As a self-proclaimed Bible nerd, I have approximately 10 favorite Bible stories.
When there are so many good ones to choose from, it’s hard to pick just one. They all have their parts that I just love, and that touch my soul every time I read them.
One of those stories that I simply adore is from the 10th chapter of Acts. It begins with a Gentile centurion, who worshiped the God of Israel, named Cornelius having a vision.
In the vision, God asks him to send some of his men to the city of Joppa, to find the Apostle Peter. So Cornelius obeys, and sends two of his slaves and a soldier from his ranks to Joppa.
Meanwhile, Peter is hanging out in Joppa with a tanner named Simon. Peter is praying on Simon’s roof and waiting for his lunch to be prepared, when he also has a vision.
In his vision, many animals that were unclean according to the Torah appeared in front of him. A voice spoke, saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” Peter refuses of course, because the Torah is pretty clear on what the people of God should and shouldn’t eat.
But the voice isn’t having it, and responds to Peter’s refusal by saying, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”
About this time, the men sent by Cornelius show up at the gate. They want to know if a guy named Peter is staying at the house.
Now, Peter is in a state of confusion. First, he had a weird, sacrilegious vision, and now there are three strange Gentile men looking for him.
But the Holy Spirit intervenes, and tells Peter that this is God’s doing. So Peter invites them in, and he finds out that Cornelius is looking for him, and that is why the men have come.
The next day, Peter and the three men head over to Cornelius’ house. When Peter arrives, he says to them, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Now many I ask why you sent for me?”
Cornelius proceeds to tells Peter all about his vision, and how he and everyone else in the house are waiting to hear a word from God from Peter.
Peter responds by telling them the Good News about Jesus, starting with a powerful and inclusive sentence: I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him.
Before this experience — the Gentiles, in Peter’s mind — were “those” people. They didn’t follow the Torah. They were unclean. They simply didn’t belong.
But God doesn’t always behave in the ways in which we expect Him to behave. The grace of God was not limited by Peter’s opinion of who was in and who was out.
Nor was it limited by what was written in the Torah. So it was made available to the Gentiles.
It just goes to show that the grace of God is always more inclusive and extensive than any of us could ever dream that it would be. That’s what makes grace so incredible, but also so offensive.
When grace is offered to us, we are grateful for the gift — and we are happy to let it soak into our dry and tired bones. But when it’s offered to one of “those” guys? We aren’t always so happy about that.
We don’t like to admit it, because it’s hard to expose the ugly things within our own hearts — but like Peter, we all carry some of those exclusionary biases with us.
All of us have some of “those” people in our lives who we can’t possibly imagine that God would even bother with. We have trouble seeing their dignity and worth. We forget that they have been created in the image of God and are all deeply loved by Him. We don’t think that they are deserving of God’s grace.
It might be the drug addict down the street, or the person who votes differently from you. Maybe it’s your cheating ex-husband, or the person who committed a terrible crime against your family.
There is not a human being on this planet who is not guilty of putting up a wall and claiming that the folks on the other side of it are not worthy of being loved. And time and time again, the grace of God sweeps through and knocks those walls to the ground.
God is love, and His plan for this world is one where we are all made whole, through that divine love. Barriers don’t have a place in God’s plan for us. God is bigger than any of the boxes that we try to put Him in.
His grace is available to all.
You are deeply loved. You have worth, and you have the opportunity to be redeemed by the grace of God.
Those statements also apply to your annoying brother, your coworker who is just the worst, and the guy sitting on death row. After all, God shows no partiality. None whatsoever.
May we truly believe that, and drink in the truth deeply. May we learn to love ourselves. May we learn to love our neighbors, and learn to see them as beloved children of God.
May we learn to acknowledge their role as image bearers of God — and may we recognize that we are no better than any of them.
May we learn to live a life that is faithful to a God who tears down walls.
Hannah Mullikin Lutz is Pastor of Ada Chapel Friends Meeting.