Updated: Jan 17, 2022
Dr. RB McFee
The other day I was in my prayer room, and, like Peter, in the midst of my devotions I entered into ‘doze off land.’ Different Biblical passages came into my semi awake – semi asleep consciousness, and when it was over, I came to this section in the Bible. Perhaps it was for such a time as this? Although I suspect humankind has always faced the challenges God hoped to guide Peter, and His people through with the following passages in Acts….
9 Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour: 10 And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, 11 And saw Heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending upon him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: 12 Wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. 13 And there came a Voice to him, “Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.” 14
To paraphrase the memo from Heaven, God sent Peter a dream where a floating tablecloth was filled with various meats to eat – some preparation and assembly definitely required.
For foodies and vegans among us, this isn’t about dining on all manner and means of meat sources, although the cuisine was intriguing. And clearly God wasn’t acting as inventor of the Omaha Steaks gift giving guide, or meal of the month club concept, although some folks have interpreted these verses from a gastronomic perspective.
To me, this dream is about ‘breaking bread together’ (and bringing to mind one of the most beautiful communion hymns similarly named); time to make peace.
One of my mom’s favorite quotes by an anonymous writer “if all the hands that reach could touch,” brings to mind “what we miss” these last months; breaking bread together, hugs, the human touch. A good meal makes for good companionship.
And while yes, God was setting the table with some unusual foods, His symbolism was to take Peter to a profound, important revelation that would have dramatic implications for future Christians, for Christianity itself.
God was showing Peter a new communion table. And ultimately leading Peter to a new and wider group of followers in Christ; in essence, the world.
Of course, as with many scriptures, context is everything. This is especially true given the initial participants of the story are first century Jews and Gentiles living in the Mediterranean region.
To a first century Jew raised on Mosaic laws and rabbinic teachings, Peter’s vision struck at the very core of his upbringing. The cleanliness laws and rules about interacting with non Jews were ingrained since childhood. Food was both at the heart of, and symbol for those rules, designed to protect God’s people.
Although Peter was hand selected by Jesus to spread the Good News among the people, the question God was making him face, simply put, just who really are God’s people?
This question underscores one of the great divides after Jesus’ ascension in terms of Jews and Gentiles. The separation between Jews, Samarians, and other non Jews, Gentiles, was more than philosophical. It was fundamental. Consider the very act of dining with a Gentile could render one unclean.
Alas the concept “them” and “us” has plagued humanity, even Christianity for millennia.
Peter, as a follower of Jesus, still recognized guidelines of Judaism, the daily practices of Jews, concerning whom they associated, that still informed him. In spite of Jesus engaging with non-Jews throughout the Gospels, there remained the barrier, explaining what follows….
But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean. 15 And the Voice spake unto him again the second time, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.”
Acts 10: 9 – 15
Paraphrasing what God was saying to Peter….’what I have created, what I have deemed as clean (acceptable) should not be dismissed, disregarded, or discarded.’
One wonders if God put various types of people – Roman soldiers, Samaritan women, Greek scholars, and North African children on the cloth, if the lesson would have been easier to grasp.
That notwithstanding, to suggest this vision, this message from God unsettled Peter –is an understatement of epic proportion! So much so that he reacted by saying “Not so” to the Almighty! Thankfully our Savior is our God of second chances.
In spite of saying to God I have to disobey you in order to obey your laws, when God is saying I am giving you the laws that I want you to obey, down deep Peter loved God, and wanted to be both an observant Jew, and clean in holy service to the Almighty.
How to reconcile what was taught about God by man, and what is expected by God?
16 So Jesus said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? 18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.
Matthew 15 (NKJV)
Jesus gave Peter the answer.
“On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.’”
Jesus counseled us that if we love God and love each other, we have in the process fulfilled the laws. Jesus was more concerned about the Word of God as a force for good, as a bridge to relationship, and not an instrument for separation or judgment. Jesus tried to remind us that living our purpose through love, hospitality, tolerance, forgiveness, compassion, and caring were far more important. He even made it clear that acts of goodness, even on the Sabbath were to be encouraged. He put an exclamation point on that when He healed someone on Shabbat.
