In today’s reading from Acts we find Peter throwing a wrench into the machinery of the early Church by suggesting that one does not have to be a follower of the Jewish traditions to receive God’s Holy Spirit.
This was a faith community which was already struggling to find its way as it faced pressures from all sides including the Jewish community from which it came as well as from the Roman authorities whom it kept running up against.
In their favor, the Christian believers at least had a common background, Judaism, that gave them a solid base on which they could develop their new understanding of God. When Peter made his radical proposal, that Gentiles should be admitted into baptism, even this common identity as “God’s chosen people”, was called into question.
Change is hard, and just because something changes does not mean it is going to lead to improvements. How do we know when something should change and how should we go about doing it?
Prayer of course is good place to start. Peter’s prayer resulted in a vision. In his vision he saw all the animals that Jewish people were forbidden to eat. He then heard a voice from God declaring that he should slaughter and eat the animals that he saw, but Peter protested. God spoke again and told Peter that what God had created should not be considered profane by us.
Peter’s vision speaks to us about the motivation around why we look for change or why we resist it. In this case the Spirit was prompting the Church to open its doors and to broaden its vision of who belonged. It was Peter who resisted and was only moved when God insisted. We must be discerning and ready first to listen to the prompting of the Spirit and be ready to put our own likes, dislikes and motivations in second place.
Peter’s vision was a beginning, but it was not enough on its own to propose such a radical change in the life of the community. It was only when he witnessed the Holy Spirit coming upon the Gentile family that he realized that God was giving to them what he and the other apostles had already received. It was this experience of God at work in the world the finally convince Peter that this is the direction that the Church needed to move.
As Peter shared his vision and the concrete experience of the newly baptized family with the community in Jerusalem it was enough for them to know that this was not just Peter’s idea but that it was God at work in their midst. What began as a troubling crisis, now became a reason for the community to celebrate.
We all are faced by changes large and small at various points in our life. We might not receive the kinds of visions that Peter received nor be responsible for the big decisions that will affect the future of so many, but the quality of our life and the joy that we find in it is partly determined by how well we listen and respond to the movement of the Spirit.
There is a beautiful little prayer composed by Reinhold Niebuhr used by Alcoholics Anonymous groups but is fitting for anyone dealing with changes in their life.
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.