Scripture for the fifth Sunday of Easter: Acts 11:1-18 (Peter’s dream of ‘unclean’ food); Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35 (‘Love one another as I have loved you.’)
The congregation of Santa Margarita has a prayer list. This week, a couple of people moved from those for whom we pray in life to those for whose lives we give thanks. Although quite different in terms of their association with the community of faith and their lives, their deaths leave us bereft of two characters who enriched our lives in quite different ways – a reminder of the breadth of God’s kingdom, and our duty to invite and include.
In Canada, I was once asked to conduct a funeral for a young man who was autistic, with several other difficulties, one of which was that he sometimes grunted. He did this once during a church service, and the priest at the time asked his mother to take him out. She did – and did not return, until ten years later she came and asked me for the funeral. The church was packed. The young man’s sister stood up and told her mother in front of everyone that she need never have apologised for the stress that her brother placed upon their family life. Her brother, she said, had been a gift, of patience, courage and above all love. It was a heartfelt reminder that no matter how ‘unacceptable’ some may appear to be at times, they still have gifts to offer to the rest of us. We have no right to pass judgement upon others.
Once upon a time, children were supposed to be seen and not heard in churches. Nowadays, we crave the presence of children and their families, no matter what kind of noise they make!
We have been so good in the past at being purists at keeping people out of our churches that now we face a serious challenge to rebuild trust, through action, that our words of inclusion and welcome are genuine.
Two weeks ago, we read of Peter having a difficult conversation with Jesus that recalled three denials. With that exchange burned into his memory, Peter would have been very sensitive to the message of his “pigs in a blanket” dream, in which he is advised – three times – that only God can decide what is clean or unclean, pure or impure, acceptable or unacceptable. He might initially have viewed it as a test of his purity as a Jew; instead it was a test of his openness as a follower of Jesus.
We cannot afford to be 21st century Pharisees. If we tell people to go away, they will, and they may not return. We have to be 21st century disciples, constantly open to learning from the teaching of Jesus, and intent on building a community of faith that may include a rich diversity of sometimes challenging people. We have to be very wary of framing God’s love within the bounds of human understanding and tolerance. God loves all of us, differences and all – no matter how flawed and fallible. Jesus challenges us to love one another as we have been loved.