Separateness Not Superiority

Scripture Focus: Leviticus 11.47
47 You must distinguish between the unclean and the clean,

Acts 10.15
15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” 

Reflection: Separateness Not Superiority
By John Tillman

The Israelites were charged with making distinctions between holy things and unholy things. One of the ways this was carried out was in dietary laws.

To modern sensibilities the dietary laws seem strange and puzzling. (Pigs are unclean but crickets are on the menu?) These regulations may have been given, partly, for health reasons or may have had to do with the animals being used as sacrifices in the worship of other gods. The new nation needed defining cultural touchstones that would remind them of who, and whose, they were. The dietary laws were a part of building this culture. 

God’s regulations often include practical concerns not just spiritual concerns. However, the practical “why” is always less important than the spiritual act of obedience. Obeying the command to “be holy” is what makes us able to be a light to the world. No holiness, no light. However, over time, the idea of being separate engendered a sense of superiority.

Throughout the Old Testament law we see the principle that uncleanness transfers by touch from one thing or person to another. In Jesus, the disciples saw a new thing. Jesus touched the unclean and made them clean. (Matthew 8.2-4) Jesus touched lepers, Samaritans, the demon possessed, and even the dead. The unholy became holy. The dead became alive. Rather than them making him unclean, he made them clean. Like the coal taken from the altar that cleansed Isaiah’s unclean lips, Jesus cleansed what was unclean. (Isaiah 6.7)

Today we, like the Israelites, are charged with keeping ourselves holy. (Matthew 5.48; 1 Peter 1.15) There are sensible and practical ways that we can separate ourselves from the cultural flow of unclean philosophies, practices, or theology. But we must not allow our separateness to breed superiority. Believing God about what is unclean, means believing him about what is clean and about what may be made clean.

The Spirit of Christ is within us and we are his body. We have Christ’s power to touch the unclean and make them clean. His power in us can redeem broken people, systems, or philosophies, with the touch of the gospel. 

God shows no favoritism but instead accepts those who acknowledge him and do what is right. Like Peter, if we open our eyes, we may find many things and people around us that seem unclean that God desires us to touch and make clean.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. — Psalm 85.9

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Leviticus 11-12 (Listen – 7:20)
Psalms 13-14 (Listen – 1:43)

Read more about Much Demanded
God judges those with little lightly and those with much heavily. This should be sobering to us who are greatly privileged.

Read more about Unprecedented
They have taken for granted the immense privilege and wealth they have as people chosen by God.

A Mutual Conversion

Scripture Focus: Acts 10:34-35
Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.”

Reflection: A Mutual Conversion
By Jon Polk

Cornelius was a big deal in Caesarea. A Roman centurion stationed in the city as a member of the Italian Regiment, Cornelius and his entire family were “God-fearing” Gentiles, regularly praying to the God of the Jews. He was also known for his generosity to the poor and needy.

None of this, however, is why Cornelius is recorded in the history of the early church. Instead, he is remembered for a vision and a summons.

During the middle of the day, Cornelius was visited by an angel, who instructed him to send for Peter. Marshalling his resources, he sent two servants and a trusted soldier on the mission to persuade Peter to come visit.

Meanwhile, Peter was experiencing his own vision in which he was instructed by God to eat unclean animals. While Peter wrestled with the meaning of his vision, Cornelius’ entourage arrived and convinced him to accompany them to Caesarea.

Impressed by Cornelius’ faith, Peter began preaching to the crowd gathered in the house, opening with the words, “I realize now that God does not show favoritism, but accepts anyone who fears him.” He then recounted for those assembled the gospel story of Jesus Christ.

Peter’s opening statement indicates a change in his own understanding. As a good Jew it was unlawful for him to even associate with Gentiles. It was incomprehensible to him that uncircumcised Gentiles could become disciples of Jesus, but that’s exactly what happened. We witness a mutual conversion, both of Cornelius the Gentile and of Peter the Jew.

