which he would receive another new view.

     As Peter awoke from his vision, he was asked to follow three men to Caesarea to visit the home of a Roman Centurion and Gentile named Cornelius.  The Spirit commended Peter to go with these men, and so he agreed to go to Caesarea to see Cornelius.  Upon their arrival, Cornelius shared with them that an angel had told him to call for the man Peter, for Peter had the message by which he and his family would be saved.  So, Peter began to speak to them about Jesus, and tell them about how Jesus was the anointed by God with power to heal the infirmed and those oppressed by the Devil.  As he spoke, the Holy Spirit fell upon those who were listening to him.  They were uncircumcised Gentiles that Peter would normally have viewed, both literally and by his attitude, to be common and unclean.  Yet, the Holy Spirit was given to them just as to the Jews when they became believers.  Peter was given a new view, seeing the Gentiles he had previously condemned, both literally and spiritually, in a new way.

     I believe that the message upon which we are called to ponder and reflect today is that, like Peter in our lesson today, we may have some pretty strong attitudes about the various people and circumstances that we encounter in life.  Our upbringing, or our cultural/societal images, biases, and stereotypes can pre-determine our thoughts and actions.  Take, for example, Michael, a Dutch visitor to the U.S. for business.  He believed Americans were unattractive, outspoken, and odd people, based on a cultural bias.  At a business dinner one night, Michael made this comment to me.  Looking around the room, we viewed people of many races and ethnicities.  This is not the case in The Netherlands.  “America is a nation of many different people, from many backgrounds and beliefs,” I explained to Michael.  “Oh, yes, I can see that now,” he said.  “I have never seen so many different people all together like this.” Michael received a new view that also helped to guide him to a new viewpoint.

      As Christians, we know that in and through Christ Jesus God has made all things new for all people who believe in him.  Whatever and whomever God has made clean, we are not in a position to call common or profane; for that is the business of our Sovereign Lord and God.  In Peter’s vision, and in its application in his real-life experience, we have a means by which to both understand and to reflect upon our own attitudes, and their potential pitfalls and shortcomings in light of our Christian faith.  Like Michael, whose story I shared, we likely have our own biases, formed through our life experiences.  This day, however, may our eyes be open to the Spirit working within each of us.  May new truths be revealed to us, as we open ourselves to receive them; and may our attitudes, our view, be changed and renewed by them.   As 2 Corinthians 5: 17 reminds us, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”  It is in and through Christ Jesus, our Lord, we are both made new and given a divine and wonderful new view.  Amen—let it be so.

Hymn: Open My Eyes, That I May See (UMH #454)

Open my eyes that I may see
glimpses of truth thou hast for me.
Place in my hands the wonderful key
that shall unclasp and set me free.
Silently now I wait for thee,
ready, my God, thy will to see.
Open my eyes, illumine me,
Spirit divine!

Open my ears that I may hear
voices of truth thou sendest clear,
and while the wave notes fall on my ear,
ev’rything false will disappear.
Silently now I wait for thee,
ready, my God, thy will to see.
Open my ears, illumine me,
Spirit divine!

Open my mouth and let me bear
gladly the warm truth ev’rywhere.
Open my heart and let me prepare
love with thy children thus to share.
Silently now I wait for thee,
ready, my God, thy will to see.
Open my mouth, illumine me,
Spirit divine!

Word and Music-Clara H. Scott-1895