Let’s Eat Fried Snakes!
_Acts 11:1-18 New Living Translation (NLT)
11 Soon the news reached the apostles and other believers in Judea that the Gentiles had received the word of God. 2 But when Peter arrived back in Jerusalem, the Jewish believers criticized him. 3 “You entered the home of Gentiles and even ate with them!” they said. 4 Then Peter told them exactly what had happened. 5 “I was in the town of Joppa,” he said, “and while I was praying, I went into a trance and saw a vision. Something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners from the sky. And it came right down to me. 6 When I looked inside the sheet, I saw all sorts of tame and wild animals, reptiles, and birds. 7 And I heard a voice say, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.’ 8 “‘No, Lord,’ I replied. ‘I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure or unclean.’ 9 “But the voice from heaven spoke again: ‘Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.’ 10 This happened three times before the sheet and all it contained was pulled back up to heaven. 11 “Just then three men who had been sent from Caesarea arrived at the house where we were staying. 12 The Holy Spirit told me to go with them and not to worry that they were Gentiles. These six brothers here accompanied me, and we soon entered the home of the man who had sent for us. 13 He told us how an angel had appeared to him in his home and had told him, ‘Send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. 14 He will tell you how you and everyone in your household can be saved!’ 15 “As I began to speak,” Peter continued, “the Holy Spirit fell on them, just as he fell on us at the beginning. 16 Then I thought of the Lord’s words when he said, ‘John baptized with[e] water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 And since God gave these Gentiles the same gift he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to stand in God’s way?” 18 When the others heard this, they stopped objecting and began praising God. They said, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.” _ I do not normally give funny or impressive titles to my sermons, but today’s sermon title is I think, pretty impressive. At least for me. I was googling something and I ended up looking at funnies country music titles. There are hilarious things. Let me read some of them for you. “You are the reason our kids are ugly,” Actually my mom said this a lot. “How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?,” “Mama Get The Hammer (There’s A Fly On Papa’s Head),” “Thank God And Greyhound She’s Gone,”
Today’s passage is a really interesting part. The book of Acts chapter 10 and 11 tells us about the conversion story of the first Gentile Christian whose name is Cornelius. Let’s see how that happened and what was the first response of the Israel Christians. The Israel Christians got a real big shock because they were told that Peter, their pope, Jesus’s successor, had a meal with non Jewish people! What? What did he do? They couldn’t believe that because that is what the Old Testament strictly forbid from doing! They got so angry, so as soon as Peter got back to Israel, they grilled Peter. “How could you do that? You better have to explain why you had a meal with the Gentiles!” And Peter said, “Calm down. Let me explain everything!” But one night, Peter had a vision when he was praying. Let’s look at how the Bible explains it. (slide 1) “I went into a trance and saw a vision. Something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners from the sky. And it came right down to me. 6 When I looked inside the sheet, I saw all sorts of tame and wild animals, reptiles, and birds. 7 And I heard a voice say, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.’”
Can you imagine that our holy God all of sudden commands us to do something unthinkable? In Leviticus 11, these animals are written “detestable.” The dictionary says the meaning of “detestable” means “something deserving dislike” These animals that God shows in Peter’s vision is hateful, yucky, distasteful, horrible, awful! Yuck!!!!! Of course, Peter said, “No!” out loud. “You’ve got to be kidding me, God!” Let’s read his response to God together. (slide 2) 8 “‘No, Lord,’ I replied. ‘I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure or unclean.” No, God I can’t eat them. They are unclean, they are impure, they are filthy and dirty!
When I was a kid one day mom put raw oysters on the dinner table and forced me to eat that. Yuck. Yuck. Yuck. Now I love seafood and sushi, but I had never had raw seafood before at that time and the raw oysters were looking like some kind of dead aliens. No, no, I cannot eat this gross thing. No! But my mom insisted me to eat that because she thought it was good for health. So after a quite argument, I had no choice but to eat one raw oyster. That texture of the oyster was terrible! I threw up right away all that I ate sitting right at the dinner table. My mom and dad were still eating when I threw up at the dinner table. Poor mom and dad. After that mom have never insisted me to eat something I didn’t want to eat.
Peter was having a similar problem with me. God insisted him to eat that he cannot eat, that he doesn’t want to eat at all! But the reason is different. I didn’t want to eat the raw oyster because it looked like a dead alien, but Peter didn’t eat the animals in his vision because the animals are the ones that the Jewish Law strictly prohibit to eat.
According to Leviticus 11 in the Old Testament, there are certain types of animals and insects that Jewish people cannot eat because God strikes ban the animals and insects to eat. There are so many in the prohibited category. Jewish people cannot eat pigs, camels, deers, rabbits. And they cannot also eat some birds like owls, falcons, eagles, and also bats. Who wants to eat bats anyway? Also they cannot eat almost all kinds of insects. They have some very strict rules for their food written in the Bible and Jewish people follow the rule very faithfully. And Peter was one of them. When the Book of Act was written, at that time Christians were still part of Jewish synagogues. Christians had their own meetings in their houses, but also they were still going to synagogues to worship God because they were still Jewish and had no other places to worship God. So at this time Christians were considered as part of Jewish synagogues, Jewish churches. So Peter had to refuse to eat them because he was a faithful good Jewish Christian.
