Vision Is Inadequate
based on Revelation 21:1-6 and Acts 11:1-18
By Rev. Jon Tsubi
Christian communities face many
challenges, but none is greater than what we find in Acts 11 this morning. I think we
could safely say that this may be the single greatest obstacle to being the Kingdom of God
present in our world. Luke presents a case study that begins in chapter ten and concludes
in the next chapter. Lets look at the story.
Peter is outside Jerusalem at a sort of seaside resort--though hes taken the
no-frills vacation deal. Hes lodged above a tanner which is not the most pleasant
place to get away from it all. Hes hungry and while waiting for dinner to be served,
he falls into a dreamlike trance. The vision must have been to him like tales from the
crypt--its just awful! He sees a vision of all kinds of animals-yet upon closer
examination these are not Jewish-friendly types, but the very animals that Moses had
declared "unclean." Not a problem, just let them march on by. "Peter, rise
and kill and eat them!" Yikes! This must be a vicious attack from some demonic
spirit, trying to turn him from the way! But the dream occurs three times and that strong
voice repeats the imperative, "Rise . . . eat; what I call clean do not call
Turns out that the voice and vision come from a heavenly, not demonic source, and Peter
is directed by the Spirit to take what would have been a scandalous step-to go with
gentiles to their home. If youve watched Tevi in Fiddlers Roof
lately, you know how tough tradition is to break. Peter has been pushed beyond the limits
of his tradition. And it takes a vision-replayed three times-to convince Peter to move out
of his stuck-ness and adopt a new vision of God.
In the end, Peter makes a breakthrough in hearing beyond his usual listening to
scripture. He "hears" of Gods interest in people other than from his own
provincial group-think. So he obeys what he now takes to be Gods directions and
enters a gentile home. Holy Pentecost! It happens again-just like they had experienced in
Jerusalem years earlier. So evident is Gods blessing, that Peter up and baptizes
these new gentile Christians and lingers on several days to get them started in their new
life in Jesus Christ.
Now comes the reckoning. So scandalous are Peters actions, that word has spread
all the way back to Jerusalem before he even returns. "What were you thinking,
Peter?" "How dare you revile our sacred tradition-you know what we think about
gentiles!" "What do you have to say for yourself? Speak up!"
So in the spirit of Daniel in the lions den, Stephen before the Sanhedrin, or in
recent metaphor, Condoleezza Rice before the senate investigation, Peter makes his stand.
He simply tells of the events that have led to his break with tradition-the vision, the
visitors, the Holy Spirits clear words of direction, the Pentecost and the signs and
wonders. Tells it all.
Only after he gets it all out on the table do his critics change their mind about his
bizarre actions. "God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of turning from sin
and receiving eternal life," they announce in profound bewildered befuddlement.
Peter and his colleagues are similar to many of their group and age-they are
provincial-quite localized-in their thinking. Peter has grown up in Israel; his experience
and culture reflects a religious tradition that has become both rich and exclusive. To
those of us who live daily in a racially diverse culture, this must seem like a quaint,
though antiquated story that we dont really need to take seriously anymore. But as
Thomas Long has insightfully pointed out, while theological traditions guide us into
faithful conversation with scripture, those same traditions can also make us hard of
hearing. Traditions too often become fixed systems, Long says, no longer open to listening
to any new claims of scripture.
Thats where Peter and friends are in this story that Luke narrates. Peter is
stuck in a tradition that has closed the doors on any new possibilities for Gods
vision. The early Christian leaders back in Jerusalem are also stuck in a fossilized,
provincial vision. The tradition that once helped them to listen to God now keeps them
from hearing anything that God might be saying from outside their accustomed way of
I think Luke wants to send the message loud and clear that even our visions of God must
always become places for new soundings and listenings. Gods Vision has the capacity
to grow grander, larger than our last vision of God. When we cling to past visions of
Gods work among us; when our vision becomes ossified and hardened so that we no
longer listen for God through scripture for new the activity of God, we may miss the
opportunity and adventure of participating with what God is doing now.
Compare Lukes story to the lesson that we have in Revelation 21. Another vision.
In this vision, God has swept the existing earth and heaven as we know it into the cosmic
trash bin. But God is not one who delights in tohu wabohu-chaos-God simply builds a
new heaven and earth. And God further creates a holy neighborhood for the world. A
neighborhood where God personally chooses to live. Can you imagine living next door to
God? Wow! (No more wild parties on Friday night!) This vision is magnificent because it
describes a God who chooses to live among human beings, to be with them. We see a God who
chooses to remove what pains people and what hurts them and brings them tears.
The vision of Revelation 21 has God making all things new-ever new and signing off on
that promise. The God who is the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega-the first
and last letter of the Greek alphabet-offers "to all" who are thirsty springs of
the water of life. Cornelius was certainly thirsty for those springs of water; that Peter
discovered. All of the Gentiles that day were thirsty for God as well. But it took one
person to break away from a limited vision shaped by tradition and culture to see a new
vision-the Revelation 21 vision-before such thirst could be quenched.
Put the two visions together and we come to a faithful picture of our mission as the
church. On one hand, we honor tradition as the place where we faithfully listen to
scripture and live out of our vision. But on the other hand, we must beware of our own
deafness that our tradition creates. Gods has a longer and wider embrace for the
world and a vision for the world that goes well beyond our visions. Nothing short of a new
heaven and new earth. In Gods new heaven and new earth, all and everyone-gentiles,
strangers, disenfranchised, da odda guys (Hawaiian Pidgin), and all sorts of beings that
descend from heaven vision-like-are welcomed to the springs of the water of life. Amen.