Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying […] ‘I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.” Acts 11:1-4, 16-18
full Acts text for Sunday, May 19, 2019, Acts 11:1-18
At the beginning of the week, I came to this text knowing that it is about a key transition in the life of the early Jesus-followers: the gospel going out to a community (a ‘house’) of non-Jews. Now at week’s end, I take from the text the realization that it is as much about the process of life unfolding as it is about this particular pleat in God’s plan.
‘Step by step.’
The text begins with a critical query on a practical aspect of being community — you ate with them? — and ends with all present recalled to the ideal that all peoples shall see the glory of the LORD (Isa 40:4), that ‘God shows no partiality’ (Acts 10:34), that ‘even’ the nations shall receive God’s gift of life (Acts 11:18). The ending praise sounds as a crescendo after a silence of realization and reflection — Oh, this is what was promised then … seen in our-very now …. The voices rise, rejoicing for God’s radically inclusive gift.
Notice the mis-match? They still haven’t figured out how that gift is to be lived. Do we eat together? Whose table do we sit at? Whose recipes do we use? That’s going to take longer to figure out. (See Acts 15, Acts 21, 1 Cor. 8, Gal 2, and so on.). Yet somehow that’s okay. For now. They’ve been recalled not just to praise of God’s plan but to renewed sight of it.
‘Step by step.’
This phrase applies not to each of Peter’s movements through the story but to Peter’s explanation of his movements. ‘Step by step’ is how Peter reviews and reflects upon what had happened. The prayer. The vision. The summons. The Spirit. Jesus’ words not just recalled but re-heard. Peter hadn’t understood them because he hadn’t yet lived them. Now he did, because he had. And still there was more to live, and still more to learn. Peter never saw the path in full — could his imagination have stretched so far? (Could my own?)
You ate with them? Isn’t that the way of it? We may recite the ideal almost unthinking, but pragmatic aspects of living sharpen the focus — and in revealing the stress points, invite us to look farther on. Where are we headed? Where is God guiding us? And if the answers to these questions do not match, what then? How can we be re-minded not just of but to the ideal.
’Step by step.’ A call to continually recalibrate our way and reform our imagination. Maybe it’s walking that makes the way, but it’s telling that lets us see the way we’ve made and the way God calls us to and if or how the ways connect. Step by step. Look back to see where we’ve been; look here to see where our feet are planted now; look ahead to see as far as the next turn. And then, once that stretch is walked, review and reflect and re-tell. In order to rejoice and walk on ahead, so far as the next turn.