(Easter 5, 4/24)
“The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.” (Acts 11:12)
I think we’re hard-wired for belonging. Even those of us who are dyed-in-the-wool introverts yearn to be known, to find our tribe. Maybe it goes back to survival, safety in numbers and all that. Or maybe it’s psychological; we come to understand ourselves as we navigate our relationships, and when we find shared interests, shared passions, a shared approach to life, we feel included. We feel comforted and confident. We feel at home.
So we gear up in our team colors–sometimes literally, decked out in jerseys and rally caps. Sometimes we do it virtually, with shared memes and clicks of the “like” button. Sometimes we do it socially, with inside jokes and select invitations, and sometimes we do it subtly, with club rosters and even with church rolls. There can be no mistaking: we are “us,” and they are “them.”
Peter had returned to Jerusalem to verify the reports: Gentiles had indeed accepted the word of God. Suddenly the centuries of Jewish traditions, the Messianic theologies, the fulfilled prophecies that bound together the first Christian believers could no longer function as the fence between “us” and “them.” How can those who are unclean–who don’t keep kosher, who don’t observe the festivals, who don’t make the sacrifices or share the genealogy–how can they follow the risen Jewish King? And how can they belong to the Way of Jewish Christians?
“…the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” (Acts 11:15-17)
The Holy Spirit is pure gift. Every time. The Spirit is a gift that blows where God wills, not where we direct it, and not only where we observe it. It blows through fences and over walls, in traditions that seem unorthodox, in languages we can’t understand, and even (in Peter’s case) in menus we don’t approve of. Then the Spirit invites us to the picnic in all our variety, not requiring us to flatten our distinguishing characteristics, but asking us not to make distinctions.
Asking all of us to be “us.”
No one can prevent God from providing this Spirit, this gift, this vast buffet, this party with the doors wide open, and unfamiliar music echoing, and the language of laughter spilling out into the streets. No one can prevent God from bringing us together in praise.
So get a foothold in the chain-link that has defined “us” and “them”; reach a hand across, even boost yourself over. If you’re uncomfortable joining in an unfamiliar tradition, pray that those who do practice it will be blessed. Learn a few words in a new tongue; start with “your baby is beautiful,” or “come sit here,” or “that looks delicious.” Then pass the plates.