Dreaming, Being Puzzled led and Seeing God’s Glory
Glen Echo Presbyterian Church, Columbus, OH – October 03, 2010
Rev. Cláudio Carvalhaes
Bible Text: Acts 10:1-48
Good morning, may the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Let me start by saying how thankful I am to be here with you this morning. I am deeply thankful for your care and hospitality for allowing me to be here this morning and for the privilege to worship God with you. To reverend Lee and to you all, my deepest gratitude! I am honored to be here.
Today is world communion and as Christians we go against what the world spreads around: the world says “we should live by ourselves” but at this table we say “no! we can only live if we live together. The world says: “be suspicious of anyone” but at this table we learn to say no! trust those who come to eat and drink with us. The world says, “mind your own business, and survive yourself” but at this table we say no! and instead we claim that we are each other’s keepers and sustainers.
Liturgically, we are in the season of ordinary time, but this passage is a consequence of what happened on Pentecost. So we are still under the blowing of the Holy Spirit in and around us here. Thus, to understand the movement of the Spirit in Peter we need to ponder about what Pentecost was about. Then, before we go into this passage let us remember quickly what Pentecost might mean for us.
At Pentecost people heard tongues of fire and were transformed. Three thousand people on that day were heard the good news of Jesus Christ and were touched by the pouring of the Holy Spirit. It is the continuous hearing of the word of God that makes us who we are and are constantly becoming. Tongues of fire continue to shape who we are to God and to our neighbors. The languages we hear, the stories we ponder, the testimonies we listen carefully, the people we meet, all of these things affect our spiritual lives deeply.
At Pentecost we learn that the Spirit does not work in us alone but rather through communitarian movements, in and through one another. In the passage we heard this morning, the Holy Spirit is also changing a community. The Spirit is doing powerful and unexpected things in the lives of these people. In this story, we see dreams, angels, people doing strange things, not knowing what is happening and then at the end, seeing God’s glory.
It starts with an angel appearing to ‘Cornelius,’ who was a Roman centurion, a Gentile. The angel tells him: ‘Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God.’ How powerful it must have been to this man to hear that God is pleased with his life.
I wish I could receive the presence of an angel saying these things to me…. However, we do receive the visit of people who are like angels carrying the word of God to us. We must be attentive!!
With the Centurion we learn that God is always listening to our prayers even if we are not that sure about it. Do you believe God listens to your prayers? How much do you pray? I keep telling my students: we Christians need to return to prayer, we need to spend more time praying, we need to believe that prayer can change things. Also, with the Centurion we learn that our tithing and offerings are also precious gifts to God. Never forget that your offering is a gift from God and to God. Don’t forget! When you pray and you give your tithing, like Cornelius did, ‘Your prayers and your alms can ascend as a memorial before God.”
This man Cornelius is called to go meet Peter. Peter, on his end is tired and fall sleep. He has a dream. Verse 11 to 16 says: 11He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. 13Then he heard a voice saying, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 14But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.’ 15The voice said to him again, a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 16This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.
Imagine this: a Jew is demanded to eat unholy food, ordained to eat everything he despises and cannot even get closer. How difficult is that? You are called to do what ethically you are forbidden to do. All of sudden, you have to move all your thinking, all your desires, all your emotions and all your body into a different direction and do what you always denied yourself doing.
Now, in this dream, not only Peter has to accept something new, but more, he has to learn to welcome and do what he has always understood as completely wrong and mistaken and unholy. He had to learn to like what he has always despised.
I wonder what is God telling us to change, to welcome, to love… At this table we are called to be with those we can’t stand; At this table we are to believe what we cannot believe; At this table we are to call brothers and sisters those whom we fear and despise and think are unholy. When we look at the world, we look from the eyes of this table so that we can call ourselves a global church and offer a welcoming communion to all.
Verse 17 says “Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen…”
What are the things that this very world table makes you puzzled? What are we to make of this table who insistently offers everybody a place to eat together, who proposes that we care for each other, that we stretch our eyes into those places that are usually forgotten and forsaken.
While puzzled we don’t much time to think. 9While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Look, three men are searching for you. 20Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.’
Peter had neither choice nor time to think, to ask questions or try to understand properly what was going on. Instead, he had to do something quickly as a response. Up to this point Peter had no idea what to do. He is dazzled and can’t quite figure out things. He asks: “Now may I ask why you sent for me?’
You see, to follow God’s will is also to be lost in the midst of God’s ordinances, it is not to understand quite well why God is doing some things with us and in our lives.
Have you ever felt that way? You are in the midst of things you quite don’t know what to do, or where to go or cannot discern God’s will for you? Being puzzled, confused, perplexed and uncertain is also part of our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ.
