Sermon May 15 2022 Acts 11:1-18, Peter's Dream Rev. Betsy Hogan
So I don't know about you, but when I hear the phrase "Peter's Dream" I'm cast back in time to the 1994 Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival, where I first heard – and fell fathoms deep in love with – this iconic "decimation of the Atlantic fishery" anthem by Lennie Gallant.
Which we're going to play the first few verses of because THAT "Peter's Dream" I think grounds us in an understanding that's essential to the meaning of THIS "Peter's Dream": the one we've just heard about in our reading this morning...
The one Peter describes for the other apostles and earliest believers when they ask him why on earth he's shared the teaching of Jesus BEYOND just Jesus' own community, the Jewish community of themselves: those for whom Jesus' message was obviously meant.
So first, and with gratitude to Lennie Gallant for the midrash of meaning-making biblical storytelling, a reminder of THAT Peter's Dream that grounds THIS Peter's Dream:
(Peter's Dream, Lennie Gallant) What on earth happened? How did everything change? Where did it all go? I think we're fooling ourselves and doing the Peter of this morning's reading a great disservice if we imagine he's not STILL waking up from this dream.
Sailing out on the Sea of Galilee... casting their nets upon the water, and with Jesus, pulling them in.
Because of course he's still waking up from this dream. It hasn't even been that long. And our memories live in our bones – that shape of who we are and what we're about –
And Peter is a fisherman. It's not his job, it's who he is, it's the shape of his life. Up before dawn, sail out to meet the sun, and salt fog and sky, it's the shape of each day. It's the restfulness of the familiar, it's where he knows and is known.
And that goes deep. I haven't actually lived in Montreal since I was 21, but literally all I have to do is turn my car onto the highway that drives along the St. Laurence River Valley, and everything about the world looks completely right to me again. Restful because familiar.
Which is nothing against endless forests of pine and spruce, but this is just not where I'm from, in my bones. And I guess somehow in my spirit.
So Peter's Dream, the Lennie Gallant version, it's Peter in his bones and in his spirit. And that hasn't gone anywhere, and it won't. He still IS fundamentally that fisherman.
Whose faith grew and expanded and flourished beside Jesus out on the Sea of Galilee... but then everything changed... crucifixion, resurrection, "feed my sheep" and "receive the Holy Spirit"... and it seems like that past only exists as a dream... Except it doesn't, because 'who we are' is always somehow essentially grounded in 'who we were'.
Peter still IS fundamentally that fisherman. And what does that mean?
It probably means that he knows in his bones that there's a point past which he gets to expect he's in control. Because the fisherman perspective, as it were, is always going to be a perspective that values planning and preparation and attention to carefulness –
but also operates ALWAYS fully aware that wind and water are ultimately 'gonna do' whatever wind and water 'wanna do'. A fisherman doesn't just understand the limit of his control – he also understands that human control is limited.
He's learned it in his bones, the waves go up, the waves go down, and there's a point past which it's just about trust. It's just about riding the wave.
I think that's crucial, in Peter. I think that's why it's Peter -- with Peter's Dream of sailing, out on the Sea of Galilee – I think that's WHY it's Peter who's the one who now has Peter's Dream in our reading today from the book of Acts. Of the cloth descending from heaven covered in animals and birds and reptiles and the voice saying "don't call profane what God has created".
Because this isn't just some dream about what Peter can or can't have for lunch. Because as a Jewish man, like the whole Jewish community, Peter would have carefully chosen and prepared food according to laws of faith governing what's "kosher" – fit and proper to eat – as opposed to unclean or unfit. 'Profane'.
And that didn't change. Peter, as a Jewish man, like the whole Jewish community of those who've also come to follow Jesus, continued to choose and prepare food that would be kosher, in accordance with the laws of faith. So this isn't a dream about what Peter might possibly consider having for lunch.
It's a dream of the limits of control. It's a dream about human control being limited. Because the waves go up and the waves go down and the Spirit of God moves over the face of the waters and there's a point past which it's just about trust. It's just about riding the wave.
Because here comes the wave, and it's this cloth covered in animals and birds and reptiles – and Peter THINKS he's totally covered, he's seen this before, he's on top of all of it –
But he isn't. This wave comes out of nowhere. With "DON'T call profane what I've created," God says to him, three times in a row – and then promptly sends him suddenly off to Caesarea, where... guess who's there?
Gentiles. People who aren't Jewish is all that means, and so there's Peter in Caesarea with this bunch of unclean, unfit, unholy, 'keep your distance', 'profane' Gentiles –
But Peter is a fisherman. Peter knows there's a limit to control, and human control is limited. Peter knows there's a point past which it just has to be about trust, and you've really just got to ride the wave. "DON'T call profane what I've created," God says to him.
So Peter rides that wave. He rides that wave right across that dividing line – Jewish and Gentile -- that for the Jewish community hasn't so much been about exclusion as it's been about self-preservation and the safety of sticking with people you know. Peter rides that wave right across that dividing line, and he says to the other apostles and those who've come to believe: God's Spirit is poured out not only on Jews but also on Gentiles.
I think we've lost track of how extraordinary it is, this new Peter's Dream that Peter embraces. That's he's ABLE to embrace, because of who he is in his bones – that fisherman whose "first" Peter's Dream Lennie Gallant imagines and brings to life for us.
Because it's a big shift, and big shifts take courage. This big shift for Peter, for those earliest Jewish-Christians took courage. Because from this point on, in Christian community, not everyone is people they know. Not everyone has the same background, knows the same stories, has the same traditions. From this point on, in Christian community, there's no assuming "old favourites" or everyone "obviously" knowing all the words to all the prayers.
Because Peter's Dream isn't about inclusion – you're all very welcome, all you Gentiles, now come on in and learn to be like us – it isn't inclusion. Peter's Dream is about expansion.
It's about riding this wave that God's Spirit has unleashed where now there's going to be faithfulness to the way of Jesus grounded not JUST in the familiar Jewishness of 'this is how it's always been for the Apostles and first believers', but instead ALSO in this weird alien Greekness, Gentileness, that really is just plain different.
It's a big shift. It's an expansion into diversity. It's why we have four gospels, each written to speak into its own mixture of listeners with the language and choices and meaning they'll be able to grasp.
Because with Peter at the helm, the early church DID ride the wave. Maybe because others of the Apostles were fishermen too – they knew the limits of what they could control. They knew that human control is limited, and sometimes it's just about trust and you've just got to ride the wave. So they did.
It's literally how we're here. God's Spirit poured out on us too. Making faithfulness our own, learning how to ride that wave with trust when we need to. God being our helper. Amen.