“Then Peter began to speak to them: 'I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ-he is Lord of all.” Acts 10:34-36
The background for this speech is the early Christians are having a dispute. This one is about whether gentiles have to be circumcised before they can be baptized. To us this may not seem like it would be problem but for Jewish Christians it was as a horrible thing if males were not circumcised. They would literally feel sick to be associating with such people. The gentiles could not be insiders in the church because they were such outsiders in the early Christian's minds. Peter felt this way and Paul had been trying to convince him that it was not important. The story that comes before Peter’s speech is his journey to changing his mind.(Acts 10:1-36)
All who stand in awe of the mystery beyond our knowing and do what is right are acceptable in that mystery. And the odd thing about God, even those who don’t stand in awe and don’t do what is right are accepted. Peter had it right - God shows no partiality.
The church has been having disputes and debates and even wars over who is right about who is in and who is out and what God thinks. In the end of each fight what becomes clear is that wherever there is justice, mercy, and a willingness to walk in the path of Love we will find the Holy One. The current debate in the church is about whether our day’s outsiders, gay, lesbian and transgender persons will be accepted without having to conform to someone else’s ideas. Like the gentiles of the early church - will they be accepted as full members with all the rights and rites of everyone else? This story of Peter and the Centurion gives us the answer.
In an old poem by Edwin Markham, he puts it this way
He drew a circle that shut me out
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout
But Love and I had wit to win
We drew a circle that took him in.
God’s circle is Love, or as we call its embodiment, Jesus Christ. No one is out - all are in. We can relax into knowing that we are always loved - no matter what we have done or are doing, no matter where we are in our life journey, no matter what other's opinions are of us. We are free to share that love and witness it to others. We can stand up for how God wants the world to be - a place where all are cared for. We can share our resources with others. We can be a place where all are welcome. We can stand up for those who are on the margins, those who suffer from prejudice or injustice.We can be a place where those who are imprisoned by their life history or addictions or abuse can find freedom. We can let go of fear and step out in Love. We can reflect the way that God would have us live because we know that we are beloved of the one who created the universe and that we are supposed to be here in this time and this place.
This Sunday we celebrate the baptism of Jesus. Matthew tells us the story of how Jesus went down into Egypt and has now returned. Like Moses and the chosen people emerging from the waters of the Red Sea - Jesus emerges from the waters of baptism about to enter the wilderness. The voice from the heavens proclaims him Son, Beloved, in whom God is well pleased. God is delighted with him - he is the one who will lead the people into freedom - out of bondage from injustice, out of bondage to all things that keep people from becoming who God has created them to be. Jesus can lead us because he is the one who lives fully into who God created him to be - not any threat nor even death will cause him to change how he lives his life. He hangs out with all sorts of people, not just the “good” people but also tax collectors, prostitutes, the religious and the non-religious, rich and poor, whoever comes to him. He invites all to share with him in God's way of life. In fact, the early church was called that - the Way. He does not call us to worship him - he calls us to follow him and as the psalmist says “Your love, O LORD, for ever will I sing” Psalm 89:1a.