Fifth in series: 40 Days of Faith 2017
Jesus really enjoys cross cultural interactions
We are in the fifth week of Lent - the 40 day season of the church calendar leading up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday that gives us a yearly rhythm of remember Jesus' death and resurrection.
The way we've been doing that as a church here is through a 40 day experiment in high faith - believing God can pull off big things on our behalf that we couldn't on our own - praying every day of Lent for a Big Ask for ourselves, for 6 people in our everyday lives, and for this church
The update on my own Big Ask is that my prayer feels pretty powerfully answered - my wife and I didn’t have the money to take our boys to visit her parents in West Africa BUT now 4 weeks later we do! If you have a story to tell, tell us! And tell someone else!
And also in this 40 day experiment we've been asking you to invest in BLV - particularly by bringing along guests to next Saturday's Brown Line Ball. Fancy dress, Cocktail hour, silent auction, live music and dancing - the best party of your year the ball is at Begyle brewing... Fun story: one of our stakeholders here Mike Fraser runs a skeeball league out of Begyle, so the skeeball machines you'll see at the event are his... and his process of getting the investment to buy those skeeball machines was his Lent prayer experiment Big Ask two years ago at BLV. Cool right? brownlinevineyard.org/ball to buy your tickets!
Our guide for the experiment has been the Bible's book of Acts.
And today we come to Acts 10: one of the most attractive scriptures in the whole bible to me (I spoke on it a couple years back) In which we continue to see: Jesus has a cross-cultural plan in mind. The whole of the first of half of Acts is taking the early church from small Jewish start-up project to multi-cultural, self-sustainable enterprise...
Now in order for us to really engage, I want to get us in the right mind-set. Acts 10 highlights an interaction that in that day would have been the height of emotional discomfort, culture shock, awkwardness, and risk of being or appearing stupid. It is not easy for modern Americans to compute all of that when we read the story because we don't live in 1st century Palestine.
So I want to help get us there by talking about some modern and more accessible cross cultural interactions
I wonder if you know this or have noticed this about Brown Line: we are lucky to have quite a number of inter-racial & inter-cultural couples making up our community In one sense, I often tell people, every relationship is a cross cultural relationship Because no two people even of the same race or ethnic heritage have exactly the same background But the inter racial and inter cultural couples among us know this reality more so than the rest of us So I asked a number of these couples if they might pass on to me some reflections on their cross cultural interactions so I could share with all of us this morning I got some really great stuff...
From one couple: “When we go meet [the Mexican side of our family] for dinner we leave our house at the time they said to meet (when the drive is at least 30 minutes). If we showed up on time, we would be early. “ Or “[On the American side of our family] everyone’s jaw dropped and it was silent for a second when at a fancy steak dinner we ordered meat well done… Then all at once everyone started commenting about how weird that was and how medium rare was the best way to prepare meat” The American side of their family didn’t understand that the Mexican way to prepare meat is usually very well done
From another couple: “Because of my Jewish family, I'm used to talking about history and politics and other serious topics at the dinner table (it's very common in the Jewish culture), while my husband’s family doesn't discuss those topics ever. So maybe it was a bit of a shock when he met my dad for the first time and over dinner we discussed the conflict in Syria.”
Multiple young couples noted that: Talking about having kids brings so much emotion to the table, especially for those who are white with a partner of color, and who will have children that will be viewed by others as people of color
From another couple: “We are gracious and forgiving with each other in our ignorance (mainly my ignorance). It's been that way ever since we met, at a time when I was very… ignorant of what a black man's experience really was. I assumed racism was behind us but being in a relationship with a black man opened my eyes to his and every black person's continual oppression.”
Another couple mentioned some awkwardness when it came to practices of prayer: “I'm a ‘Hail Mary, Lord's Prayer’ kind of person, and she has more of a conversational approach.”
