[Reflections on the Lectionary Reading for Apr 24, 2011]
I still remember the day a receptionist said to me, “God is no respecter of persons.” I replied, “Huh?” I had never heard this quote. Peter makes this statement in a sermon recorded in the tenth chapter of the Book of Acts. The NRSV translates his words as, “God shows no partiality.”
Peter is proclaiming that a new era has been born. While in the past God worked through a chosen race of people, with the advent of Jesus’ incarnation, death, and resurrection, God was now extending grace to all people. This was a radical change for Peter’s fellow Hebrews. For centuries they had known themselves as chosen and set apart from the rest of the world. Their grace was tied up with their heritage and culture. Now God was embracing people of all races and cultures.
Christians today still show some residual thinking that reflects a view that grace is somehow particular to our culture and tradition. We are on the lookout for counterfeit Christians, and we usually spy them among those who have a very different culture than we do. We tend to believe that “real” Christians talk, think, and worship like us.
Peter claims in his sermon, “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” (Acts 10:34b-35, NRSV). Anyone–regardless of their race or culture–who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God. Later in this sermon he says, “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43b, NRSV). God forgives the sins of anyone who believes in God–regardless of their embrace of particular nuances of doctrine.
Peter tears down the walls between tribes. All are part of God’s good creation. According to Peter, acceptability to God and forgiveness of sins has nothing to do with styles of worship, forms of prayer, or embrace of particular doctrine (other than belief in God).
Each Christian must determine for him/herself what it means in his/her life to “fear” God, “believe” in God, and “do” what is “right.” We can share our thoughts with each other. We can encourage each other. But we should never sink to judging each other as one who is unworthy of God’s grace.