Acts 11:1-18 CEB
When I hear Peter recounting his vision, I think of Finn from Adventure time being faced with a difficult decision:
From Adventure Time: Season 1, Episode 18: Freak City
For Peter, the epic decision was whether to eat the unclean meat. For Finn the decision was whether to give the man the piece of sugar. Peter ultimately decides not to eat the meat, and Finn ultimately decides to give the man the sugar. Both discover they made poor choices. For both, what initially appeared to be good & right was wrong. Finn did discover the hobo was really a magic man, but the hobo was also a self professed jerk who liked to trick heroes into doing good deeds in order to reward them with something terrible. Finn's good deed was rewarded by being turned into a huge, nice smelling foot. Peter, in like manner, was told "When God says something can be used for food, don't say it isn't fit to eat." And Peter, the zealous follower he is, has to be told this three times! He just doesn't believe it the first and second time. Hey, appears Peter has a "three times" issue, doesn't he?
What draws Peter and Finn together is this: We need to stop following protocol and start doing the right thing. Sometimes we confuse social edict with what is truly right. Laws, regulations, and standards all serve important purposes, but they should always be put next to God's love. If the law, regulation, or standard goes against God's love instead of with it, one needs to be prepared to break the law in order to do what is right. In this way, the law, which might have served a purpose at one point, has become a communal sin. Communal sins must always be broken, but those in the right have to be willing to accept the punishment for breaking them. This is part of what makes them communal sins.
It comes down to this: Any time we make lazy decisions it can lead to poor results. Both Finn and Peter engage in lazy decision making. Good decision making would be seeking the correct action by asking more questions. When Jake suggested feeding the homeless man was a bad idea, Finn should have followed it up by asking the man more questions. It might have saved Finn the heartache of being transformed into a large nice smelling foot. When Peter was told to eat the unclean meat he could have responded with more questions instead of saying no right away. It might have saved him from being humbled by his triad of denial yet again.
When we come across those who share a slightly different theology than us, we need to engage them with questions. Either us or them might come away with a slightly different theology when the conversation is done. Yes, we need to follow rules, regulations, and standards, but we should always be vigilant in doing so. We shouldn't be lazy in our obedience. The moment what God wants shifts from what we have made law, we should change the law and we should be bold in making that change. God didn't call us to be lazy.
Act 9:36-43 CEB
One verse of scripture was said about Jabez and he gets a series of books written about him. Meanwhile Tabatha has a fleshed out, real story and the world is silent. It is really her story is worth our focus. Below are five great reasons why we should give more focus to the story of Tabatha:
1: The Second Generation Story
The vitality of a new organization or community is ultimately seen in the second generation. The leaders who step up after the primary generation has come and gone and how they step up set the standard for the next generation and the generations that follow. Most of the book of Acts is a second generation story. It is with the second generation we find out what the people are going to do with the founders acts and words. In this case, what are the Apostles going to do with everything Jesus taught them? In this story we see Peter, who was enthusiastic almost to the point of zealotry. When he brings Tabatha back to life he doesn't make a big deal about it. He doesn't have everyone and their second niece twice removed there to witness. He does what he does in private. He takes Jesus' teaching of not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Here is someone who learned the lessons and are using them appropriately. He is the rock.
So you are doing God's work in the world as part of the Body of Christ. Your mission is vital to the community you are serving. No one else can do what you do. Well, that's the problem. It doesn't appear Tabatha prepared anyone to take her place. The ministry was hers, not the communities. Or, the community never helped Tabatha give ownership to them and assumed she would be around when they needed her. Either way, something is lost when we forget God's mission is full of relationship. All the difficult work God is calling us to do isn't worth a hill of beans if we do the work alone. Joppa had Peter to come in and save the day. Who is going to save your mission if you are doing all the work and you are not there to do it anymore? Ask yourself, “If I left my community tomorrow would the mission I am working in continue to work?” The answer should be yes. Jesus could have done it all on his own but if he did it all the story would have ended with him. If we cannot get people involved than the chapters we are writing in the Christian story, this period will be the final chapters of the book.
Let me point out something else: Creating bubbles will always lead to pain. In the case of Tabatha, where do you think her spirit was before she was brought back? Peter needed to take a soul at peace and bring it back into a world full of turmoil all because the community wasn't ready to take the mission on their own. Every bubble, no matter how big or how small, will eventually pop. The pop will always hurt. So, if you see a vibrant ministry that appears to be living within a bubble, find a way to help it survive so it can have a second generation story.
3: She Was an Apostle
I do not like to focus on a person's gender or race. In my personal life, I have always focused on character and actions. So this little tid-bit actually makes me a little uncomfortable.
