Some years ago we were invited to attend a play in the Grand Rapids area with some friends. The setting was unique. It was a repurposed church permanently redesigned as a theater. The audience was seated in rows along the sides of what had been the sanctuary so in a sense it was theater in the round (actually, in the rectangle).
The script was taken from a book written by C.S. Lewis entitled, “The Screwtape Letters.” It required some mental gymnastics to absorb the reversal of perspectives as it was a series of letters between a senior and junior devil. When they referred to their Holy Father it was Satan, not God. And of course, God was referred to in derogatory terms. It took some effort to adjust your brain to the conversation but it made it all the more fascinating as the play moved onward.
The central theme of the play was the battle between Satan and God via their agents over the soul of a particular young man. At a certain point in the story the junior devil wrote of his concern that the man had begun to worship at a Christian church. The senior devil’s response was unexpected. He stated, in essence, that there was no better place to lose one’s faith than at a church! The very next scene gave credence to his claim.
As the scene opened chairs appeared in front of us as pews. A pulpit had been placed before them. The back doors were opened and a crowd of “congregants” began walking in and they came directly up to us in the audience! One rather pompous looking man alluded to the fact that we were seated in the seat his tithe tax had purchased. Would we kindly move to the back of the room where people like us belonged? A woman approached my wife and in an insincere tone claimed that she was sorry that she apparently couldn’t afford to dress properly for the occasion as she looked down her nose at her outfit. Another actor commented to a woman seated down from us, “Darling, it’s just criminal what the stylist did with your hair!” I know that it was supposed to be an exaggerated representation of church but as a pastor, I could put names upon every one of those actors who made such mean spirited remarks. Sadly, this behavior is all too common in churches today as people seem to glorify themselves at the cost of others.
This reflects the nature of our passage today in Acts as Peter is forced to justify his actions to the early members of the “Christian” church. Peter had literal broken God’s Laws as outlined in Leviticus and Deuteronomy by entering the home of and uncircumcised person and dining with him. Now the good people of the church were holding him accountable for his unacceptable actions as he associated with the Greeks. Bigotry often disguises itself as an appeal for an orderly adherence to “the rules.”
Peter explains to the critical members of “the church” his vision where God showed him that nothing that he had created was unclean. The Laws were designed to test God’s people’s obedience. This said more about the Jews than it did the rest of the world. God did not say to Peter that those animals and by extension, the non-Jews, were suddenly made clean at that moment. God was instructing Peter to recognize the value of all of creation as those Christ had died to save.
May we in the church today have the insight to realize the value of others who may be different than ourselves.