Last week you may have noticed that I wasn’t here. Father Salmon said that all went well without me, about which I’m not sure how I feel, and that he always loves coming to Christ Church. Doan and I made our way up to Toronto for a few days to celebrate her aunt’s 90th birthday and to attend the family reunion that surrounded that celebration, and I thank you all for your prayers as we traveled. As is typical of Doan’s family, we were extended hospitality at every turn, and we stayed with Doan’s cousin and her family outside of Toronto while were up there. In between dodging the constant offers of food (and not dodging those offers), I talked with Doan’s nephew Nolan, who had some questions about the Epiphany, of all things, and so I explained a bit about Jesus’ childhood, about the Wise Men, about Jews and Gentiles and why these kinds of things mattered so very much back then, and perhaps sadly, even now.
The story that we heard today from the Acts of the Apostles touches on a few of the aforementioned things, namely hospitality and the not-so-wonderful history of Jew-Gentile interaction.
“To be more specific, anti-Semitism was an ancient phenomenon two thousand years ago. Peter and his fellow Jewish Christians had experienced callous exclusion, harsh taxation, political scapegoating, and unprovoked violence just for following God the best they could. To their own bitter experience they could add centuries of stories, laments, and cautionary tales handed down from their ancestors. Simply being a child of Abraham and striving to keep the Covenant meant making enemies of many people and most rulers.”
But the anti stuff went both ways. Other people hating you for long enough can make you think less of them, obviously, and so boundaries are set, rules set down, lines drawn.
“It’s hard to overstate just how much Peter was crossing the line. By sharing home and table with gentiles, Peter was not merely breaking Jewish ritual laws, he was fraternizing with the enemy… While the distinction between Jews and gentiles was ancient even in Peter’s day, it did not go back to the beginning. The Torah makes clear that God created all, and remains concerned for all that (He) created.”1
We’re here today, in a Christian church, because God never so much demonstrated that concern as He did in the life, death, and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ. This can’t be said too often or with too much emphasis: Jesus Christ – who He is and what He was willing to do for His creation – changed everything, and that should change us. In the theme of our near constant baptisms over the last few weeks, St. Paul wrote to the Galatians about how Jesus changes our very nature: “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Our divisions are many, and depending on who you are and where you stand, those divisions can either be mere annoyances or a constant threat to your very life. Where St. Peter stood, those divisions were truly threats, threats from every side, really; because in following Christ, in choosing to reach out to the other, in choosing offer and receive hospitality in the Name of Christ, he made himself vulnerable to attack from both sides.
It can feel the same for us at times. If we befriend that group or eat with those people, what will people think of us? I won’t sugar-coat it: offering the love of Jesus to everyone, regardless of who they are or who others perceive them to be, is a sure-fire way to make some people think you’re a little weird, maybe not worth the trouble, maybe even a little dangerous to be around. But remember that just today we heard how our heroes in the Faith had to shake the dust from their shoes on occasion, and our Lord saying that He was glorified in being betrayed by Judas. If someone told you being a faithful disciple of Jesus was easy or that it would never get awkward, well, let me tell you otherwise. And so today’s question is: Done anything lately for the cause of Christ that got you in trouble?
1Fr. Bret Hays, from his sermon given on the fifth Sunday of Easter 2013