Or there’s this story I got from a wife explaining to her husband why she doesn’t like playing games -- it really stood out to me “I remember having to draw an ostrich while playing Pictionary. I didn’t know what that was but instead of saying (once again) that I didn’t understand, I winged it. You may be wondering how do you wing knowing a word that you’re supposed to draw while you’re being timed and people yell English words to you. I admit this wasn’t the best plan. I convinced myself that the word I read meant some sort of sea animal, like a lobster-crab hybrid. Once the time ran out and I looked at the weird drawings I had made with no right guesses, everyone asked me what the word was. Oh crap- I don’t even know how to pronounce the freaking word OSTRICH! So I showed it to everyone, and then got blank stares. I mean these kids looked beyond confused. There is an expression in Spanish that described how I felt so well, “tragame tierra.” This means, “earth, swallow me.” I had a lot of those moments. And now, I know how to read and write and how to pronounce the word ‘ostrich’ but I still don’t like to play games. They still feel like a cultural trap.“
Alright, are we marinated enough in the emotional realities of cross-cultural experience?
Then I think we're in the right emotional space to track with what happens in Acts 10... let's read, and when the writer notes cultural differences for us, try to access these emotions (I couldn’t fit the whole passage in your program, so you have some excerpts of what I’ll read)
10 In Caesarea there lived a Roman army officer named Cornelius, who was a captain of the Italian Regiment. 2 He was a devout, God-fearing man, as was everyone in his household. He gave generously to the poor and prayed regularly to God. 3 One afternoon about three o’clock, he had a vision in which he saw an angel of God coming toward him. “Cornelius!” the angel said. 4 Cornelius stared at him in terror. “What is it, sir?” he asked the angel. And the angel replied, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have been received by God as an offering! 5 Now send some men to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. 6 He is staying with Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.” 7 As soon as the angel was gone, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier, one of his personal attendants. 8 He told them what had happened and sent them off to Joppa. 9 The next day as Cornelius’s messengers were nearing the town, Peter went up on the flat roof to pray. It was about noon, 10 and he was hungry. But while a meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw the sky open, and something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners. 12 In the sheet were all sorts of animals, reptiles, and birds. 13 Then a voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.” 14 “No, Lord,” Peter declared. “I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean.”
--- So just to be clear here, Peter is being told by presumably the voice of Jesus to do something that feels religiously inappropriate, risky, and wrong to him… stick that in your pipe and smoke it ---
15 But the voice spoke again: “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.” 16 The same vision was repeated three times. Then the sheet was suddenly pulled up to heaven. 17 Peter was very perplexed. What could the vision mean? Just then the men sent by Cornelius found Simon’s house. Standing outside the gate, 18 they asked if a man named Simon Peter was staying there. 19 Meanwhile, as Peter was puzzling over the vision, the Holy Spirit said to him, “Three men have come looking for you. 20 Get up, go downstairs, and go with them without hesitation. Don’t worry, for I have sent them.” 21 So Peter went down and said, “I’m the man you are looking for. Why have you come?” 22 They said, “We were sent by Cornelius, a Roman officer. He is a devout and God-fearing man, well respected by all the Jews. A holy angel instructed him to summon you to his house so that he can hear your message.” 23 So Peter invited the men to stay for the night. The next day he went with them, accompanied by some of the brothers from Joppa. 24 They arrived in Caesarea the following day. Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter entered his home, Cornelius fell at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter pulled him up and said, “Stand up! I’m a human being just like you!” 27 So they talked together and went inside, where many others were assembled. 28 Peter told them, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. 29 So I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. Now tell me why you sent for me.” 30 Cornelius replied, “Four days ago I was praying in my house about this same time, three o’clock in the afternoon. Suddenly, a man in dazzling clothes was standing in front of me. 31 He told me, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your gifts to the poor have been noticed by God! 32 Now send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. He is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.’ 33 So I sent for you at once, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you.”
34 Then Peter replied, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. 35 In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right. 36 This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee, after John began preaching his message of baptism. 38 And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him...
--- Peter continues on telling them about his personal experience with Jesus, but I’ll jump ahead just for the sake of time… ---
44 Even as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message. 45 The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too.46 For they heard them speaking in other languages and praising God. Then Peter asked, 47 “Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?” 48 So he gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Afterward Cornelius asked him to stay with them for several days.
