The Holy Spirit’s gone to meddlin’
I have a rabbi friend who knows she’s preaching the right thing when a certain member of her congregation leaves the service with “well rabbi, you’ve gone to meddlin’.”
And today she takes the cake (not my rabbi friend, the Holy Spirit).
Throughout Acts Luke makes it clear in story after story that the Holy Spirit is running this show. And at every opportunity that means rocking the boat, breaking down barriers, and smashing assumptions. Which is why the Holy Spirit has always been my absolute favorite member of the Trinity (which I know is pretty silly and heretical but I’m only human).
Good old foot-in-mouth-Peter has found himself in charge of the fledgling Jesus movement (at least nominally) and it’s been what you’d expect from the get go. When the Holy Spirit first showed up Peter and the rest got accused of being drunk at 10 o’clock in the morning. They ran foul of temple authorities almost before they’d begun.
And now the Holy Spirit is meddling in what they think is proper, holy, clean, and not.
Two men show up, unclean Gentiles asking Peter to come to visit a Gentile named Cornelius. Wee know the Holy Spirit is involved here because Peter is the same dude who got all worried about Jesus being “bothered” by kids, women, and gentiles. But he’s had a few adventures already, the Holy Spirit has been working on him. And so he not only invites the men into his house, but the next day he goes with them to visit Cornelius and his household.
Peter’s got a grand speech rolling but the Holy Spirit doesn’t even let him finish (note: She’ll make a habit of this throughout Acts, sorry Peter) before descending on those Gentiles in a most shocking and not seemly show of God’s complete disregard for our neat and tidy rules. Peter’s circumcised companions find themselves staring down proof that God crosses barriers.
Barrier crossing makes us uncomfortable. Just about every church fight that’s ever been started when someone crossed an official (or unofficial) line. We tend to look back in hindsight and not know why folks got so wrapped around the axle about something. But the truth is, when the Spirit crosses the borders in our own lives it’s pretty hard to keep our cool.
And here’s the thing: it can be easy in retrospect to dismiss how big these struggles really were. We can look back and say “well this was really just a social convention, or a tradition, nothing like our fight about (insert issue here) which is about morals.” But in the end it all boils down to what we think is right, and what we think is wrong.
Or: who we think is in and who is out.
And every time we make such a distinction God comes back wagging a finger and shaking Her head.
Years ago now I visited Austin Texas to decide if I was going to attend seminary there. And humans being humans balls got dropped and communication didn’t happen and I found myself marooned on an empty campus (before cell phones) on a Sunday afternoon. I needed a ride the airport but I could find no one. And then, out of no where, a group of Quakers appeared asked if I needed help, invited me to lunch, and took me to the airport. God had a little wink and nod at my expense and at my assumptions.
As St. John’s recently the community dinner had far outgrown their ability to cope. The need was too great, there were too many people and it all seemed a little overwhelming. And then a group of devout Muslim men and women showed up asking how they could help. They never left and now the two communities minister together each month.
Human beings care a great deal about tribe, country, and group. We distinguish ourselves based on our race, our religion, our hair color. We break off based on interests, and education levels. And we’re poorer for it.
God has no such hangups. Clearly God sees no difference between circumcised and uncircumcised, or any of the other distinctions we care about so fiercely. Today’s lesson from Acts is a reminder of just that. God looks at the whole human family and sees oneness that we cannot. God sees in us the wild diversity of individuals and the sameness of species and loves us for it.
And God has been calling to tear down the barriers we erect between us all along. Every day, in every century God keeps rubbing out the walls we build to keep ourselves separate. We are all needed. Every last one of us. From the greatest to the least, the wisest to the youngest.
And God, always patient, or at least persistent just keeps at it. Just keeps working to bring us together, to heal division, to erase divides, to tear down walls until all that is left is love.
This is what the Holy Spirit was leading Peter and the rest of the early church toward, this is what Jesus needed us to see. We are all of us loved, and worthy, and necessary. And God will keep meddling until we get it.