However, sometimes the answers come to us slowly. On verse 33 we see the connections between the dreams of Cornelius and Peter and the puzzle God gave to Peter. The text says: “So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say.’ Then Peter began to speak to them…” At this point, Peter knows better what he is up to. He has to talk about Jesus Christ and God’s plan to this group of people which he would never get close to. The result of it is the pouring of the Holy Spirit and the transformation of lives. The result is people witnessing God’s glory. On verse 44 it says:
While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God.”
Here we have Pentecost happening once again, the gracious pouring of the holy Spirit over everybody and people being transformed. The word of God making a long and dreamy and puzzling path in order to approach people, to break boundaries and to connect those who otherwise would never be connected. The glory of God shines on that place and over that people. At that house, two rival groups are meeting together, two distant groups who lived under fear, hatred and prejudice are now sharing the same room and the same glory of God!
All of that because Cornelius had to move from his own way into the direction of Peter. And Peter had to move from his own beliefs into the direction of Cornelius. The truth of God was neither in Cornelius corner nor in Peter’s traditions. It was somewhere else where both could meet and forgive and share their lives together.
Yesterday I had dinner with some of you, wonderful people who gave their time to be with me and I loved it. We ate good food and shared a little of ourselves. One of our brother was telling us about a story of his experience in Central America. Inside of the bus, he saw a shoe shining boy running for 15 blocks after the bus in order to shine somebody’s shoes.
When the bus finally stopped, he went out of the bus to let this kid shine his shoes. His gesture has some resemblance of Peter’s and Cornelius gesture. His courage casted away his fears and by getting off of the bus he broke away fears and found connection with this boy. There, at the bus door, two people who otherwise would never connect, shared a little bit of a life together.
Today, on world communion day, we are call to get off of the bus and engage with those we are afraid to share our lives.
On world communion day we are to be filled once again with the Holy Spirit so that we can listen to others who are very different from us, so that we can lose our fears, so that we can get off of the bus, so that we can eat with strangers, so that we can take care of widows and orphans, so that we can look after the poor, so that we can fight for everyone to be health insurance.
On world communion day we are to face our fears and win them over with the grace and the love of God in Jesus Christ. On world communion day, the fear of the other at this table is turned into love and love changes fear into trust.
Brothers and sisters, we are a people who are called to live out of love not out of fear. If fear is winning over our hearts and minds and souls we are missing the powerful sounding voice of the Spirit calling us to love God and one another and to rest on God’s love.
On world communion day, we are to remember that God speaks to us in dreams that are too crazy or absurd to follow or understand… dreams that can take us to the point of breaking down what we believe for something else God is calling us to do.
Today, on world communion day, we must remember that to live with Christ is to be dazzled, puzzled, perplexed by the knowns and unknowns of this faith and of life itself. Always trusting that no matter what we go through God will be with us! Always!
On world communion day we must hope that the glory of God will find us where we are and will renew us and all God’s creation. The glory of God will shine in and through us but also, in and through our strange and very different brothers and sisters.
I saw the glory of God when I was in Maputo Mozambique. I could never dream of what happened but I was certainly puzzled. The most precious lesson I learned about world communion came from a street man from Maputo Mozambique…
SHOW THE CHALICE AND TELL THE STORY.
In Maputo, Mozambique I met an artist, a brilliant wood carver, a street man. I asked him to prepare a cup for the eucharist we were going to celebrate at the All African Council of Churches. HE asked me how I wanted it and I said: I don’t know. WE are a gatherings of people fro all around the African continent and we are gather to celebrate our communion under God’s love in jesus Christ. 30 days later this is what I found: people, women and men connected through Jesus Christ. However, our cup can only receive the wine, the Holy Spirit IF we all hold it together. With hands woven between one another, we are the ones who hold the blessings and the grace of God…
To conclude, on verse 47 Peter said, 47‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ 48So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.”
“Then they invited him to stay for several days.” Did you hear that? “They invited him to stay for several days.” The result of God’s dream, puzzlement and glory is to invite the strangers to stay a little longer with us and eat our food, sleep in our houses and share our lives. In the story we heard this morning, God’s glory could only happen because of the changes in Peter and Cornelius minds. Instead of getting rid of each other, the glory of God made them stay together. This is what the very host of this world table, Jesus Christ, is doing to us: Jesus is inviting us to stay with one another and with those we do not know to stay a little longer together.
So as I finish, let us all hold each other’s hands like this Chalice shows and say:
“In Jesus Chris, we are a world family. Let us stay together”