Year B Proper 9, 7 July 2021
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA- Live and Live-Streamed
“Eurekas and Epiphanies”
Collect: O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
New Testament: Acts 10:1-16
In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.” When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him, and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa.
About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.
Gospel: Luke 24:12-35 (Emmaus Road Story)
The readings for today include three different stories of what appears to be God changing God’s mind. Samuel is led to anoint a new lineage, a new king because Saul had lost God’s favor and the runt of Jesse’s litter who Jesse did not even expect was the chosen one of God. (Yesterday’s readings spoke of how God regretted Saul being made King.)
Acts speaks of Peter working with a Roman centurion and being told that those who were rejected are now acceptable. Three times God had to say it. I used to think Peter was hard-headed, but when something is a deeply ingrained religious matter, one drilled in since birth, it is so hard to let go. I am amazed it only took three times for Peter to catch it.
The Gospel reading is that of the Resurrected Jesus walking with two followers to Emmaus. If you look up how long that was, the answers will give you a headache as there are many possible sites, and different manuscripts give different distances.. It was long enough to have a really in depth conversation. When Jesus breaks the bread, he is revealed and the followers run back to tell the disciples.
In all three, it seems from the outside that God is changing the plan midstream. But I think that maybe God has been waiting for us to see what has been there all along. Have you ever walked into a room, and someone is there but you do not notice them? But then once you see them, you jump because you thought you were alone? So often I think God is waiting for us to catch up, or wake up, or clue in. And so often we can think that this is a new revelation, when really we have only figured out where God has been moving all along.
On Sunday I spoke about the Holy Spirit guiding and directing us to new and unexpected places. I believe that is still happening, and I believe that God is still speaking. Will we have eyes to see and ears to hear?
Our church has made some strong stands, stands that split the Episcopal Church and are having ripple effects throughout the Anglican Communion. We believe that some long held assumptions are wrong. We believe that issues of gender roles and sexuality are not as clear cut as biblical literalists would try and make them.
Growing up in a conservative evangelical environment, I had to let go of so many assumptions that had been handed on as Gospel truth. In fact, it was the skills I learned in college and seminary that sent me to the Scripture that convinced me that there had to be a better way. And God sent me and my family to the Episcopal Church, thanks be to God! Did God change God’s mind? No. But I grew up. I changed. I saw through Reason, Scripture, and Tradition that there were alternatives that spoke to me in a better way and resonated with my new understandings, like it did with Samuel, St. Peter, and the disciples on the road to Emmaus. I joked with Baptist folks, fellow pastors who reached out to me, that because the Baptists had taught me to truly read Scripture I could no longer stay Baptist.
Does God change? Or does God respond to our choices where we have latitude? Great questions we can explore. Some see the future fatalistically, that we have little to no say or free will. I would lean more to the side that God loves and empowers us to do the right thing, and occasionally and rarely intervenes. One favorite thinker of mine describes the end of time as the Omega Point where God is drawing all things and all will work together for good. The destination is clear, but God is open to the route.
That’s a lot to chew on before breakfast. But Eurekas and Epiphanies still happen, if we remain open to see them. Thanks be to God! Amen