But when I read this passage, God’s response to his reaction struck me. Wow, God is amazing. Let’s read together. (slide 3) “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.” Wow, God is now asking Peter to think things differently from the way he used to see things. Once they were considered unclean, impure, nothing that we can get around, but now God says that they are clean, pure, something that God wants us to have in our lives.
But you know what? It must be really hard for Peter to change his habit of not eating those animals. He did this with God three times. (slide 4) “10 This happened three times before the sheet and all it contained was pulled back up to heaven.” Then Peter was perplexed. What is this? What does this vision mean? When he was trying to figure out what the vision meant, the three servants that Cornelius, the Roman officer sent arrived and they asked Peter to visit Cornelius’ house to teach them. What do you think? Do you think Peter visited them or not? Let’s find that out. (slide 5) “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. (Can we read out loud?) But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. 29 So I came without objection as soon as I was sent for.” (Acts 10:28-29, NLT) Hooray! Peter shared a story of Jesus with them sitting together at the dinner table. The Bible says, (slide 6) “44 Even as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message. “ (Acts 10:44, NLT) (slide 7) “Then Peter asked, 47 “Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?” 48 So he gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” Yes, Cornelius is the first gentile Christian who was baptized. His entire family got baptized on the same day, too. They were the first of us. Because of them, now we can be baptized and confess our Christian faith in God. Isn’t that amazing?
About a month ago, I got pulled by a cop again. Did you hear that? That Sunday we had a confirmation retreat at Milledgeville church and I was supposed to pick up pizza and drink from Casey’s. I went to Casey’s right on time, but they just started baking pizza. What? So I had to wait there for about 10-15 min. I was getting so nervous thinking that hungry kids who are wandering around in the church. I finally got the pizza and drove back to church. And in that short distance, I drove a little fast. I didn’t even notice that there was a cop behind me. I parked my car at the church and got off and the confirmation kids were running to me and saw that there was a cop following me. The kids said to me, “You got caught by a police, again?” Anyway, I let the kids go back in the church. Graciously the cop gave me a warning. “I am going to let you off with just a warning.” “Really? That’s awesome! Thank you!” How Gracious he was! Grace is a good stuff, isn’t it? I mean. I deserve punishment, I deserve 2, 3 hounded dollar ticket! But the next day the whole town knew that the Methodist Church pastor got pulled by a cop. How fast a rumor goes around!
(slide 8) Grace is not getting what we do deserve. Let’s read one of my favorite verses. (slide 9) “8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” (Romans 5:8, NLT) We can be Christians not because we are so righteous or we are so cool people, but because Jesus Christ is so gracious to die for us even when we were still sinners. Christ died when we were still sinners, when we were nothing, when we did so many bad things in our lives. We don’t deserve God’s grace, do we?
But sometimes we forget about this. We think we are good people and they are not. This is a really dangerous idea. Who can say they are unclean and sinners when God says they are clean and they are saved by God’s grace. God’s grace and mercy is available to everyone, everyone, you and me who are imperfect, and not ready yet to receive that grace.
Let’s read the next slide together. (slide 10) 1. I can show God’s relentless grace to others. In that story, Peter refused to go to the gentiles, but he finally accepted God’s plan to give God’s salvation to the gentiles and went to Cornelius, told them Jesus Christ and baptized them. We are also called to go to others who are unthinkable to be in Church today. Who can they be? There are many that we don’t think they can be in church with us to worship God, right? But like Peter said, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. 35 In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right..” (Acts. 10:34-35, NLT) Every nation, every person in the world is called by God to be saved. I am Peter and you are Peter who are called not only to be a grace-receiver, but a grace-giver. Who will show grace to? Those who are lost, those who are least, those who are left out, those who are abandoned, and also those who hurt us, the ones who have done us wrong. Our lives are like country music. The song titles sound so funny, but they capture the essence of what life is.
I said that I was going to talk about “generous life” for three weeks. Showing God’s grace to others might not sound like generous life. But I do believe the real generous life is to show God’s grace to others who seem not deserving to receive that grace and even salvation. Like we receive that grace from God, let the grace flow to others through us so that they see God’s mercy revealing by us and come to believe God!
Who do we need to show God’s grace to today? Peter showed God’s grace to the most unclean, impure people in the world, who were not Jewish. Jesus sat with all the sinners that Jewish people avoid even touching or looking at them. Jesus showed God’s grace to the seemingly undeserved people.
Who are considered the most unclean, impure in the world today? Even though they hurt you, even though they’ve done wrong to you, even though they are different than you. Who do we think we need to show God’s grace to?
Even though they don’t deserve it, even though it is risky, even though it is costly, even though it is complicated,
Please think about people that we need to show God’s grace today. And practice like Peter did two thousand years ago. Thanks be to God! Amen.