Shekinah Glory

Who Am I That I Can Hinder God?
May 2, 2010, 12:38 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

In the politico/theological realm there has been much talk of late about the need for “civility” in the public sphere. The rhetoric has become too heated, the debate is too nasty and the yelling has risen to a fever pitch in our national debates. All one must say are the catch phrases. You’ve heard them all on CNN, Fox news, MSNBC. THEY ARE ALL UPPERCASE COMMENTS WITH MULTIPLE EXCLAMATION POINTS AT THE END!!!!!!!! Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Chris Matthews, Bill O’Reilly, Keith Olbermann all shout their opinions to the high heaven and millions of people react in kind. Red states hate blues states hate fly over states hate, hate, hate….

Recently a clever, local social justice minister with a national audience came up with a unique statement that had the religious world buzzing. It is a Covenant of Civility that has been pushed by Rev. Jim Wallis of the Para-church organization Sojourners. It is an interesting document and one that uses Biblical texts to gird up the idea of appropriate civic dialogue. While I strongly applaud the effort to calm the raging voices of paranoid insanity I am a bit dubious of this mixing of civic manners with biblical mandates. Civility is not a biblical concept, but one that centers on responsible conduct in the civic sphere.

Our first president, George Washington, put forth an amazing list called the “Rules for Civility”. He was 16 years old when he put these basic rules on paper. Many, if followed by pundits and politicians would change the very nature of our public discourse. Yet, some are wildly irrelevant for our time period as well. 110 in this entire list are the way that a colonial person would show proper manners in public, business, private and in politics.

Codes of conduct, rules of engagement and civic manners are important secular boundaries. Yet, What I keep thinking is that this civics is fine for politics, society and amongst polite society, but they are not all necessarily Biblical. We must go beyond mere manners, beyond diplomatic strictures, beyond what our culture expects to be true followers of Christ. Civility is part of our civic life and we are called to be citizens of a much different Kingdom in our spiritual life.

Peter finds this out quite dramatically. Today he is facing the consequences for following the vision that God showed to him. It was a vision that made a tepid Peter throw aside societal manners to do something that endangered his own status amongst his civic society. He participated in an act of civil disobedience at the behest of God. Peter breaks the law at God’s request.

You see there were the wrong people following Christ, people outside the majority, people that were not like Jesus. They were called Gentiles. Paul was one who was quite fond of annoyingly bringing them into the fold. Cornelius was a centurion whom gave to the poor and prayed to God daily. He was given a vision from God telling him that he was accepted. So, Peter was sent to this man his society called an unclean man. Why was a civilized man meeting with such an uncouth individual his concerned citizens wondered?

Peter explains to them the vision that he received from God. Disgusting snakes, animals with four hooves, and birds of the air descend in front of Peter when he is famished. He is told to eat and he cries out, “NO WAY! THIS IS CLEARLY WRONG LORD!”

A voice replies, “Do not call anything that God has made clean.”

Peter realizes that he must accept the Gentile because God has accepted the gentile. In the end Peter confronts the never-ending conundrum of faith, we can never be as merciful as God is in choosing us, yet we are called to spread that mercy. After explaining why he has baptized and legitimized the untouchable masses as acceptable Peter makes one of the most astounding confessions in the entire Christian canon. It is a confession that I should have tattooed on the inside of my eyelids. Peter asks the simple question of his detractors, “Who am I that I can hinder God?”
Who am I that I can hinder God? In his act of civil disobedience Peter opened up God’s salvation to new people, individuals that previously seemed impossible to include in God’s kingdom.

In Peter’s time we would have been Gentiles. We are the four hoofed, reptilian, birds of the air. Creatures that are frightening to touch and cannot provide sustenance to the hungry. Now that us Gentile believers are the majority we find ourselves in the position of Peter. Looking forward in a civic-minded mode when we are being called to radical acts of mercy. God shows no partiality in the act of broadening our circles of acceptance. Are you ready to eat with the snakes, buzzards and oxen? Remember Peters one spiritual rule. Participate always in ever increasing acts of mercy, because you will not stop God from revealing that God’s mercy exists in places far more radical than we could ever imagine. We must go further than any civic code or manner to communicate God’s never ending mercy in a word that can sometimes feel merciless. Praise God!


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