The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that people who were not Jewish had accepted God’s word. However, when Peter went to Jerusalem, the believers who insisted on circumcision began to argue with him. They said, “You went to visit men who were uncircumcised, and you even ate with them.”
Then Peter began to explain to them point by point what had happened. He said, “I was praying in the city of Joppa when I fell into a trance. I saw something like a large linen sheet being lowered by its four corners from the sky. The sheet came near me. I looked into the sheet very closely and saw tame animals, wild animals, reptiles, and birds. I also heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter! Kill these animals, and eat them.’
“But I answered, ‘I cannot do that, Lord! I have never put anything impure or unclean into my mouth.’
“A voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not say that the things which God has made clean are impure.’ This happened three times. Then everything was pulled back into the sky again.
“At that moment three men arrived at the house where we were staying. They had been sent from Caesarea to find me. The Spirit told me to go with them without any hesitation. Six believers from Joppa went with me, and we visited Cornelius’ home.
“He told us that he had seen an angel standing in his home. The angel told him, ‘Send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man whose name is Simon Peter. He will give you a message that will save you and everyone in your home.’
“When I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came to these people. This was the same thing that happened to us in the beginning. I remembered that the Lord had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized by the Holy Spirit.’ When they believed, God gave them the same gift that He gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. So who was I to interfere with God?”
When the others heard this, they had no further objections. They praised God by saying, “Then God has also led people who are not Jewish to turn to Him so that they can change the way they think and act and have eternal life.”
Do these words sound familiar? “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let Thy gifts to us be blessed. Amen.” In many Lutheran gatherings we have heard these words called the ‘Common Table Prayer’ spoken before having something to eat. These words are commonly known by lifelong Lutherans, but those who are new to Lutheranism wonder if this is a prayer that is inspired by God. It is not common to them. It is a common prayer that unites the ‘in group’, but it leaves out those who have not heard it too often. It is an example of how we can create divisions among us that do not need to exist. In the early church there were those who had grown up following all the Old Testament rules about life and foods so that it became an inbred part of their life. It even became at times a barrier between them and New Testament believers. We must be aware that barriers like that develop even now between long time members of Angelica and those who are new to the Lutheran Faith.
With events like the one in the passage for today we need to remember that God’s grace and promise are for ALL and unite all who believe in Jesus Christ.
We may be skeptical when people come to us who have not been a part of our circle of friends in the church.
The Jewish Christians in Jerusalem questioned what Peter was doing when he associated with those who were Gentiles.
In the Old Testament God had warned the Israelites about associating with those outside the faith. (Deut.7:1-6)
The Jews began to feel that even eating with Gentiles would make them ceremonially unclean.
God had also forbidden Israelites from eating many foods the Gentiles ate (Deut.14:2-19).
But note that Jesus ate with sinners.
We may be unsure when invited to do things outside our comfort zones.
This might include traditions in our congregation that could be stumbling blocks to those on the ‘outside’ being welcomed.
It certainly does include any hesitance about welcoming people into the Church because their backgrounds might be suspicious to us. For example, if a person who is Muslim comes among us to hear about the Christian faith.
God leaves no doubt about His purpose to include everyone.
God made it clear to Peter: in the vision, in the arrival of those who were seeking for Peter, and finally when Peter saw the work of the Holy Spirit upon those Gentiles.
Today, God affirms His promise to include all people. In His Word we find (Psalm 148:11-13) kings of the earth and all its people, officials and all judges on the earth, young men and women, old and young together. Let them praise the name of the LORD because His name is high above all others. His glory is above heaven and earth.
And in John 16:13: When the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into the full truth. He will not speak on His own. He will speak what He hears and will tell you about things to come.
And in Revelation 21:5: The One sitting on the throne said, “I am making everything new.” He said, “Write this: “These words are faithful and true.’”
This is the new covenant instituted with the shedding of Jesus’ blood. Jesus’ death on the Cross has paid for the sins of the whole world (I John 2:2) He is the payment for our sins, and not only for our sins, but also for the sins of the whole world. This includes ALL people.
By Jesus’ Cross, the gifts of forgiveness and eternal life have been given to ALL who believe.
In the end, God calls all to faith through the same Word and Spirit.
Whether it is in Infant Baptism or as adults coming to faith, All are by God’s Spirit through His Word.
The Gospel message itself is beyond our reason. We think those who are ‘in’ must somehow ‘rate’ based on something in our circle. But we need to know better. Everyone of us is ‘in’ because Jesus paid for our membership by dying for us. That is the only reason.
We sometimes need to make sure not to stand in the Spirit’s way.
Our final response is to be praise for what God does bringing others to faith.
When we invite Jesus to ‘be our guest’ it is crucial to remember that we do not make the guest list. We are really Jesus’ guests at the heavenly table, always by His grace in giving His life for us. So He may be bringing other guests to the table with Him. Like the holiday meal to which some outside the family are invited, it is something new for us to get used to. But the gifts to us that we ask to be blessed – Let Thy gifts to us be blessed – just may be those new people – in Jesus’ name. Amen.