May 15, Easter 5C (Acts 11:1-18; John 13:31-35)
Peter is hardly the first person to challenge the status quo because of something God told him in a dream.
The 2021 movie Belfast is set in Northern Ireland in 1969. Buddy, a nine-year-old Protestant boy, has a crush on a Catholic classmate. He asks his father if he could have a future with her, and his father replies, “That wee girl can be a practicing Hindu, or Southern Baptist, or vegetarian Antichrist. But if she’s kind, and fair, and you two respect each other, she and her people are welcome in our house.”
Love and grace win the day, if not the war. This father’s ethos of welcome strikes me as deeply Christian, and indeed it’s what I find proclaimed in most churches in my Lutheran denomination. But it raises an important question: In Christian community, what are the standards for belonging? This is the subject of Peter’s vision in Acts, one of the most consequential moments in the early church.
Up until this point, the mission of Jesus and his disciples was directed at the people of Israel. Yes, a few notable outsiders received God’s care. But they were the exception, and they never became part of the community formed in Jesus’ name. Peter expands the terms of belonging. His vision gives him the spiritual authority to welcome non-Jewish believers, to draw the lines differently. Because of Peter’s vision, a God-fearing gentile can be welcomed with open arms.