It is because many churches don't focus on real Christian education apostles likes Tabatha fall through the cracks, or who is she is warped into something that fits an ideology. She becomes an example of how women can minister to women only. This is merely a shell game. It pushes Tabatha under the rug in congregations where women are told they cannot lead. If the message was either, women can minister or they can't, why doesn't Peter punish Tabatha or scold her? Why doesn't he let her stay dead? Because women in ministry is part of God's plan in the world. She was doing something important and a community was mourning her. Theological acrobatics are the only way to see Tabatha as anything but someone doing ministry for her community. It saddens me how I need to point out the obvious. I know for some, this is an eye opening scripture. For those of you: welcome. I am glad you found your way here. You are in the right place.
4: The Guy Who Made Leather
After Tabatha is brought back and the people are reunited, Peter goes to stay at a tanner's house. The reason? Peter needed to clean up. Now a Pharisee or Sadducee would have had a huge amount of ritual that had to happen before and after dealing with dead bodies. Within that ritual they would have cleaned up. Peter, bypasses all the high church stuff and goes straight to someone who knows how to wash up after dealing with the dead: someone who makes leather. It's practical. It's simple. It is where the focus really belongs. Yes, ritual is good when the ritual serves a purpose. Yes, ritual is bad when the meaning behind the ritual is lost and the people are doing it just because that is the way it has always been done. Peter teaches us to think practically. Find what God is calling you to do and do it the most practical way possible. High church is pretty and the music is nice. Do that when you want something pretty and wish to listen to beautiful music. When you want to do ministry, when you want to do service, do that. Don't confuse the two. They are two different things.
5: Freewill is Sometimes a Bitch
Part of the story the bible tells is what to do in the midst of pain and suffering. It is not a solution from it. It is nice to focus on the resurrection part of the scripture today, but I have this sneaky feeling God made pain and suffering part of the game. Focusing only on the resurrection part of the story takes the easy way out. Also, in light of recent events, the point I am about to makes seems to need highlighting. Here it is: bad things happen to good people partly because freewill is sometimes the cause. Now, freewill is the greatest gift we have. With it, we have life. Real life is not something to take lightly. With life comes responsibility. There are those who misuse that responsibility and do things that are bad. Now, we all can put our blame on some invisible evil. That's easy. It is much more difficult to point the finger at ourselves. We mess up God's plan. We do things we shouldn't do. We take God's gift of freewill and use it to ruin God's creative order.
We can't change what has happened. We can choose to do the right thing now and use freewill to bring order to the chaos. Otherwise we are only adding the the pain and suffering in the world, instead of fixing it.
After what I just shared, perhaps Tabatha deserves some good books written about her. What the bible has to say about her is much more deep and rich than the one verse of Jabez. It is more real than the prosperity theology Jebez has been tied to. So, now that I have shared, go do something with it! Create something lasting. Connect with others. Bring order to the chaos! Because if you don't do it, who will?
Paul Appleby is the pastor of Central Christian Church in Columbus, GA. He is a devoted husband, and father of three.
" Jesus said to them, 'Bring some of the fish that you’ve just caught.' Simon Peter got up and pulled the net to shore. It was full of large fish, one hundred fifty-three of them. Yet the net hadn’t torn, even with so many fish. Jesus said to them, 'Come and have breakfast.' None of the disciples could bring themselves to ask him, 'Who are you?' They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread, and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
When they finished eating, Jesus asked Simon Peter, 'Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?'
Simon replied, 'Yes, Lord, you know I love you.'
Jesus said to him, 'Feed my lambs.'
Jesus asked a second time, 'Simon son of John, do you love me?'
Simon replied, 'Yes, Lord, you know I love you.'
Jesus said to him, 'Take care of my sheep.'
He asked a third time, 'Simon son of John, do you love me?'
Peter was sad that Jesus asked him a third time, 'Do you love me?' He replied, 'Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.'
Jesus said to him, 'Feed my sheep.'"- John 21:10-19 CEB
My Grandma Appleby was a fascinating woman. She wasn't one for long conversations. I can't ever recall her coming to my T-Ball games as a kid. In fact, the only two places I vividly remember her were on her chair in the living room, or working in the kitchen. You see, this was a woman who could COOK. I don't mean she made a mean hamburger helper. I mean she cooked in the way that people used to: long, low, slow.. to paraphrase Alton Brown, her kung-fu was righteous. She and my Grandpa raised a family of six back in the times before microwaves and convenience food. She spent hours, sometimes days, shucking corn, shelling peas, making her own jams and jellies, cooking up cakes and pies and all sorts of amazing foods. Come Christmas time her house was filled, wall to wall, with cookies. Grandma Appleby showed her love through her food. Heck, when I was an infant (I am told) she even used to break up Hershey's Kisses with a small spoon and feed the shavings to me. The woman even made her own dill pickles that were nearly a religious experience. In response to a love (and an amazing culinary gift) like that, I can report to you that my first word was not "mama" or "dada" (much to the chagrin of my parents) it was "pickle."