So… are we tracking with this as a highly emotional cross-cultural interaction, much like those of our friends in this community?
It ends on a really powerful connecting note, but my question is about the process: where is Jesus in this episode of cross-cultural discomfort and awkwardness and risk? Right in the center of it He seems to have set it up to happen! He seems to be enjoying it
Most importantly, Jesus seems to have a good purpose in mind behind all this - A couple weeks ago Kyle reflected on the grander story being told by the book of Acts, which this continues The Jesus movement is expanding beyond its exclusively Jewish beginnings God is the God of all people - including non-Jewish Romans Zooming in though, this story has me reflecting on one of the ways we often talk about growth here at Brown Line: Jesus' statement that true growth means we must "die to self" Kind of a heavy statement But the reason it's been so powerful to us is its reminder that: The people who experience the most depth and fullness of life and growth over a lifetime are the people who develop true humility - Who acknowledge they will always need outside input and help no matter how old or experienced they get. Who learn to make friends with -- not cover up or run from -- their limitations, imperfections, mistakes That’s what it means to die to one’s self… and that’s why the fruit of it is personal growth And I think about this because cross cultural interactions are one of the most surefire ways to help us do this They confront us with our limitations and imperfections and discomforts as quickly as anything we might experience in life And therefore they are one of the most surefire ways toward personal growth Jesus knows this interaction will break Peters stereotypes as a first century Jew... God's lesson about calling no one unclean hits home! he goes from uncomfortable to enter Cornelius' house to staying for days with him And Jesus knows this interaction will expand Cornelius' experience of who God is - that God has revealed what he is really like in Jesus of Nazareth And Jesus knows that all our friends here at BLV whose experiences we got to hear a bit of are bigger people living bigger, more-connected lives because of the cross cultural interactions and relationships he's put in their path Every inter-racial / inter-cultural couple who shared a story for this talk said at some point to me something like: whatever the challenges, we wouldn’t trade this reality! The richness is so worthwhile! Jesus knows this, and that’s why he sets these interactions up and enjoys them so much.
So how might Jesus lead you in this way this week? Ask Jesus who in your life of a different culture or religious background than you he'd like you to connect with Not a stranger but someone you know a bit and God might be saying: get to know them better Ask that person about his/her self or culture or religious background One of the people in an intercultural couple I asked said she and her partner often ask each other simply "Will you tell me a story about your life?" That's a great concrete way to do this! If you're ever uncomfortable, pause and try to look for Jesus' guidance as to how to engage Remember, he loves this stuff! If you're asked in return about yourself or your culture or religion (this often happens in cross cultural interactions!), share how Jesus has felt important or powerful or helpful to you personally Peter, puzzled and uncomfortable though he is at first, eventually sees that Jesus has led him into an opportunity to share a powerful spiritual experience with these new friends of his That makes sense: again, cross-cultural interactions confront us with how small we are and how much bigger than we can possibly imagine life and the world is So they are a space where consideration of spiritual experience and God is quite natural All it takes is Peter sharing his personal experience with Jesus There is no “right” answer or response when we do this - it’s about sharing personally What is it about Jesus FOR YOU? In YOUR EXPERIENCE? Perhaps you find yourself having as powerful an interaction as Peter & Cornelius this week
In a moment I’m going to pray for us for just that - and that God shows us each who we should reach out to this week right now! And once we’re in that space of prayer, today’s band is going to lead us in a time of song… Something spiritual communities have done for centuries to slow down from the pace of life and encounter God at an emotional level. Engage in whatever way feels best to you: Singing along or just sitting back letting the music hit you.
And, as we are doing that, if you’re feeling something going on internally, or you came in today with a physical or emotional or circumstantial need… make your way to the middle section of the theater and ask to receive prayer from someone on our prayer team Powerful things often happen in our prayer times on Sundays. Our prayer team are trained, safe folks; no one is going to make you feel uncomfortable or give you unasked for advice, and everything you share is confidential. Stand with me, if you would, and I’ll pray.