Acts 11: 1 – 18
Revelation 21: 1 – 6
John 13: 31 – 35
8But I replied, “By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.”
Peter had every reason, backed by the Scriptures, the ancient and eternal Word of God, to refuse to eat the creatures he saw suspended in that large sheet. Yet we read, 9But a second time the voice answered from heaven, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”
The Pharisees had every reason, backed by the Scriptures, the ancient and eternal word of God, to chastise Jesus for working on the sabbath, yet Jesus changes things on them and says “ … the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.”
There are probably a number of other examples we could refer to if we spent a little time looking.
When God decides to lighten up and include people, who are we to oppose him?
When it comes to openness, I have to confess to sometimes exhibiting a little snobbishness.
I became aware of this at the age of about fifteen or sixteen when my fellow pupils were all devouring a set of Western novels that featured a man called Dusty Fog. They pestered me to read them. I tried and it was like chewing sawdust. They were quite clearly badly written in a whole variety of ways, so I said. “Look, I’m sorry. I’ve given it a go but this is just rubbish.” They looked stunned – just for a moment – and didn’t hold it against me.
But I’m selective in my snobbery. When it comes to food, I’ll eat pretty much anything. I especially like bread with cheese and jam, something my grandfather called, “A vulgar colonial habit.”
The use of the English language is another area of annoyance for me. What was it Prof Higgins said to his friend the Colonel? “It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman despise him.”
Now here’s the thing. There is, not always, but sometimes, a richness in alternative ways of doing things that can (possibly) outdo the ‘king’s English’ approach.
For example, scholars have discovered that in some alternative uses of the English language lies a consistency of interior structure and rules that make perfect sense, and of course richness, in their context. In other words, often our opposition to things variant, is based, not so much on their intrinsic inferiority, as it is simply on our preference for what we are used to.
Once I had got over my rote response that this perspective was post-modern Marxist rubbish and an attempt to undermine what the ages had perfected, I was free to be more accommodating. And we are always the richer for that openness, even when it doesn’t exactly tickle our palate.
It really is no coincidence that those who compiled the Lectionary put these three readings together. They virtually preach the sermon on their own.
The Acts passage says, be open to new things, even when you have good reason to think they might be inferior. In fact sometimes they are exactly what God wants and they bring blessing, in a way you did not expect. They bring more people into blessing alongside you!
passage says God is bringing in a new heaven and a new earth, a place
where he will wipe every tear from
their eyes. And where Death
will be no more. It is a place where the first things have passed away. It is a kingdom, for we hear a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
The Gospel passage tells us what the new dynamic of this kingdom is, and it is love. Of it Jesus says, 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
Sometimes we have very good reason to resist what God is doing. But it is reason that does not see the whole picture. It operates out of a limited perspective. And I am not talking about that old Marxist adage which says “We need to take one step back in order to take two steps forward.” That is merely a tactic designed to progress the firmly held and unchanging objective.
More often than not our objection to the new and different is because we strain at a gnat and swallow a camel as the King James version renders it. In other words we have latched onto things that are no longer essentials. In Jesus words a few verses on 25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. (Matthew 23: 25).
Someone sent me a little story that illustrates how what we are used to can colour our view of things we are unused to. Bear with me if you have heard it before. It’s a little over the top but makes the point.
An old farmer went to the city one weekend and attended the big city church. He came home and his wife asked him how it was.
“Well,” said the farmer. “It was good. They did something different, however. They sang praise choruses instead of hymns.”
“Praise choruses?” asked the wife. “What are those?”
“Oh, they’re okay. They’re sort of like hymns, only different,” said the farmer.
“Well, what’s the difference?” asked the wife.
The farmer said, “Well it’s like this … If I were to say to you, ‘Martha, the cows are in the corn,’ well that would be a hymn. If, on the other hand, I were to say to you, ‘Martha, Martha, Martha, Oh, Martha, MARTHA, MARTHA, the cows, the big cows, the brown cows, the black cows, the white cows, the black and white cows, the COWS, COWS, COWS are in the corn, are in the corn, are in the corn, in the CORN, CORN, CORN, COOOOORRRRRNNNNN,’ then, if I were to repeat the whole thing two or three times, well that would be a praise chorus.”
As luck would have it, the exact same Sunday a young, new Christian from the city church attended the small town church. He came home and his wife asked him how it was.
“Well,” said the young man, “It was good. They did something different, however. They sang hymns instead of regular songs.”
“Hymns?” asked the wife. “What are those?”
“They’re okay. They’re sort of like regular songs, only different,” said the young man.
“Well, what’s the difference?” asked the wife.
The young man said, “Well it’s like this … If I were to say to you, ‘Martha, the cows are in the corn,’ well that would be a regular song. If on the other hand, I were to say to you,
Oh Martha, dear Martha, hear thou
Inclinest thine ear to the words of my mouth.
Turn thou thy whole wondrous ear by and by
To the righteous, glorious truth.
For the way of the animals who can
There in their heads is no shadow of sense.
From the mild, tempting corn they are verily fenced.
Yet those cows in glad bovine,
Have broke free their shackles, their warm pens eschewed.
Then goaded by minions of darkness and night
They all my mild Chilliwack sweet corn chewed.
So look to that bright shining day
by and by,
Where all foul corruptions of earth are reborn
Where no vicious animal makes my soul cry
And I no longer see those foul cows in the corn.
Then, if I were to do only verses one, three and four, and change keys on the last verse, well that would be a hymn.”
What I like about that story is the men are not judgemental. They innocently describe their prejudice. It is up to us to see though their subjectivity.
When we focus, not on our preferences, but on the renewing and inclusive God; when what we do and prefer is grounded in a loving acceptance of those whose thinking is different (no, not inferior) we will find that the Kingdom of God begins to manifest itself through us.
I’ll repeat that. When what we do and prefer is grounded in a loving acceptance of those whose thinking is different, we will find that the Kingdom of God begins to manifest itself through us.
The kingdom of God will begin to manifest through us. Is that not why we were created?
I can’t think of a better reason.