Perhaps your social media news feed this week, like mine, is filled with divisive comments and rhetoric. There are important discussions happening in our world and we can’t hide from them. But it is important that we engage them by reflecting first on what kind of community our faith calls us to be. I’m sharing a portion of my sermon from this past Sunday, because I need to be reminded that God’s vision for us is expansive and gracious. I hope it stirs you to reflection as well.
The story of the early church in the Book of Acts is the story of God breaking down barriers, overcoming limitations, destroying boxes. As often as the disciples build walls and fences around God’s saving grace, God tears down those walls and fences, and drags the disciples into new places, new cities, new homes. As often as the early church runs up against its own limitations of time and money and effort and skill, God overcomes those limitations, pouring out grace on crowds of strangers, touching the hearts of Gentiles and Romans, Jews and Greeks, slaves and free. As often as the apostles want to put God in a box, defining who’s in and who’s out, and what lifestyle must be lived in order to be welcome to the table of holy fellowship, God destroys those boxes, blowing them open from the inside, shattering feeble human efforts to limit grace, and showering down mercy on the flawed and the perfect alike. God’s grace will not be hindered.
It is a lesson we still need to learn today. As a society, we seem quick to reject compassion and embrace fear. We are more ready to create hindrances to a world in which all find welcome than we are ready to tear down barriers and embrace the stranger as neighbor. But if we want to truly be the open and inclusive community of welcome God calls us to be, we will listen to Peter’s words to his colleagues and friends: “If then God gave them the same gift that God gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” Who, indeed! Do we find ourselves hindering God’s vision for us? Or are we actively working to unhinder God at work in our community, our state, our nation, and our world?
God gave Peter a vision of a community in which all are welcome and none are called alien or outcast or unworthy. It is a vision God still desires for us, a vision of a community of faith without barriers. God’s vision for the church calls us to be a community of grace that breaks down barriers of class, race, and economic status; a community of mercy that overcomes limitations of human misunderstandings and prejudices; a community of love that destroys boxes of moral righteousness and sinful pride; a community in which all people – young and old, rich and poor, stranger and neighbor – are welcome and celebrated.