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“Love one another”: St Peter’s Vocational Model
Preached by Rory D. Sellgren, 24 April 2016
Saint Michael and All Angels (Headingley), Leeds, UK
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Today is Vocation Sunday and it seems appropriate in light of the continuing Easter season that we consider this morning St Peter as a role model for Vocations.
Acts 11 begins with a question, “Why did you go to the uncircumcised men and eat with them?” (Acts 11:2-3). News had travelled to Jerusalem that the early Christian church was growing and that Peter had begun to convert Gentiles as new members. This was highly controversial because many of the first Christians were Jews who believed that they had to separate themselves from non-Jews. It was also a dangerous time for the early church who lived under constant threat from Romans. At the heart of this question, I think, are insecurities and prejudice. Insecurity of perhaps inviting the wrong kind of people into the Christian community. And prejudice because there were many who still kept to the old laws about keeping themselves separate from those who were not considered “worthy”.
Peter answers his critics by telling them of a vision he had about a large sheet coming down from heaven filled with all kinds of animals, birds, and reptiles, and a heavenly voice instructing him to “kill, and eat” (Acts 11:7). Peter was a devout and pious Jewish man and he knew that there were laws on what he could and could not eat. But Peter saw this vision three times. Three times—that number is very significant for Peter; he denied Christ three times, and three times was asked to feed Christ’s sheep. I think it safe to say that for Peter, hearing anything three times would grab his attention, just as it should grab our attention. Yet Peter remains fixated on his understanding of God’s laws and tells the voice, “nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth” (Acts 11:8). Surely what he saw offered to him and what he heard the voice telling him to eat must have seemed like a major contradiction to his understanding of God’s law. That is… until Peter hears the voice say, “What God has made, you must not call profane” (Acts 11:9).
Shortly after the vision, men arrive from Caesarea who were looking for Peter. They were not Jews. They were not Romans or Roman sympathizers. They were not even followers of Christ before the Crucifixion. They were Gentiles—uncircumcised men—sent by God directly to Peter, so they might hear the Gospel, be baptised, and then welcomed into the Christian faith. It is then that Peter realized that his vision had nothing to do with food. It had everything to do with how to be a good disciple of Jesus Christ in the face of his own insecurities and prejudice.
“What God has made, you must not call profane” (Acts 11:9). Upon realizing that the point of his vision was about leaving behind old misconceptions about who and what is to be considered worthy or unworthy, Peter ministers to the Gentiles, Peter baptizes them, and Peter welcomes them into communion with God through the salvation of Jesus Christ. In doing all of this, Peter becomes a model for Christian vocation because he answers God’s call to love and serve others.
When Peter was asked, “Why did you go to the uncircumcised men and eat with them?”, what that question really meant was, “Why are you—Peter, a devout and righteous Godly man—associating yourself with those sinners?” Meaning people who did not belong and were considered “profane and unclean”. But Peter’s answer in Acts 11:17 cuts through the intended meaning: “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?”. Peter’s answer validates these Gentiles as true and equal members of the body of Christ. They are not profane nor are they unclean. They have been made holy and clean through their faith in Christ.
Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God”. Meaning salvation comes by grace—through faith—and is God’s gift to you and to all of us. There is none of us here that is more worthy than anyone else, but our shared faith is our great equalizer.
To have a vocation is to have a strong calling to a mission. All Christians have a Vocation; it is the calling to be disciples of Jesus Christ. In Matthew 28:19-20, Christ says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you”. And what is it that Christ commanded us to do? We heard it this morning in John 13:34-35: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”. Christ said it three times… did He catch your attention?
Our Christian Vocation is a call to the ministries of healing, compassion, justice, mercy, prayer, and love. Peter’s actions in Acts 11 gives us a model of how to answer the call to the Christian mission: Peter welcomed the Gentiles openly, he told them all he knew about Christ and His commandments, he baptized them, and he welcome them as full and equal inheritors of the Kingdom of God. For Peter, there was no longer a separation between those considered worthy and unworthy. Peter demonstrates Christian vocation in words and deeds, both of which are important as said in James 2:14, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works?” And in verse 17 which says “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead”.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, insecurities and prejudice are at the heart of a world that has turned dark and full of terrors. But Christ is the Lord of light, the Alpha and the Omega (Revelations 21:6). We are called to a mission, to a vocation, to bring Christ’s loving and healing light to the world. We must begin with Christ’s commandment that we love each other as our Saviour has loved us. Tyrion Lannister, on Game of Thrones once said, “A very small man can cast a very large shadow”. We do not all have to become ordained in the church to answer the vocational call. Answering Christ’s call begins first and foremost at home with our families and our neighbours; but that love must extend beyond the home. We are to love all fully and equally. Let us pray: Lord, we ask that you bless and keep us so that we may be worthy to be called Your children, and that we never again call anything or anyone “profane or unclean”. Amen.