Thursday, January 31, 2013

We are at a point where grace intervenes in history GBLT SERIES 2013

I wonder what Peter thought when he realized he had to explain his vision to the other church elders. You know, the vision mentioned in Acts 10. “The next day as the three travelers were approaching the town, Peter went out on the balcony to pray. It was about noon. Peter got hungry and started thinking about lunch. While lunch was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the skies open up. Something that looked like a huge blanket lowered by ropes at its four corners settled on the ground. Every kind of animal and reptile and bird you could think of was on it. Then a voice came: “Go to it, Peter—kill and eat.”
14 Peter said, “Oh, no, Lord. I’ve never so much as tasted food that was not kosher.”
15 The voice came a second time: “If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.”
16 This happened three times, and then the blanket was pulled back up into the skies.[1]

The story ends with Cornelius arriving to see Peter, and Peter and the believers telling them about Jesus. The Holy Spirit falls on them, and Peter declares they should be baptized. A great story of inclusion. A great story of the universality of the gospel message. Except that, in Chapter 11 Peter has to explain his actions. Peter has to explain why gentiles have been admitted to the church. Why he admitted gentiles to the church, you know, gentiles who did not live according to God’s law. Those gentiles.

I think there are parallels today with the movement towards a more inclusive church and away from some of the rigid understandings of the past. What does this story tell us about working towards an inclusive church? About explaining why we are including those who have previously not only been excluded but actively chased away.

Firstly, unbeknown to Peter, the three men were already on their way. They were already on the road to faith, God had already met with them, they were coming to Peter for Peter’s benefit far more than theirs. They needed to hear the gospel set out, yes, but they had already had an encounter with the living God. Peter was confirming the witness they already had. Similarly, those who have been excluded from our communities of faith but who are accepted by God as his children are already on their way to meet with us. God has called them, He has blessed them and He has sent them to us.

Next, Peter was praying-  he had a heart receptive to God’s action and call. He wanted to hear from God, and expected to hear from God. He was waiting to hear how God wanted him to engage with his world. We too need to be seeking God, and listening out for his call to us, with a receptive heart, one that expects God to constantly do new things. A heart that responds to the call of God with “Yes!”

Peter was surprised by what God said. It challenged his theology, it challenged his understanding of the scripture and it was completely unacceptable in the faith community to which he belonged. Peter pointed out that he would NEVER do what God suggested. Who has God called us to accept and integrate into our community of faith that challenges our theology, that we see as unholy, that we would NEVER tolerate? Might we need to hear the same message as Peter. “If God says its OK, its OK” Who has God called into the community of faith that we are sure, should be excluded?

Lastly Peter did not allow his pre-existing theology to stand in the way of his experience of God’s acceptance of those considered unholy and outside the community of faith and his advocacy for them with the rest of the church.

“if they have received the Holy Spirit just as we have”  (Acts 11: 17) He recognized the signs of God’s acceptance and took them at face value. Why don’t we do that?

So often our “good” theology blinds us to God’s “best” grace. God was saying that something which was once considered sinful and able to separate you from God, was in fact okay. God had clarified his calling, and His all encompassing love won out.


Lord Mayor Clover Moore last night launched a bid to repaint major crossings on Oxford St in time for next year’s 35th Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade.

The church has been through this many times, in the acceptance of  women, in the acceptance of gentile converts, in its treatment of divorce and those who divorce, in the full ministry of women or people of colour, of people of diverse sexuality and gender. We will continue to go through and have to work through these issues until we meet in heaven, but we can learn from Peter’s experience.

I am sure there were those amongst the disciples who threatened to leave the church if the gentile agenda was advanced. I am sure there were those who did leave. But here’s the thing: it was those that left that missed out on God’s best, not those who stayed and worked through their discomfort.

We are at a point where grace intervenes in history. It is exciting, how we respond to God’s call to people who are same –sex attracted, how we integrate what God is doing within our understanding of what God has said, will be key.

It is rare, but not impossible, for someone to come to faith knowing they were gay. It is much more likely that someone with faith comes to understand they are gay. How we respond to either situation is the mark of how we have understood the gospel.

To quote Bishop Barbara Harris

“How can you initiate someone into the Body of Christ and then treat them like they’re half-assed baptized?" - The Rt Rev Barbara Harris

Former SA Officer

[1] Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: The Bible in contemporary language (Ac 10:9–16). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.