This was a woman who understood the profound connection between loving someone and feeding them. While she was with us, her kitchen was always a flurry of activity as she worked to stock the two storage freezers out back, and the root cellar with every delicacy imaginable. She passed in 1995, but before she went on into God's great kingdom, she prepared and stored enough food that my Grandpa was still eating her cooking up till he went on to join her, five years later, in 2000. Maybe that's why my father started taking cooking classes. Maybe that's why after I finish writing this reflection I will go back to what I do every Wednesday, and will join my wife as we prepare a midweek supper for our congregation. Maybe that's why this story resonates with me like it does.
In this story from John, Jesus' final appearance to his disciples is recorded for our sake. It's a story, not of his overcoming death (that was already conveyed in the last chapter), but of how we are to live our shared life together. Here, Jesus shows love for his disciples on a primal level. He sees them hard at work, he helps them, then beckons to them to join him on the shore where he prepares a meal for them. In doing so the risen Christ fed his hungry disciples both spiritually and physically. The themes of food and love even dominate the discussion with Simon that marks the end of our reading.
Throughout the Gospel, Simon Peter serves not only as one of Christ's disciples, but as the archetype of all Christians who would follow him in their journeys with the Lord. Here, Christ tells him that the way in which to show his love for him is through caring for his (Jesus') lambs (i.e. Peter's brothers and sisters in Christ). This link between the love of God and neighbor runs deep in the writings of John- finding an echo in 1 John 4:21, "This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also." It is in following the commandment we have from him, in sharing our love for God with our brothers and sisters in real, physical, tangible ways that we bear testimony both to our love for God and to God's love for us.
Yesterday I came across an interesting post on r/Christianity. In it, an atheist who had subscribed to this subreddit stated in an open letter why he was leaving it. It was not because anyone had been unkind to him. Quite to the contrary, this atheist stressed the communities kindness and understanding for those who did not bear the name of Christ. No, his reason for leaving was the way those in the community treated one another (For those interested, you can see BabyHooey's comments here). His observations reminded me of that famous quote from Fr. Brennan Manning, "The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable." We, as Christians, show that we have fundamentally misunderstood the charge of the risen Christ to Simon Peter, and by way of Peter to all of us. We are to feed our own, not eat them.
It isn't too late to change, though. Our God is a God of not only second, and third, but four hundred ninetieth chances. In our text, Christ asks Peter, the same Peter who denied him three times, if he loved him three times. This is no mere coincidence. Christ gave Peter the opportunity to right his earlier betrayal and to voice his love. Not only that, but Jesus told him that beyond voicing it he should show it through his love for his brothers and sisters demonstrated in the simple, concrete, and primal act of feeding them. Now you'll have to excuse me. It's about 11:30, supper is at 6:00 and we have a lot of cooking to do.
"We will work with each other. We will work side by side.
Frank Sherard was born in Northwest Missouri. He received his undergraduate degree from TCU. Frank went to Seminary in Kansas City at Saint Paul School of Theology. He begin ministry in 1994. He has served churches in Missouri & Louisiana. Today he is a New Church Planter for Lafayette, Louisiana. He is married to Ashley who is also the Co-Church Planter in his current call. He has three daughters: Lennon - 7, McCartney - 5, and Harrison - 4. He enthusiastically calls himself the Beatle Babies Dad!
In Luke’s reading for Easter Sunday, Peter ran to the grave and walked away….AMAZED! What Peter didn’t realize (nor did ANY of the Disciples) was that truly, the race….The AMAZING Race had just begun.
This week in John 20:19-31 much of the focus over the years has been on Thomas being absent from Jesus appearing to the others who gathered behind locked doors. From this very passage of scripture is coined the popular and historical phrase, “doubting Thomas.” The AMAZING part of Jesus’ appearance to the others isn’t that Thomas wasn’t there and was so blunt about having to physically see and touch Jesus to believe. The AMAZING storyline here is that Jesus commissioned ALL who were (and I would say ARE) gathered in Jesus’ name to GO….Go and forgive. Jesus “breathed on them the Holy Spirit” so that they could forgive or retain the sins of any. That same Holy Spirit or Advocate is with us all today. Yes, when we’re high upon a cloud or feeling lower than dirt. The Holy Spirit sustains and gives us the Hope that ALL are on an AMAZING Race where there is no ONE winner, but ALL. Yes, ALL who call upon the name of Jesus as Lord & Savior are eternal WINNERS!!!!!