Although often lost in a generic celebration of the giving of the Spirit, this text is one that is filled with questions of ethnicity, language, and diversity. It speaks to the American debate of whether this nation can or should be a melting pot that blends and ignores culture and ethnicity or a mosaic and celebration of the diversity that exists in our midst. But first, some background:
The point of this text, as well as with many other texts in Acts, such as the selection of deacons and the acceptance of gentiles is that the community is given the capacity of discernment to chart its course and that there isn’t any way to guarantee the success of it’s life together other than these given means.
In our text today Peter embraces the Gentiles as fellow Christians after he observes them being filled with the Holy Spirit. Earlier Peter had received a vision in which he was commanded to eat things that he considered unclean. Perplexed by the vision, Peter realized its meaning after he was led by the Lord to the house of Cornelius, a Gentile who believed in God. Peter never would have gone inside Cornelius’ home since Jews did not visit with Gentiles, nor enter into their homes. Because of his vision, however, he realized that God was doing a new thing, and he received the Gentiles into the household of faith as brethren….
Emma Goldman once said “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.” Goldman was speaking of the bourgeoisie democracy that upholds the status quo of US society. Her words have rung true for many of us progressives who voted for President Obama. We have and grown increasingly frustrated as his administration has leaned toward the status quo rather than the oppressed and poor. This week’s lectionary reading tells of a man who was part of the status quo in his society, high in power and authority in Ethiopia, yet God’s Spirit had something else in mind for him, an apostle named Philip….
The life of the good shepherd, the assurance of the psalmist, the acts of the apostles and the ethical injunction of 1st John all point toward an alternative source of power and, therefore, to an alternative economic and politic possibility: the possibility that “we do not have to live as if we are alone.”