Thursday, April 21, 2016

Preparing to Preach: Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C

Peter's Dream
What provokes you to take risks? For some, it is the easy assurance of the inevitable rush of adrenaline that comes as your body prepares for any eventuality. It needs you alert, twitchy and ready to run, to fight, to deal with the danger that is coming. In our day and age, folks called "adrenaline junkies" take enormous risks in order to get that rush. People jump off perfectly good buildings and bridges. They leap out of airplanes. They helicopter to the tops of mountains in order to ski down near vertical slopes that no one has yet scouted. They hike into the back country with a water purifier and a buck knife, intending to spend days, even weeks "out there."

They dive deeper, run farther, push further and tempt fate in order to feel that tingle of tension...will I make it out of here alive? Perhaps, if skill, experience and Providence are on my side.

When the idea of taking risks comes up in most conversations, our imaginations drift to these images, yes? For some. For others, just walking out the front door in the morning can instill the same rush of chemicals that folks like the above chase like a kitten after a bit of string.

In all things, though, we have to acknowledge that mundane life itself carries risk enough for most all of us. Just getting through the day, the week, the month, the season takes almost all of some folks energy. Staying between the lines as we drive, color and live? For most folks, that is a beautiful sufficiency.

I am convinced that is the sort of person our beloved Simon Peter was at his core. He was a conservative and careful fisherman. Too many risks taken in his line of work would mean more than just a lost night's catch. It could mean a maiming injury, or death for one of his workers, his brother or himself. He wasn't a man accustomed to taking risks. At least, not at first.

In his walk with Christ, the Jesus who called him and the resurrected Savior who inspired him to transfigure from disciple into apostle, our man Peter became a man accustomed to taking risks.

Still, there were a few lines he avoided crossing. There were a few rules he tried not to break. I'm not sure if they were from habit, something he always had done. Perhaps they were habits so ingrained in him that he feared losing himself if he stepped away from them. One of those? The dietary rules of kashrut  had governed his daily routines from his earliest memory. He knew to refrain from certain foods, to avoid going places where he might be forced into violation of them. He knew that to the core of his being and back again! Could his mouth even close on a bit of roasted pork? Perhaps, but then his throat would clamp shut...his gut rebel and recoil.

So, imagine his shock when a vision comes to him in which God's voice commands him to kill and eat things that were unclean! Moreover, when he recoiled from them to receive the direction that what God has declared clean cannot be unclean. Well and good when that is food, but the bigger adrenaline rush is on its way.

Just as he wakes from the vision, there is a knock on the door. Retainers from the house of a gentile, a Roman named Cornelius, a Centurion of the Italian Cohort have come to "invite" him to this august man's home. Cornelius is righteous, but he is outside the fold of the Jewish community. He does not, and in all likelihood will not embrace kashrut.  He is who he is: a man whose household would know this Jesus whom Peter serves and proclaims.

And so, a man who in all likelihood avoided adrenaline rushes at all costs embraces one which all of us as disciples of the living God must if we wish to join in the ranks of the apostles: He must go out, and embrace that which is so different from him as to upset the very core of his own self.

That is the greatest challenge we face as the Body of Christ, now as ever....that the Gospel in our hands should be one that we are not just to keep and hold, but to offer and extend to ALL who would know Jesus. We can't pick or choose who we meet with, or where we go....only that we will or will not accept the invitation to go, proclaim, join and serve.

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