“Word for Today” – Acts 10 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

October 2, 2009 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

Cleaning Supplies 1I just couldn’t stand it any longer.  My wife Melody was out of town this past weekend and our apartment was sorely in need of a good cleaning.  So I decided to make the most of a lonely Saturday afternoon.  I pulled out the big yellow cleaning gloves and the Formula 409, drug the vacuum out of the closet, and scrubbed the apartment.

For as long as I can remember, I have been a neatnik.  In college, while many of my buddies lived in what could only be described as disturbing squalor, I was relentless in my drive to keep things clean.  We had a community vacuum in our dorm hallway, but it should have just been stored in my room.  After all, I was the only one who ever used it.  And although I have since relaxed my cleanliness standards quite a bit, to this day, I still have to take a few moments before I leave the house and when I first get home just to “straighten things up.”

If there were ever some biblical neatniks, they would have to be the Jews of the first century.  After centuries of being a bit sloppy in their piety, many of the Jews of this day decided to “clean up their acts,” as it were, and get serious about their religion.  And so they read and followed God’s commands – carefully. Religious orders, moral codes, punishment for sins – nothing was overlooked – especially when it came to an ancient Levitical distinction between those things which were clean and those things which were unclean.

In Leviticus 11, God gives Moses a checklist of sorts to help him distinguish between animals that are clean and acceptable as food for the Israelites and those that are unclean and therefore prohibited.  By the first century, these dietary restrictions had stood for some fourteen centuries and had become a centerpiece of Jewish piety.  Any Jew who was even remotely serious about his faith had to follow the dietary restrictions of Levitical law.  So you can imagine how surprised a devout and dutiful Jew named Peter must have been when, in our reading for today from Acts 10, he receives a vision from God:

About noon…Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (verses 9-15)

After some 1,400 years, God doesn’t just ask Peter to “loosen up” a little bit when it comes to his neatnik diet, he asks Peter to totally disregard it.  A ham sandwich slathered in processed cheese product?  Sure!  Peter can go for it.

In the final analysis, Acts 10 isn’t so much about clean and unclean food as it is about clean and unclean people.  For Jews considered not only certain foods, but also certain peoples  “unclean” because they did not follow the ceremonial, religious, and even moral laws of God.  Thus, Peter’s vision concerning so-called unclean foods is simply preparation for experiences that Peter will soon have with unclean people.  Indeed, almost immediately after Peter’s vision, the apostle hears a knock at his door.  It is an envoy asking Peter to come and visit the house of a Roman centurion – a man who would have been unclean according to Jewish religious law.

Upon arriving at the centurion’s house, Peter says, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean” (verse 28).  Peter has learned his lesson.  His vision from God was not so much about food as it was about people.  For God has not just made all foods clean, he also desires to make all people clean through the blood of his Son, Jesus Christ.

One of the ways that my compulsive cleanliness rears its head is when we host company for a meal.  I can’t stand dirty dishes left in the sink.  Thus, as soon as we’re finished eating, I usually dash into the kitchen and begin washing dishes while my wife is left entertaining our guests.  It’s at these times that Melody has to remind me, “Zach, the dishes can wait.  You don’t have to clean them right now.  Your obsession with cleanliness is keeping you from our guests.”

Your obsession with cleanliness is keeping you from our guests. What’s true with me in the kitchen is sadly true with so many of our relationships in general.  How often do we shy away from those who have messy hang-ups or disturbing dependencies or abhorrent addictions?  How often does our desire for clean-cut, easy clarity steer us away from those with unclean lives?

Jesus never avoided a messy person.  He always addressed them and ministered to them with deep compassion and love.  And so should we.  For as there were in Peter’s day, there are also unclean people in our day – people whose lives have been wrecked by unrepentant sin.  But as messy as their lives might be, they can be made clean – they can be made clean by Jesus.  I hope that today, you’ll get messy enough with someone to share with them the cleanliness that comes through Christ’s cross.  For Christ’s cross is a neatnik we all need.

Entry filed under: Word for Today.

“Word for Today” – Acts 9 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com “Word for Today” – Acts 11 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

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