By REV. R. JOAQUIN WILLIS, D. MIN.
As a child before meals, Daddy would say his favorite grace. “Rise, Peter; slay and eat.” One day I asked, “Daddy why do you say that grace”? He said, “Son this grace comes from the bible.” “Oh yeah, I said where in the bible? I want to know why, God said, that to Peter”!
Dad said, “I don’t know where, but it’s in there. ‘Papa’ (my grandfather Rev. Jessie T. Willis) had said it, and Dad believed it.” That ended the discussion, I believed Dad and he believed Papa!
This grace was a personal breakthrough; somehow God had used Daddy’s little grace to prick my interest in God’s word. Well as I grew, I found the passage in Acts 10 and 11. My search became the basis of my spiritual growth and development and it shaped my faith and belief system.
In the New Testament, Peter’s Vision and talk with Christ is all about inclusiveness. “The news traveled fast and in no time the leaders and friends back in Jerusalem heard about it—heard that the non-Jewish “outsiders” were now “in.”
When Peter got back to Jerusalem, some of his old associates, concerned about circumcision, called him on the carpet (for bringing those people into the church): “What do you think you’re doing rubbing shoulders with that crowd, eating what is prohibited and ruining our good name?”
So Peter said, “recently I was in the town of Joppa praying. I fell into a trance and saw a vision: Something like a huge blanket, lowered by ropes at its four corners, came down out of heaven and settled on the ground in front of me. Milling around on the blanket were (live) farm animals, wild animals, reptiles, birds—you name it, it was there. Fascinated, I took it all in.
“I heard a voice: ‘Rise, Peter—slay and eat.’ I said, ‘No, Master. I’ve never so much as tasted food that wasn’t kosher.’ The voice spoke again: ‘If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.’ (Acts11:1-10) MSG
In the story we learn Peter’s testimony is about a vision and talk with Jesus and after hearing it the Jews and Gentiles all quieted down. It is a story about the need for inclusiveness in the church. When this point sunk in, the Gentiles, filled with the Holy Spirit, started praising God.
Why? Because now they all knew God’s plan was to bring the Gentiles to Christ, and this opened a new way for non-Jewish believers to come to Christ.
Our imperfect human nature shows up when we supposedly godly people are displeased with what we hear from others about God. Sometimes God’s word leaves us puzzled, as it did me, as a child about Dad’s grace.
Now as a father, I’m concerned about what I’m teaching children and others about God. Now I watch carefully what I say as a grace. I try to make it consistent with what I’ve grown to believe about God’s Word.
Doing good for and to those we love, including our children and grand-children leads to making them more teachable. That is tricky work. Opening the eyes of the spiritually blind, even our own children is delicate work, because the first thing they see is the face of their deliverer, and hopefully in it they see the face of Christ.
The lack of inclusiveness is killing today’s church, and it is becoming the bane and challenge of its existence. When we shut out those different from us who might benefit from our ministry, our actions become unacceptable to Christ. This is what Christ was saying to Peter in the vision and what He says to us today.
When we are sure their repentance is possible as sinners; then the Holy Spirit becomes God’s gift to them, and sometimes it is even a gift to us. His free grace when accepted by all, works miracles.
Those who preach the gospel through the power of the Holy Spirit, becomes transformative teachers. While we may be religious zealots, we must be careful not to tick off God; those who love God will ultimately bring Him glory.
So when God says, “Rise… Slay and Eat,” we should say, “Yes, Lord!” “Would somebody please pass me the meat.”
The Rev. R. Joaquin Willis, D. Min., is pastor of the Church of the Open Door UCC in Miami’s Liberty City community. He may be reached at 305-759-0373 or firstname.lastname@example.org.