This week I want to share with you the second of three reflections from a sermon I got to preach at my church a few weeks ago. (The sermon is here if you prefer to watch/listen; the first reflection is here. The scripture text is Acts 10:1-23.)
Peter is on a journey of transformation. It isn’t always an easy journey. But it is a good one.
For Peter, it’s also a journey full of unknowns. In the story we read this morning, every single step is a big unknown, for Peter.
We have the hindsight, and the rest of the chapter, and the rest of the book of Acts, to figure out what’s going on in this story. But Peter, at this point, doesn’t have any of that. He just sees the sheet come down from heaven with all the unclean animals, and the meaning of it is not at all obvious to him. Every step of the way, he’s baffled. He’s perplexed. Everything is new, and confusing, and maybe a little disorienting.
And when the voice first says to him, “kill and eat,” Peter pushes back! He says, No, Lord, I have never eaten anything profane or unclean! Certainly not! He’s totally baffled as to why a holy-sounding voice is telling him something that sounds so…unholy.
This vision with the sheet happens three times, and then the sheet returns to heaven, and Peter is left “greatly puzzled,” as one translation puts it. “At a loss” is another way of translating that word. I imagine that “WTF?” (or “What the heck?” if you prefer) might be another way of putting it.
What just happened? What does it mean? Peter has no idea. And he’s still wrestling with it a couple verses later. He’s still reflecting, still pondering, still deliberating.
I think Peter’s bafflement helps give us permission to be totally baffled sometimes, too.
Maybe God’s Spirit is bringing something to our attention that we hadn’t noticed or thought about before. May God is bringing new people into our lives who are nothing like most people we’re used to. Maybe God is leading us in a new direction. These kinds of things can be baffling. It’s okay to be perplexed. It’s okay to take time to ponder.
And it’s okay to ask questions and push back, like Peter does. I love that Peter doesn’t pretend to get it when he doesn’t actually get it. His voicing of that “WTF” feeling is actually what opens up room for the heavenly voice to explain more and help him understand. That’s when the voice says, What God has made clean, do not call profane.
Every moment in this story, when I think about it from Peter’s perspective, feels murky, difficult, and disorienting. And yet. God is still with Peter. God is still speaking to him, through all of it.
God gives Peter what he needs to grow toward a new understanding:
- God gives the vision.
- God repeats the vision not once, not twice, but three times.
- Then, just as Peter is still pondering what it means, the visitors from Cornelius knock on the door. They’re unclean, profane people, sent by an unclean, profane centurion, a Roman army officer—and they say they’re looking for Peter.
- The Holy Spirit says to Peter, Go with them. It’s okay. Don’t hesitate. I have sent them.
God meets Peter in his confusion and questions and pondering. God meets him so many times, in so many different ways. Sometimes we need that.
Some of us may have been part of church communities where questions were not welcome. But our questions are welcomed by God, and they are welcomed by healthy faith communities.
It feels like a sign of life, to me, when we’re open to God moving in ways among us that baffle us at first. It means there’s something going on that isn’t just manufactured by us, that isn’t just us trying to control our environment and keep religious spaces within our current comfort zone.
Being on a faith journey means being open to things outside of our control—and welcoming these interruptions, these surprising invitations, being stretched and challenged.
So, for us, too, like Peter—may God meet us in the things we’re baffled about. May we ask questions and even push back, knowing that God welcomes our honest engagement. May God give us what we need, to understand what we need to understand and trust what we need to trust this week.
Peace to you this week in the midst of everything that’s baffling,
ps. I don’t necessarily encourage buying Nice Churchy Patriarchy on Amazon as opposed to Bookshop.org or Barnes & Noble, but it was fun to see the Kindle version reach #1 in Women’s Spirituality for a little while this week! Think about it when you’re thinking about holiday gifts for the women (or anyone) in your life 🙂