For a man who spent years with Jesus, watching Christ serve a higher Purpose – God’s – such as healing on the Sabbath, one has to wonder why Peter is clinging to practices Jesus taught were unnecessary to be in His service. No doubt Peter thought he was serving, even honoring God by his actions.
God was saying there is a higher imperative.
Before we chastise Peter, how often have we argued with God? Do we really know His will better than He does? When God through His Son Jesus tells us the old is replaced with the new, do we obey, or still cling to our ways. Is God telling us ‘let go of the past,’ and move forward with Him to a blessing filled future He sees, yet we cannot envision, to trust?
Having our beliefs challenged is never easy. It is unsettling. But then when did Jesus say following Him would be easy? His teachings could be unsettling. He challenged the old order, or how people treated each other. Like love your enemies. Or forgive people who hurt you. Or love one another as yourself. Easier said than done for mere mortals! Out of our comfort zone can be a scary destination.
Has God put something on our heart to do, and it is way out of our comfort zone? Or He has asked us to reach out to someone, who perhaps is on the other side of a divide, not unlike that which existed between Jews and Gentiles at the time of Jesus and Peter, at the time of his dream?
Debating with God over something He has instructed, or revealed to us, isn’t the brightest thing we do as people of faith. Thankfully He recognizes that’s often how mortals start to process things. Fortunately if we are true to our calling and commitment to Christ, we eventually settle down, and think about what God is asking us to do, or revealing to us. As did Peter….
19 While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, “Behold, three men seek thee. 20 Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them.”
Acts 10: 19 – 20
Being one of Christ’s Apostles, Peter ultimately obeyed….
23Peter went away with them, and certain brethren from Joppa accompanied him. 24 And the morrow after they entered into Caesarea. And Cornelius waited for them, and he had called together his kinsmen and near friends. 25 And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him. 26 But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man. 27 And as he talked with him, he went in, and found many that were come together. 28 And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.”
Acts 10: 23 - 28
Acts 10 is pivotal. God’s message to Peter was seismic in importance. The entire world, everyone was now officially eligible to be called God’s people, God’s chosen, not just Jew or Gentile, Greek or Ephesian, or any other affiliation, distinction, identifier or group.
34 Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: 35 But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.
Acts 10: 34 - 35
But wow is it easy as mere mortals to fall back into the trap of separating from others.
People may disagree on policies and issues. Peter and Paul didn’t always see eye to eye. But they both tried to see the world through the prism of Christ’s teachings. Shouldn’t we as well? It is not about our differences but the common ground we share in Christ. It is about looking at each other through the eyes of God.
Is there a bridge for our divides? Yes, and the bridge is our love for, and from Jesus. Where our heart is reveals who we really are. It is the path, it is the answer. The tablecloth story in Acts is about tearing down barriers to relationship
How would Jesus counsel us? Where do we make peace and break bread? The table is where Jesus did some of the most important teaching – from feeding the multitudes to the Last Supper, to eating with His Disciples after He was Resurrected.
“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”
At CCUMC we are a faith family. The sun shines on all of us, the love of Christ is given to each of us, and the tablecloth allows us to break bread fully. And soon when it is safe we’ll open our doors and our kitchen. Maybe we’ll celebrate Shabbas with our Jewish neighbors or concelebrate with other faith communities. Wherever we are led, we will break bread together as the start to relationship.
Life is short. God gives us limited amount of time to do some good, to live His purposes on earth. That starts with love. And we grow when we look at others as He would look at them; His children, all created with potential, purpose, positive characteristics, and gifts He selected for each one. Shall we dishonor God by forgetting He is in each of us, or shall we dine at the table with others in our midst, as brothers and sisters?
Did God drop a tablecloth into your dream, too?
“I will call them my people who are not my people; I will call my loved one who is not my loved one.”