Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ –
May grace and peace be yours in abundance (I Peter 1:2a). – ….. –
In February I began a series of brief articles on the Marks of a Missional Congregation relying heavily on Stephen P. Bouman’s, The Mission Table: Renewing Congregation & Community (© 2013 Augsburg Fortress).
Each article includes Scripture, questions for reflection and discussion, and a prayer. Perhaps your church council, adult study, youth group, coffee group will use these monthly writings as a time to engage in learning, discernment and reflection together. Previous month’s articles are available on the synod website: www.albertasynod.ca
A congregation in mission risks new things without fear of failure.
One of the primary insights of a missional church viewpoint is that God is already active in the world, and that the church’s mission is to join what God is already doing: reconciling and restoring the world. The story of Peter’s vision in Acts 10 can help us to understand our mission.
Peter was staying at the home of a tanner named Simon in the city of Joppa during the early days of the church, after the dramatic events at Pentecost. He went up on the roof to pray while he was waiting for lunch, and while he was praying, he went into a trance.
This story, actually doesn’t begin with Peter, it begins with God working in the life of a Gentile named Cornelius. Up the coast in Caesarea, Cornelius, a Roman general, was also hungry. He was seeking God. In a vision Cornelius is told to send for Peter, whose fame as a spiritual leader was growing rapidly. Would Peter, a Jew, come to see this Gentile seeker?
Back in Joppa, Peter, in a trance, saw all kinds of animals descend on a tablecloth. He was hungry, but the food was not kosher. He would dishonor God by killing and eating what was ritually unclean. But then he heard God say, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” When Peter protested, God said, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”
This happened three times, and then the tablecloth was lifted and Peter came out of the trance.
The men sent by Cornelius then appeared at Simon’s gate and asked for Peter, and God told Peter to go down and meet them. They told Peter they wanted him to come with them and teach them about the true God. The next day, Peter left with them.
In the living room of the Gentile Cornelius in Caesarea a few days later, Peter declared, “God shows no partiality, but…anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
This remarkable story of God’s grace crossing boundaries turns on the trance of Peter on Simon’s roof. The English word trance is inadequate, suggesting a kind of woozy reverie. The Greek word for “trance” is ekstasis, a dynamic word from which we get the word ecstasy.
Ekstasis means literally “to step forth.”
It is an “out of the box” word. It is in the shift in consciousness of Peter, hungry on a rooftop, who in a moment of ekstasis was made open to the imagery of the tablecloth full of animals, unclean as well as clean. The insight about God’s inclusion of the Gentiles overwhelmed him in the state of openness and receptivity that is ekstasis.
Ecstasy means leaving the usual behind. After listening to God on the roof and then listening to the men sent by Cornelius, Peter had a choice. He could go to Cornelius, or he could stay where he was.
Life in Christ asks us to step out continually into wider worlds, deeper spiritual insights, passionate engagement with the calling we have from God.
Read and Reflect: Acts 10
Discuss and Reflect:
1. What in this reading leads you to say, “I wonder about…?”, or, “I noticed…?”
2. Comment on the statement: Life in Christ asks us to step out continually into wider worlds, deeper spiritual insights,
passionate engagement with the calling we have from God.
3. What risk could your congregation take in its ministry at this time for the sake of joining God’s reconciling and restoring mission in the world?
Pray together: Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray, as you will, but always to your glory and the welfare of your people, through our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen. (Commitment, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 86)
The God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).
In Christ Jesus –
The Rev. Dr. Larry Kochendorfer, Bishop
Synod of Alberta and the Territories
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada