They were the Sutton’s; the family from the wrong side of the tracks who also happened to attend our church. I would say I was a typical high school student, pretty much in it for me. This was complicated by the fact that their daughter had a crush on me. She followed me around, kind of gave me the creeps. Went to the same high school too, which only gave more opportunity to make it clear how I felt about her. I didn’t want to have anything with her. As a matter of fact, I didn’t want to have anything to do with them. I didn’t think it helped our church to have them around. We certainly weren’t winning any points with anyone in our small community because they came. The truth was I preferred they weren’t there; they just weren’t cool.
Cruel, huh? Just like me, the church in the months after Jesus’ ascension was dealing with some of their own cruelty, prejudice and bigotry with those that lived in their communities. I guess if I’m totally honest, not much has changed, has it. They had their own set of ideals, who they thought was in and who was out, and they wanted to call those shots.
But, “The spirit had been poured out, even on the Gentiles.”
They, you know who they are, them. It was bad enough that Jesus included some of them; lepers, hookers, tax collectors, calling uneducated dirty fishermen, hanging out with groups that were downright creepy. The Sutton’s would have been in good company. But it didn’t end with Jesus.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, after Jesus’ ascension, they, you know, they heard the gospel in their native tongue. Who saw that one coming? Then Jesus’ Spirit was reaching out to weird groups of people like; Eunuch’s from Ethiopia (sexually broken), Centurion’s from Caesarea (Roman), and with any and every Gentile, at least that’s the way it felt. It just wasn’t cool, man. This wasn’t going to be clean or easy, but messy and difficult. The lines weren’t going to be straight. People on the outside would think this was strange, and those on the inside unacceptable. The box wasn’t big enough for the both of us anymore.
“The spirit had been poured out, even on the Gentiles.”
Something had to give. When you allow people in that don’t know the way things are supposed to be, they say things that are inappropriate. They bring others with them that don’t fit. It becomes awkward, noisy, unpredictable, untamed, and wild. What is this new thing called the church anyway?
That’s at the heart of this passage and what comes before it. Peter is on a journey learning a valuable lesson about who was in, but it his bigotry wasn’t easily shaken. We find ourselves immersed in this section of Acts where lessons are being learned concerning Paul’s statements about how inclusive this community of faith will become. They are experiencing the mind-numbing reality almost on a daily basis. But Peter continues in his attendance of the school of hard knocks.
Remember, it’s not long after this he is confronted by Paul in Galatia when the big wigs showed up from Jerusalem. Apparently, he was okay with the Gentiles coming to faith, but wasn’t sure he wanted to be seen socializing with them, I mean, it certainly can’t look good for the church to be seen with this group of folk. Wonder if their last name was Sutton?
Here’s the truth of the message Jesus is trying through his spirit to teach the church – there is no right side of the track; we are all from the wrong side. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female. Nationality isn’t a calling card in this Kingdom. The Sutton’s and the Holcomb’s are welcome here. Baptism isn’t withheld from anyone who believes, and in case we might be confused, the spirit will let us know, if we listen and watch.
Did you notice something else in this passage? The spirit didn’t wait for Peter to finish? How rude. It says: “While Peter was still speaking the Holy Spirit fell on everyone who was hearing the word.” I’m not sure what Peter was saying, I can only speculate, but the spirit felt like it was appropriate to interfere, and it wasn’t just making itself clear to the Gentile’s that they welcome. Luke had to make sure we understand the ones baffled are the “circumcised believers”. And baffled might be too tame, the NRSV says astounded.
When it’s time to speak, the spirit will speak to anyone who is willing to listen, and it doesn’t matter whether I think they belong or not. When the spirit speaks, in the places the spirit chooses, in the ways the spirit desires, we would do good to follow the spirit to those places and people it is leading us to. In this case, right into the hearts of those we considered to be outsiders; the Sutton’s.
You have your own name or two, maybe even gathered with you this Sunday as you look over your people proclaiming this word to them. They are seated among you. As a matter of fact, as we’ve already determined, we have seen the Sutton’s and they are us!
This good news that comes on this day breaks into people and places we didn’t expect and in ways we couldn’t see coming. If Peter did anything right, he recognized the activity of the spirit and doesn’t withhold baptism from these new believers. They are baptized into the way of Jesus and the church. They are included in this new fellowship of people who believe in the one named Jesus. And not only were they baptized, but they are also invited into each other’s homes, the word says remaining for several days.
The railroad tracks have been removed. The boundaries are being moved. The barriers are being broken down. The spirit of the one named Jesus is no respecter of person, loving us all the same just as we are; warts, race, nationality, ethnicity, all of it. For his glory, not ours. Thanks be to God.
Today as we listen to his word, we pray that God give us ears to hear and eyes to see the ways the spirit is at work in front of us this morning. We acknowledge that the spirit works in ways and places we might not expect, and if we’re not looking, we may miss. If there is anything for us to learn from this passage, it is that the activity of the spirit is never limited to the places or people we determine worthy. If that were the case, we would be lost. Remember, we have seen the Sutton’s, and they are us.