Last week during Jonathan’s sermon on the spontaneous Peters of the world, I, being very much like Peter myself, wanted to jump out of my seat and shout, “Yes!”
But I didn’t because I became distracted by a small group I promptly decided I was going to start (“Peters Unite!”) and the bestselling Christian self-help book I was going to write (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Peters).
After those ideas passed, I started contemplating a miraculous picnic.
Far from the free-wheeling, boat-hopping, ear-slicing, man we all love, later in life, Peter seemed to have become a bit of an old religious curmudgeon. Or at least, so I have thought for years.
Paul, that latecomer to the apostle game, had revealed himself to be quite a radical. Even too radical for Peter himself, who was one of the first to declare that not only was a man he hung out with Israel’s long-proclaimed messiah but that he was the Son of God.
But then Paul came along declaring that core expressions of the Jewish faith no longer applied—Jews were no different from Gentiles, meats were no longer unclean, circumcision was no longer a thing. How could Paul do this? These religious practices had made them the people of God for centuries. Yes, they followed Jesus, but they were still Jews.
Peter stuck his heels in. It got heated. In 1st century Twitter (i.e. a letter) Paul said in less than 140 characters: “I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.”
Then the miraculous picnic happened. In Acts 10, the chronicler details a blanket crowded with birds and animals that appeared to Peter while he was “in a trance.” They were unclean animals—ones forbidden by a millennium of religious tradition and scripture.
But Peter heard a voice, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
This was earth-shattering and Bible-shaking. The tremors of this revelation would cause a large crack between Peter and all the weight of the Fathers of Israel and the commands of God. Until recently, I never before appreciated just how disorienting this shift, nay, earthquake would be for the likes of Peter and the other apostles.
Perhaps Peter wasn’t just an old curmudgeon who had gotten too concerned with upholding the status quo. Perhaps God specifically chose him, in concert with Paul, to announce the most radical religious idea since Jesus was declared Son of God. Perhaps God knew that He needed a Peter—someone bold enough to be the first among the original apostles to come forward and declare all food and people clean.
After his vision, Peter went to the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion.
He declared, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.”
He then continued, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.”
This may not sound that crazy to us American Christians born and raised in the 20th and 21st centuries. But this is the kind of radical new idea that would split a church right in two.
It’s foolhardy to guess God’s motivations. But it strikes me that while Peter might have shed his crown as Official Early Adopter, when God needed someone to take decisive action on wild and scary new ideas, to turn the entire Old-Guard Ship around, he revealed Himself to a Peter.
And that gives me hope for today that God can still work through us Peters, hopefully with a little less ear slicing, but with as much decisive action to move grace forward in radical ways.