Sunday, June 28, 2020

Creeping out from under the sheet

Sermon for the third Sunday after Trinity

It's a fact that babies have to learn disgust. What we may find disgusting is largely due to what our parents tell us is disgusting. Daddy won't eat the half-chewed biscuit tells Baby that you just don't eat food that someone else is eating.

Breaking disgust, then, is going to be a difficult matter.


St Peter sees a sheet from God containing animals that Jews would call unclean. St Peter feels disgust at seeing these and being told to eat them. His upbringing has taught him this disgust. His reaction comes from the gut. And yet God Himself tells Peter that he can eat these animals.

You can imagine a bit of a conflict going on in St Peter. His upbringing and his faith in God are at odds. How would you feel about having to eat a mussel for the first time. Peter knows that, for love of God, he must overcome his disgust.

And then Cornelius' envoys arrive.


St Peter probably does not feel disgust at entering a Gentile's house, but his upbringing tells him that there is something not right about it. Jews and Gentiles are not meant to mix. 

Yet St Peter knows he must overcome this reaction because God tells him that Cornelius is to be accepted into the Church. In one fell swoop, God condemns racism by showing that all races may become Christian and worship Our Lord Jesus Christ.

But wait! Didn't God Himself say which animals were clean and unclean. Didn't God create St Peter's disgust? Didn't God tell Jew to separate from Gentile? Didn't God thus bring about racism?


We have to understand the Old Testament carefully. At the time of Moses, the races of the Gentiles identified with their pagan gods. To these Gentiles, the Lord God was just a god of the mountains, and one among many. These Gentiles engaged in orgies and even sacrificed their babies to their false gods. And God, Our Lord God, made it clear that the Jews were to have nothing to do with them. They were not to be like them. 

To show their separation, they had to demonstrate their cleanliness by washing, by eating the right things, and by living a code of moral cleanliness. This is how Israel was supposed to be a holy people. This is why the Jews of St Peter's time make much show of their purity, even by showing that they have purely Jewish ancestry.

And then in comes Cornelius. .


Cornelius is not like other Gentiles. He worships God. We know he worships God because the Holy Ghost shows St Peter, and shows us too, that Cornelius is truly worshipping God. He deserves to be baptised; he deserves to be allowed to come to Christ.

Cornelius is not a Gentile who worships a false god and so God separates him out into His Church at St Peter's hands.


God destroys racism by showing that anyone who truly worships Him is part of the Church. Jew, Gentile, Male, Female, Slave, Free - all may enter the Church and be welcomed in by hands and a heart that have been pierced just so we might enter in. 

What doesn't happen, though, is that Evil become Good, and God makes that clear. Only those who worship Him may enter the Church. Those who go against His will through hating Him or hating neighbour need to repent and worship God - not for His sake, but for theirs.

The animals on the sheet were not evil: they were different. What God calls clean we should not call unclean. If we do then it is the Evil that creeps out from under the sheet that will consume us.

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