Up On A Roof
Acts 10: 1–48 | Third Sunday of Easter | April 19, 2015 | First Christian Church | Mahtomedi, MN
When I was about nine years old, my Dad and a cousin decided to fix the roof. They would get up on the rooftop and start removing the old shingles and hammering in the new ones. Despite my fear of heights, I would climb the ladder to get to the roof top and just stay there getting a bird’s eye view of my neighborhood. It was fitting that during the summer of 1979 one of the songs I heard on the radio was James Taylor’s version of “Up on A Roof.” The Drifters sang this song first, but it’s Taylor’s song that I heard and that remains in the music station of my mind.
When this old world starts getting me down
And people are just too much for me to face
I climb way up to the top of the stairs
And all my cares just drift right into space
On the roof, it’s peaceful as can be
And there the world below can’t bother me
A few days ago on the radio news program All Things Considered, there was a story about golf. Actually it was about Washington politicians playing golf. It was National Golf Day on Capitol Hill and the industry was on hand to show their wares and also get Representatives and Senators to play a few games of simulated golf.
But that wasn’t the main thrust of the story. The main point is the loss of Republicans and Democrats playing a round of golf together. This was something that used to happen, but in more recent years this no longer happens. The story interviewed James Clyburn, a Representative from South Carolina and third most powerful Democrat in the House. Here is what he has to say about times in the past when he shared a game or two with Republicans:
“I really learned bipartisanship up here on the golf course, and it allowed me to develop relationships across the aisle. And sometimes I’d be the only Democrat there — often the only African-American — but it taught me a lot. And I hope the experience taught some of them a lot,” he said.
Representative Don Young, a Republican from Alaska thinks he knows why bipartisan golf games have gone away as hyperpartisanhip has become more commonplace. Most members of Congress are not in Washington on the weekends or when Congress isn’t in session. This is very different from decades pasts when congressional families would lay down roots in Washington. But because people are breezing in and out of Washington these days, there is very little change for people from different parties to come together and talk about life and even on occasion, politics.
It’s become a cliche to say that we have become a polarized society, but that doesn’t make it any less true. A society we have become obbessed with purity, to not have anything to do with someone who might be different from us. It shouldn’t be all that surprising that in these days we are talking about if someone should or shouldn’t bake a cake for a same sex couple. It is more important for us to be pure than it to engage the other.
In today’s text we meet two people: Peter and Cornelius. We all know Peter, a disciple of Jesus who has now become a leader in the nascent church. Cornelius is a Roman solider, the leader of a local regiment. He is known as a “God-fearer” a person that worships the Jewish God but has not converted to Judaism. One day he is praying and has a vision of an angel. The angel tells Cornelius that God has heard his prayers and his good works. The angel tells him to contact Peter who is residing in Joppa and to bring him to his house.
Meanwhile in Joppa, Peter is praying on the roof. While he is waiting for lunch to be ready he also falls into a vision. A large sheet comes down from heaven filled with animals that were both considered clean and unclean. A voice tells him to have a rooftop picnic, which surprises Peter. He knows the law, or at least he thinks he does, and declines. The voice replies “If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.”
This story has always been read as the conversion of Cornelius and his household and that does happen. But there is another conversion that happens here and it has much bigger implications for the church. Peter was a good Jew and wasn’t very sure that the message of Jesus was for anyone other than his kin. But as he went to Caeserea and told the story of Jesus to Cornelius he started to understand that God really didn’t show partiality, God didn’t pick favorites. Peter allowed himself to enter the house of a Gentile and allowed himself to be served by these outsiders. That in and of itself was unusual: while hospitality towards strangers was important regardless of the culture, Jews tended to only go to other Jewish houses. Peter recieved hospitality from a Gentile which was big.
As I said earlier, we live in a time where society is highly fragmented. We might like to think of ourselves as welcoming, but all of us, all of us, tend to only welcome those who are like us. If you have a different ideology or orientation, keep walking; we aren’t going to break bread with you.
Which is why Peter’s conversion is so big. He helped change what was a sect in Judaism into a religion that was open to everybody. He realized that the Jesus that he worshipped wasn’t just for him and people like him, it was for everybody.
This coming week, the hope is that we will vote on a statement that will publicly welcome gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to our church. I think that’s an important thing for this congregation to do and it is in keeping with today’s passage. But we shouldn’t think we are done yet. It is not a time to pat ourselves on back for being so open-minded. How are we in welcoming someone who is poor? How about welcoming someone of a different political persuasion? What about someone that might think homosexuality is a sin?
In some churches, this passage is one of the scriptures for Easter Sunday and that makes sense. Peter saw a resurrection in his own life. He was becoming different than what he used to be. Christ would push the boundaries and thrust Peter into different places that he never expected. And so it should be with us. Church shouldn’t be a place where we are comfortable, but where we are always seeing God show up in strange and challenging ways. It should be a place where we break bread with people who are different with us in every way in order to share the good news of Jesus.
There is something about the song up on a roof. It’s about escaping the cares of the world to enter this sanctuary of peace. I think Peter was hoping for the same thing that day on the roof. But God had other plans. The roof wasn’t a place to get a way from it all. It was a place to see all of God’s creation in all of it’s various forms and seek to enter into the world. God calls us to the rooftop not to escape the world, but to prepare to get back into the world. The world can get us down and it does. But on the rooftop we can get a different view of the world and given the stregnth to go back down and minister to the whole world.
As we start the next week, I pray that as we vote to make our welcome more open, that we actually live it out in our lives. May we be a church where people of various backgrounds can come together and break bread, being Christ to each other and the whole world. The world needs to see places like this, where we are bound by Christ and not by an ideology or orientation. Amen.