Being alongside the other

by | May 25, 2019

Acts 11:1-18

Peter’s Vision – ‘what God has made clean, you must not call profane’

Every day we are forced to make judgements. Judging who we trust picking up our children at the school gate – which parents do we trust. Judging if the person walking down the road towards us is safe or in some way suspicious. Judging who we spend our time with and what we do. Often we have methods and tools which help us make those judgements – we make judgements based on what somebody looks like, how they behave, how clean they are, what they are wearing, what they sound like when they speak – often we aren’t even conscious of making them. Sometimes those judgements are important for our safety, but often they are simply judgements about who we think we are going to like and they can be shaped by somebody we once knew, that we didn’t get on with, who had a similar accent or a similar hair colour or manner – we project that person we used to know onto the person we’ve just met and judge everything based on the projection. 

I was struck during yesterday’s pilgrimage how it is often only in church communities like this, and particularly when you are dong something like going on a long walk, gardening or polishing silver together, that we can get beyond our initial impression and get to know people who we might have already categorised as somebody other than ourselves, somebody who we wouldn’t get on with.

The norm for the world in the first century was that each faith was ethnically connected to one group of people. The idea of a faith that was for all people wherever they are from, was a foreign one. In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, this assumption of who is in and who is out is being challenged. Peter is being questioned as to why he would eat with those who weren’t Jewish – who weren’t clean. And Peter recounts the events that led to him eating with these unclean men in Caesarea. Peter enters a trance and sees a cloth with animals on it and Peter is told to eat of them. So ingrained into the psyche of a good Jewish boy like Peter that he shouldn’t eat these animals that in the midst of the dream he refuses. To which God replies ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ Peter is then woken from his trance by a knock on the door and goes to Caesarea to visit a house of uncircumcised – non-jewish – unclean individuals. And Peter witnesses the Holy Spirit come upon the these unclean men like it does on the apostles at Pentecost, finally Peter understands why God says he mustn’t call profane what God has made holy. 

God has chosen to dwell with them – so who was Peter to stop God –
We can be too precious about what makes something or somebody holy.
We can worry too much about whether we can in some way tarnish the eucharist by not doing it right.
We can be so concerned about keeping a space or a service holy that we make people feel excluded or unwelcome.
When I was looking for a place to do my curacy I was invited by a bishop to look at a possible church and to meet with the vicar.
There were lots of exciting opportunities in that place,
but I remember talking to the vicar about the weekly 8am Eucharist – which he had expressed an interest in dropping.
I feel passionate about the importance of services like our 8am Eucharist – it may not have a large congregation,
but it provides a still, quiet place in which we can encounter Christ – it can be a godsend for individuals who have temporary or longterm immunity deficiencies or who, because they are overwhelmed by what is happening in their lives, need not to be surrounded by people wanting to ask how they are.
This vicar didn’t agree with my view, ‘and besides’, he said, ‘I’m always worried I’ll mess up when I’m doing the Eucharist.’
Obviously this was a concern for me as somebody looking for a vicar who could train me with confidence about the Eucharist, but more worryingly – The Eucharist is an act of God’s Grace given to us by Jesus – what could any of us possibly do to mess it up!

There is, in a way, nothing I or any of us can do to make God’s grace apply in a specific situation, or to stop it in another (intentionally or not) Similarly we are not called to judge who is in or out, we are not called to police God – God goes where God wants to go. We are called to be aware of God’s presence, to discern where it is and what relationship it is drawing us into – Jesus gives us the command to love one another.

But what does it look like to love one another… What does it look like when we disagree? What does it look like when we don’t particularly like somebody? What does it look like when we feel like that love is not returned? What does it look like when we don’t particularly like what our fellow Christians are doing in the name of our faith. When they are othering, when they are discriminating and oppressing others who they are called to love. Loving our neighbour as ourself is no easy task,
we shouldn’t take it lightly. It demands that we recognise that God is dwelling amongst and even in those whom we most despise. It means we need to stand up for the compassion and love of God in a way which loves and is compassionate for those whom we might disagree with –  but in a way which is honest to the love of God and which enables us to care for those who are being othered, who are being discrimintated against.

Jesus came to dwell among us, that the home of God should be among mortals, not to judge us, but to enable us to have right relationship
right relationship with God 
and right relationship with one another. We journey together through this world, with God as our guide and enabling us to move past judgements to find these right relationships: Right relationship where the love of God surpasses all else – where love is the way.

The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams

Weekly Services

Sunday Mornings

8.00am Said Eucharist in the lady chapel
10.00am Parish Eucharist with choir and Sunday School

Weekday Services

Said Eucharist on Wednesdays at 11.00am
Evening Prayer 
Monday through Thursday at 5.30pm

Being Overwhelmed

Between my second and third year in training we went to India as a family. We knew that there would be a culture shock, different language, different cultures, 
different expectations, different driving.

read more