For all of human history, people have gathered in “like circles” with “people of their own kind”. These tribes consisted, normally, of families who shared common lineage through birth. As tribes grew, they became nations (or empires, or kingdoms or whatever other political term you wish to use) and membership was often limited to those inside the family. Others were sometimes allowed to hang around and share in some levels of fellowship, but it was always clear they were outsiders.
Then Jesus came and everything changed…..at least in the Church. Even the earliest Christians were confused, being Jews, about whether God had intended for outsiders to join the Church. Take a moment and read today’s reading from Acts (it is below) and we witness the confusion first hand in the Church. “Why did you go to the uncircumcised men and eat with them?” They were just eating, not living, not marrying. It was considered a scandal just to eat together. Peter shared with them the vision he had received from God, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.”
When it comes to membership in the Church, there is no limitation to who is welcome. Greeks, Russians, Serbs, Arabs, Asians, Indians, Africans…..even Americans, are allowed to join the Church. They’re even invited by God, and we were commanded to go “Make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28.19). In the spirit of today’s reading, find a friend today and share your faith by inviting that friend to Church by reminding that friend, the Church has unlimited membership.
In those days, while Peter was still saying this, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, "Can any one forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days. Now the apostles and the brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, "Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?" But Peter began and explained to them in order: "I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, something descending, like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came down to me. Looking at it closely I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, 'Rise, Peter; kill and eat.' But I said, 'No, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.' But the voice answered a second time from heaven, 'What God has cleansed you must not call common.' This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven." – Acts 10.44-11.10