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All are Welcome: Peter’s Paradigm Shift

Preached:  July, 21, 2013
Scriptures:  Excerpts from Acts 10 & 11

Many of you know that I have 5 older brothers – if I told you I love them all the same, that wouldn’t be quite telling the truth.  I actually have a favorite – it’s my brother David – the one who taught me to read, the one who let me play touch football with the big kids, the one who taught me to drive using his very own car.  Although he still blames me for his clutch going out.  But it’s a curious thing – my brother hasn’t made it into the 21st century – in fact, I think he’s stuck somewhere in the 1950’s.  He seems to like the decade in which he was born!  Here’s his story:  Every morning before he goes to the Middle School near Battleground, WA – where he has taught for the past 30 years, (who stays at one job for that long anymore???), his wife lays out the clothes she has chosen for him to wear.  She has washed and neatly ironed them.  He never has to think about what he will wear.  His wife is a stay-at-home wife and mother, and has dinner on the table every evening at 6 p.m., including vegetables.  The clincher of the story is my brother’s family still has a land-line and they don’t own a cell phone!!! My brother clearly likes the world of yesteryear.  In order for him to enter into the 21st century, he would have to undergo a massive paradigm shift.

Stephen Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” talks about “paradigm shifts” in his book.  He says a paradigm is the mental map that determines how a person perceives, understands and interprets the outside world.  They’re our individual maps of reality that we have in our minds, a series of ingrained assumptions of the way things are.

Stephen Covey tells a story of a paradigm shift he experienced.

“I remember a mini-Paradigm Shift I experienced one Sunday morning on a subway in New York. People were reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene. Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.

“The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s things. It was very disturbing. And still, the man did nothing.

“It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with what I felt was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?”

“The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and spoke, ‘Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.’

“Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? My paradigm shifted. Suddenly I saw things differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished.  My heart was filled with the man’s pain. Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely. “Your wife just died? Oh, I’m so sorry. Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?” Everything changed in an instant.

“Many people experience a similar fundamental shift in thinking when they face a life-threatening crisis and suddenly see their priorities in a different light, or when they suddenly step into a new role.

“It becomes obvious that if we want to make relatively minor changes in our lives, we can focus on our attitudes and behaviors. But if we want to make significant, quantum change, we need to work on our basic paradigms.

The term paradigm shift was coined by Thomoas Kuhn in The Structure of the Scientific Revolutions, written in 1970.  He referred to a paradigm as a frame of reference, an interpretive grid through which humans interpret our experience.  Kuhn’s thesis was that every significant breakthrough in the field of science requires a break with old ways of thinking, a paradigm shift.  Think about Copernicus & Galileo.

 What paradigms & world views have changed in your lifetime?

 In the first-century church one of the biggest problems for the early followers of Jesus was the question of what to do with Gentiles who wanted to become Christians.  Some Jewish Christians insisted that Gentiles could only become followers of Jesus if they were circumcised and became Jews first.  Early on, Peter insisted that following Jesus meant following Jewish law – including eating certain foods & worshipping in temple.

Acts 10 emerges as a a paradigm shift for Peter. While praying and napping on the rooftop, Peter falls into a trance and receives a vision from God.  God tells Peter three times to get up and eat what Peter considered contraband foods according to Jewish law.

Peter says, “No, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.”
The voice said, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

Meanwhile, Cornelius, a Gentile Roman Centurion also receives a visitation from God.   Gentiles were considered inferior to Jewish people – outsiders.  Scripture also tells us that Cornelius was a devout man who generously gave alms and prayed to God.   He  worshiped at the synagogue and tried to follow the basic principles of Judaism. He was respected and appreciated because of his piety and generosity.  An angel of God came to Cornelius, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended before God.  Now send men to Joppa for a certain man named Peter.”  Cornelius did as he was told.

Just as Peter is coming out of his trance, three men arrive from the house of Cornelius, inviting Peter to go to Cornelius’ home in Caesarea, a Gentile city.

Peter offered these Gentiles hospitality in a Jewish home! That was considered a scandal.  Peter experienced a paradigm shift in the realm of God’s kingdom.  He was beginning to understand that God welcomes all people. When Peter arrived at Caesarea, he went into Cornelius’ home. This too was a scandal. Jews didn’t go into the homes of Gentiles.  The risk of religious impurity was at stake. Peter says as much upon first meeting Cornelius: “You know that it is unlawful for a Jew to visit a Gentile.”

But as Cornelius begins to share about his faith—Peter had an epiphany-a paradigm shift.  Peter knew his theology had to change. He saw that the gospel was not only for those who lived or believed as he did. God’s invitation of relationship was for all people.  Peter’s faith was changed. It was a moment of conversion.

…While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles…

The two words that stand out in the end of this passage are:  “astounded” and “even.” The Christians of Jewish descent are “astounded” that the Holy Spirit of God is being offered to “even” the Gentiles.  They have no idea what God is doing, what God is capable of, or who God is able to reach.

What a compelling message. Just as God invited Peter into a paradigm shift, God continually invites us to examine our faith, and move into paradigm shifts in our lives.

Inclusion continues to be a struggle of the church today. God continues to open our hearts to the infinite possibilities of God’s grace. It’s difficult to imagine “doing church” differently than what we have already.

The call of Christ is one of inclusion.  And the same message translates to the “outsiders” of our time: that no matter what your race is, no matter what your religious background is, no matter whether you are in this country legally, no matter what your sexual orientation is, no matter what – God loves you and wants you to know about this love.

May the circles of our inclusion continue to expand outward until the whole world lives under the umbrella of God’s all-encompassing love.