Graeme Randall said...

Brilliant exposition and application of Peter's vision in Acts. Very powerful.

God Bless

Former Australian East in London

Anonymous said...

Sven, you ought to be given a medal for diplomacy and fair handedness. A steady offering of opposing views with all making significant contributions to this potentially explosive issue. Your sensitive blending of opposing views has brought insight and understanding not hitherto found in any other SA internet site, HQ, Corps or institution.

The FSAOF's contribution on inclusivity may prove to be the watershed that opens up comprehensive inclusivity dialogue on all SA levels. And, the SA will not have to withstand the predictable fallout from fundamental Salvationists.

A truly potential case of the tail wagging the dog... thanks to the FSAOF.

The more I read of your formers contributions the more I weep at the irreplaceable losses to our fighting forces.

Active officer
USA Southern Territory

(Name withheld by request)

Sven Ljungholm said...

The truth, even though I cannot feel it right now, is that I am the chosen child of God, precious in God's eyes, called the Beloved from all eternity and held safe in an everlasting embrace... We must dare to opt consciously for our chosenness and not allow our emotions, feelings, or passions to seduce us into self-rejection.

Henri J. M. Nouwen

Anonymous said...

I was deeply moved by the skill of the interpreter. He or she has effectively used the three questions required of any text: what was originally intended? (Analysis); what is being said to the Church now? (Imagination); and what are the implications for (Faith)?

Analysis requires the discipline of the critical historian; Imagination requires the skill of a poet in biblical interpretation; and Faith requires thinking new thoughts, doing new deeds, and accepting new attitudes.

I have preached on this text a number of times but have completely missed this interpreter's imagination and consequent implication.

Thanks for a brilliant and believable exposition. There is more to any text than meets the eye.

Canada and Bermuda

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I see I have given more credit than credit is due to the writer of the post. The interpretation is not original, but comes from a sermon preached by Bishop Barbara Harris in 2009. That said, thanks anyway, who knows it may not have been original with her either.

Canada and Bermuda

Anonymous said...

I should be clear that while I quote Barbara Harris, I had not seen her sermon from 2009 and did not use it in my preparation. I think , having read a summary of it now, we approached the text slightly differently but arrived at the same/similar truth. The article has its genesis in a sermon preached by me in 1998. However, I freely acknowledge that my thinking will have been influenced by the many excellent exegetes I have read and heard in the intervening years.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous - last post here.
You state that although you have approached the text differently [as regards the approach of Barbara Harris]you have arrived at the same similar TRUTH.

Might I very gently suggest to you that you have arrived at similar positions or understandings. "Truth" is an absolute and I don't think that you are claiming that what you are saying is "truth"?

If you are, then I think that you have taken a position of some arrogance as by implication you say that you have the only true position and that anyone who disagrees is in error.

Kind regards

Old Hornblower

Anonymous said...

Australian Former, I trust you did not think that I was inferring that plagiarism was involved. I had not read the text of Barbara Harris' sermon when I made the comment, nor since. I found the inference as a result of looking her up on Wikipedia and seeing that she had used the text in relation to her comment on baptism.

And my friend "Old horn blower", you keep us in tune, but our Australian friend did not claim to be telling the TRUTH, but that what he/she had written was a similar small t truth to that positioned by the Bishop. Certainly no human being can claim knowledge of the whole TRUTH and nothing but the truth. The exposition of the Bishop and the Former were simply a broadening of the metaphor "unclean" - an acceptable devise in homiletics.

Thank you Sven for the quote of Henri Nouwen, not many Christians who quote his writings are aware that he had great struggles with his sexuality. I heard him speak once in which he described his parents' expectations. He said it didn't matter what he accomplished he could never please his father, and his mother's response was always, "It doesn't matter what you do Henri, as long as you are like Jesus" - "both" he said "which were impossible".

I like what Andrew Solomon says in his recently released "Far from the Tree": "Compassion is the ability to care unconditionally for another person not based on fulfilling your expectations".

Canada and Bermuda

Anonymous said...

The first time I heard this Scripture quoted to me in the context of homosexuality, I wept, for a very long time. It was at a moment when I longed for God to affirm His presence in my struggles with same sex attraction and to clearly direct my thoughts including removing them.

Although I have never acted upon them, I was affirmed that God did not consider my person "unclean".