Silenced

 ‘We change the world not by what we say or do, but as a consequence of what we have become.’

Dr. David Hawkins

Acts is the story of the apostles, and followers of Jesus, attempting to catch up with the work of the Spirit.  It is a whirlwind of new experiences,  mysterious instructions from God, forbidden places, unexpected interactions, and the constant question of boundaries.  Acts is a story of Becoming, the apostles becoming the credible first hand witnesses of the life/death/life message of Christ, the Church becoming the avenue of God, the Spirit becoming the power of God, and consistently throughout, God remains the same while  revealing his multi-dimensional nature, a nature that is manifest Love. Their story is a journey, not so much about a group of humans weathered and ready to save the world from itself, it is the real life documentation of humans ‘Becoming’ in order to be the hands and feet of God.

A journey that no one in their right mind would have signed up for.  An experience that would have been overwhelming if they had known the itinerary before accepting. An endeavor that required moment to moment focus with open eyes and ears as well as willing hearts and minds. A journey which required  those involved to plant their feet firmly and commit to this life for the rest of their lives. It was a journey that never ceased to challenge how they perceived the world, how they recognized God, how they interpreted truth – a call to constantly reexamine their most deeply held convictions, opinions, beliefs, and even faith. 

It is a journey that is worthy of time, for their journey of Becoming is our journey of Becoming.

In recent weeks we have seen the apostles engaging with people from the remotest ends of the earth.  People known only by their labels. Labels that identified skin color, country of origin, gender identification, practices, sin, and religion. Humans from these remote locations filled with untouchable people collided with the ingrained hatred and fear embedded in the minds and hearts of the followers of Christ.

Our Acts passage today is one such collision moment, a moment that changed everything.

Three statements from this passage are essential to our understanding.

“Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” 

Acts 11:3

‘When they heard this, they were silenced.’

Acts 11:18a 

“God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

Acts 11:18b

It all began with…

“Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?”

Acts 11:3

After the experience with Cornelius and the other gentiles Peter and his companions traveled back to Jerusalem where they were confronted by the Jewish, the circumcised, believers.  Their first question was not a faith issue, they actually did not seem to have an issue with the gentiles believing in Jesus and receiving the Spirit.  Their first and most powerful concern and outrage was that Peter had gone into the home of a gentle and eaten a meal with him and other gentiles.

As we saw last week, it was against the law for Jews to step foot into the homes of gentiles, nor were they to share a meal.  This, for the Jewish believers, was a major offense, a horrific violation of their faith.  However, this was  not a faith issue, it was actually not even a religious issue, it was a manmade issue.  No where in God’s Law was there a restriction against such interaction between Jews and Gentiles. Somewhere along the line it had become a thing, and, without really thinking about it, it continued to be a thing even for these who walked with Jesus. This bigotry and prejudice had been instilled within them which they probably did not even recognize. It was actually the opposite of Jesus’ words. This fervent dismissal of an entire people group who were a majority of the world population, had been intertwined with their faith and now the two had become inseparable.  It was the first thing that came to their mind when they heard the news of the Holy Spirit and the Gentiles. The unnoticed contradiction with Jesus words, had not yet been confronted. 

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

John 3:16

When something that is not a true faith issue is permitted to become a key issue of our faith, there must be a moment of Holy confrontation – without the moment of seeing truth our Becoming is stunted and stuck. These hateful attitudes regarding others who are also ‘so loved by God’ can often be instilled from birth, falsely affirmed in our faith, and then perpetuated from our faith contemporaries usually remains as an unnoticed and unchallenged reality of our life witness. Sometimes a traumatic event can create these unholy feelings. Here  we see our first truth.

Faith is Seldom the True Core of our Offense.

This confusion of non-faith and non-faith, our failure to fully recognize those things that are cultural more than spiritual, is not a thing of the past, it is alive and strong even our time.  Painful divisions exist, they are even instilled in our faith communities, faith communities built on the truth of God’s boundless love.  If anything, we see them emboldened in our present reality.

In Matthew 7 we find a very uncomfortable story of a gentle woman and Jesus. The woman comes to Jesus begging that he heal her daughter. Jesus’ response is quite shocking. Ppreachers and commentators have spent a great deal of  effort in covering up the offensive response of Jesus….

“Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

Mark 7:27

It is a very uncomfortable story of Jesus referring to a gentile woman, and all gentile, as a small dog.  Of the many explanations given by commentators, preachers, and experts, it remains offensive. However, we see Christ respond to the woman’s confrontation not with a theological treats or condensation, instead he is silent, he listens, he considers, and he responds to  the request of the woman.

What if racism itself is a human reality and not a sin, however, it becomes sin when we are confronted with our bigotry but refuse to be silent and listen?

The Jewish believers had been indoctrinated in the belief that they were truly superior and that all others were inferior.  It was a wall of isolation between the Jews and anyone, and everyone, who was no Jewish. 

Our second statement is

‘When they heard this, they were silenced.’

Acts 11:18a

After the believers in Jerusalem heard the words of Peter they are silent. Now, let me assure you that for the room full of religious men, who have just been confronted with the own offense, silence is a momentous work of the  Spirit.  Nothing was said, no defense given, their mouths were shut.

Silence may the be the biggest challenge in Becoming.

It is very human for us to defend oneself.  When our human nature reacts with words, voices, excuses, and denials – God calls us to respond with silence.  A year ago the Spirit confronted us with our own prejudices as we watched the Black Lives Matter protests and riots going on around our country. We were given an opportunity to be silent, to consider, to attempt to understand the pain of these who were using their usually muted voices, we had a chance to accept their struggle and their pain.  Instead, we responded with statements like ‘If they just wouldn’t protest,’, ‘Well, I’m not racist, I don’t see color,’ and, ‘The racism they are claiming doesn’t really exist.’ State lawmakers have reacted with laws prohibiting such protests and even denying the pervasive reality of supremacy and racism.

We were given an opportunity to be silent.  As we watched these protests in American streets, as we saw the hoards of immigrants at our borders, as we heard the stories of harassment from women, the cries from the LGBTQ communities.  We have been given opportunity after opportunity to see our own deep seated, and often invisible even to us, prejudice and instead of being silent we usually come to our own defense.  God calls us to be silent, to recognize and consider that these are loved by God also, to accept, to ask the ‘why’ instead of verbalizing the ‘they shouldn’t.’ We may not ever understand, but we are never promised understanding here on earth.  I’m sure that many of those believers in Jerusalem were still scratching their heads in confusion at the time of their death – but still they were silent.

This brings us to our third dynamic.

‘Peter began to explain it to them, step by step’

Acts 11:4

Peter everything with the Jewish Jesus believers.  He detailed for them how God led him to recognize that their prejudice towards others was not God’s law, how God led him to go to Cornelius and how Cornelius affirmed this through his own experience before God, and then how the Spirit moved among the gentiles the same as it had in him.

The response of the Jewish believers is very interesting, they praised God for  this movement of the Spirit at the same time they express surprise.

“Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

Acts 11:18b

Your Bible may use the word ‘also’ instead of ‘even’, and there are other interpretation choices.  The actual wording is a very tepid response to a new reality they were not expecting.  They do not doubt the story of Peter, nor do they refute the experience of the Gentiles receiving the Spirit – however, it is still uncomfortable and they still do not fully understand it.  This does not hinder their acceptance, they still are committing this change in their mindset and will be altering their reality going forward. 

Understanding Others is not a first step to Accepting Others. We do not have to understand to accept. The idea that we first have to understand is a damaging misconception on our part. Our first act of acceptance and embrace is the choice to love as Jesus  loved us.

God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8

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