Scholar Beverly Gaventa writes, “The end of [verse 36, chapter 10] may be the most important line in the drama: ‘He is Lord of all’ means not only that there is no other Lord but that no one can be excluded from his Lordship.”

Through the conversion of Cornelius and company, the news of God’s impartial love for all humanity impacted Peter, but it also compels us as well. Because God shows impartial love to all kinds of people, we have a responsibility to show the same kind of love to all people. As God seeks out relationships with all people, we too are called to open ourselves to relationships outside our own social and cultural spheres.

It took the power of the Holy Spirit to bridge a relationship between Peter and Cornelius. That same Spirit empowers us in our calling to love others.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me out of all my terror. — Psalm 34.4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Ezra 10 (Listen -3:19) 
Acts 10 (Listen -6:05)

This Weekend’s Readings
Nehemiah 1 (Listen -2:06), Acts 11 (Listen -3:52)
Nehemiah 2 (Listen -3:42), Acts 12 (Listen -3:49)

Read more about Putting To Death Racial Hostility
Christians must take the lead in racial issues…We cannot tire of addressing the issue. We have the only answer.

Read more about Racism Wears a Mask
It is rare that a person will admit, even to themselves, that they act out of racism directly. Racism always wears a mask.

A Mutual Conversion

Acts 10:34-35
Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.”

Reflection: A Mutual Conversion
By Jon Polk

Cornelius was a big deal in Caesarea. A Roman centurion stationed in the city as a member of the Italian Regiment, Cornelius and his entire family were “God-fearing” Gentiles, regularly praying to the God of the Jews. He was also known for his generosity to the poor and needy.
None of this, however, is why Cornelius is recorded in the history of the early church. Instead, he is remembered for a vision and a summons.

During the middle of the day, Cornelius was visited by an angel, who instructed him to send for Peter. Marshaling his resources, he sent two servants and a trusted soldier on the mission to persuade Peter to come visit.

Meanwhile, Peter was experiencing his own vision in which he was instructed by God to eat unclean animals. While Peter wrestled with the meaning of his vision, Cornelius’ entourage arrived and convinced him to accompany them to Caesarea.

Impressed by Cornelius’ faith, Peter began preaching to the crowd gathered in the house, opening with the words, “I realize now that God does not show favoritism, but accepts anyone who fears him.” He then recounted for those assembled the gospel story of Jesus Christ.
Peter’s opening statement indicates a change in his own understanding. As a good Jew, it was unlawful for him to even associate with Gentiles. It was incomprehensible to him that uncircumcised Gentiles could become disciples of Jesus, but that’s exactly what happened. We witness a mutual conversion, both of Cornelius the Gentile and of Peter the Jew.

Scholar Beverly Gaventa writes, “The end of [verse 36, chapter 10] may be the most important line in the drama: ‘He is Lord of all’ means not only that there is no other Lord but that no one can be excluded from his Lordship.”

Through the conversion of Cornelius and company, the news of God’s impartial love for all humanity impacted Peter, but it also compels us as well. Because God shows impartial love to all kinds of people, we have a responsibility to show the same kind of love to all people. As God seeks out relationships with all people, we too are called to open ourselves to relationships outside our own social and cultural spheres.

It took the power of the Holy Spirit to bridge a relationship between Peter and Cornelius. That same Spirit empowers us in our calling to love others.

Prayer: The Small Verse
The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and we who dwell within. Thanks be to God. — Traditional

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Judges 6 (Listen – 6:15)
Acts 10 (Listen – 5:49)

Thank You!
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Read more about Love, Suffering, and the Struggle for Racial Equality
When we work for racial equality we are not doing political work—we are doing God’s work.

Read more about The Responsibility of Racial Reconciliation
It is the responsibility of the more powerful party to ensure the equitability of any reconciliation.

Readers’ Choice Submissions

Help us fill August with reflections from you about the post or posts from the past eleven months that have challenged and comforted you and helped you find new meaning in the scriptures.

Follow the link to fill out the form. Please limit your submissions to posts published this calendar year, between September of 2018 and today.

For any questions contact John Tillman at john@theparkforum.org

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