Author’s note: I would prefer to re-make, or at least edit heavily for more clarity and flow, the following sermon. None-the-less, I will post this for reflection.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, our Rock and our Redeemer, Amen.
If you had to draw a distinction today between being a follower and being a disciple…where would you stand? Would you consider yourself a follower? A disciple? If one leads to another, at what point does the conversion happen? At the point of baptism by water? At the point of Baptism by the Holy Spirit? Certainly, to be a “Follower of the Way” originally meant one of Jewish faith following the teachings of the rather unorthodox Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus called and Peter the fisherman followed. Peter tried to be a fisher of people. Peter tried to remain faithful. Peter fell down and got up and followed again. He kept following, until he became known as “one of the twelve.” Peter, who saw so many miraculous things occur in the three short years he spent with Jesus, has many ups and downs in following, in discipleship, and in his ministry. I can easily envision my place with Peter; I who have been called, have followed, and yes, occasionally have fallen down.
However, the good news for Peter – and for me and for you – is that moments of falling down are met with a much bigger gift of grace-a grace that picks us up. Then there is the story of Tabitha and her congregation, their amazing faith – a faith that would not bury their dead servant leader but laid her out in an upper room and called for Peter to come – then waiting in deep faithful belief, finally witnessing her resurrection – a resurrection Peter accomplished simply with prayer. A troubling story since for so many of us who plead with God to bring back our beloved ones are met with cosmic silence and our loved ones don’t come back from the dead.
What stunned me the most upon reflection on today’s passage, however, is how all the story of Tabitha’s living, dying, and rising again is eclipsed – even ignored by the Apostles. Instead they focus on Peter’s report concerning Corneilius. A Gentile Pentecost? You mean the outsider Cornelius and his household received the Holy Spirit and were saved?!?
What? Wasn’t Tabitha just raised from the dead by the same power of Christ? Which is more incredible and more worthy of ecstatic praise and worship – that “other” living human beings can believe in God and share in the Holy Spirit – or that a dead citizen is raised to life? The daughter of Jairus was raised to life by Jesus; Jesus himself was raised to life by God, yet here is Tabitha, raised to life by Peter’s prayer!? Did I miss something here?
I wonder, at what point in Peter’s story does he go from being a follower to being a disciple? When does he go from disciple to apostle? When he walked on water, following the will of his Lord, then sinking beneath the waves until Christ’s very hands reached out, took his and placed him back in the boat? Is that when he became a disciple? Did it take saving his literal life to do it? Or, remember when Jesus was sleeping in that very self-same boat in the midst of a terrible storm over the Sea of Galilee? Remember they called out and woke Jesus – he stood up and rebuked the wind and sea which became still and calm. In Holy Terror, they exclaim, “Who is this that the even the winds and waves obey him?”
Or, did Peter become a disciple when he and James and John witnessed a dead girl rise in Capernaum at the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler? Or, when with James and John he witnessed Moses and Elijah appear like living men and speak with Jesus dressed in dazzling white on the Mount of Transfiguration?
Or, does he become a disciple after he and John run to the tomb and peer inside to see the grave clothes rolled up, lying where Jesus had lain. Peter doesn’t just look in, though, does he? He has to go bodily into that tomb of death and experience the place where Jesus once lay lifeless. Is that when he finally becomes a disciple?
Perhaps that is where all of us begin. Perhaps all of us have to go right on in and experience places of death in our lives before we become disciples. Up until that point perhaps we are just followers, milling around and doing what the crowd does, believing in name because, “Everyone else is doing it so we might as well do it too.”
What happens when the message challenges us? There was Peter, a devoted Jew, being given a vision telling him to get up, kill and eat animals unclean by Levitical law. Peter is shocked – the only land animals that can be eaten are, as Leviticus 11:3 tells us, “any animal that has divided hoofs AND is cleft-footed AND chews the cud.” If they don’t have all three characteristics, they are unclean. But the voice from heaven says, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” I don’t know about you, but to me that is a pretty straight message about the grace-filled universal love of God.
What does that mean for us who are called to be the body of Christ in the world today? Are we, like Peter, called to be harbingers of the Kingdom of God where all things are possible?
I can only imagine what great courage it took for Peter to step out of the narrow, rigid rules of his upbringing and take on new faith experiences. Maybe it began with getting out of the boat and walking to Jesus on the sea.
Maybe it was when Peter got to see Jesus in his state of glory, blazing white in the clouds speaking with Saints from long ago and then being overwhelmed with the very voice of God saying, “This is my son, listen to him!”
I can only imagine what it must have been like to watch Jesus mocked, whipped, stripped, and flogged – then to have him turn and look right at me as the cock crowed the third time.
I can only imagine what it was like when Peter and the others were fishing early in the week, casting their net over and over again and finding nothing until the Master Fisher appeared walking on the beach and called out across the water saying, “Cast your net on the other side of the boat.” Can you imagine having the power to raise the dead as Peter did?
Oh, my God, I believe, help my unbelief! O God, I doubt, help me doubt no more. O, God is it really you who comes to me and not I who come to you? Is it really as C.S. Lewis says, that it isn’t what I make of you and your story, but what you make of me?
Then, O, Lord, re-make me, that I might hear and understand; re-make me that I might see with clear vision the Kingdom you have established on this Earth and my place in it; re-make me from the corpse of my sleep-walking existence and cause me to awaken to the glory of a new day – of new life in you!
Holy Spirit, Breath of the Wind, breathe your Pentecost into us, even us, that we might be created anew to be your followers, your disciples, your Apostles; for the sake – and in the name of – our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen? May it be so. Let us pray…
Lord Jesus Christ, show us your glory so that we may know the glory of God. Good Shepherd, teach us your way so that we may follow you all our lives. Beloved of God, grant us your love so that we may truly love one another and all that you have made. All this we pray in your holy name. Amen.
Questions for Reflection from “Feasting on the Word”
In Acts 11:1–18, Peter, led by the Spirit, discloses God’s new directions to heal creation, and the church re-configures its social boundaries. The Gentiles, who were excluded from the church in Jerusalem because their eating habits were judged to be vile and unclean, are now included by the reconciling work of the Spirit. Where is God’s Spirit opening us to new directions in mission this day?
Household Prayer: Morning
Delivering God, each day we awaken to your goodness and our hearts cry out in praise as you set us to tasks for the life of the world. Do not let us hinder your love, but strengthen our will, as we offer thanks in every simple gesture of this day. Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
Faithful God, the nightly dance of earth, moon, and stars speaks of your gift: love given, love received. We give thanks this night for the love you have shown to us this day. Let us rest in your peace and awaken in joy. Amen.