Photo credit: <a href="">Vince Alongi</a>

Acts 10:44-48

Before Peter finished talking, God’s spirit came over everyone who heard the news.

The orthodoxy police who had come along were shocked that God’s spirit had been given so easily, even to these heathen. But they heard with their own ears how in many languages they were giving props to God.

So Peter asked, “Since these folk obviously have God’s spirit, are you still going to bar them from admittance?” He gave orders that they should be baptized in Jesus’ name, and they invited him to hang out with them for a few days.

Every community has its gatekeepers. They’re the ones, often self-appointed, who take it upon themselves to say whose in and whose out.

The trouble is, especially in religious communities, when the gatekeepers start using the wrong criteria for making decisions about people. The original Greek in this passage is more specifically about circumcision: “The circumcised believers who came with Peter.” That was their litmus test. But it could be any litmus test that depends on the sacred cows of the gatekeepers.

Instead, the right question to ask when deciding whether someone is eligible for membership is, “Does this person get what God is doing?” Another way to ask it: “Does this person share the spirit of the community?”

The answer to that question will nearly always, as in this case, be obvious. Chances are, God is much more ready to extend the spirit of the community than we gatekeepers are. Truth is, those who have the spirit will have a good time with it, even if the orthodoxy police are shocked by it.

The sad irony is the ones who end up self-excluded are the gatekeepers.

Triple Witness

water and blood
Image credit: <a href="">Leonardo Agiuar</a>

1 John 5:6-12

Jesus came through water and blood. Not just water, mind you, water and blood both. The spirit is our witness. The spirit is truth. The spirit, the water, and the blood all agree. If we have a witness from people, the witness of God is still more reliable. God’s witness is to God’s child. Once you accept that, the witness is internal. If you don’t accept it, it’s your word against God’s: you’re as much as calling God a liar. The witness is this: We’ve been given life forever in Jesus. If you have Jesus, you’re living. If you don’t, you’re dead.

First, there is the water. This is the part, symbolized by baptism, where you discover and accept who you really are. Call it a spiritual experience. Lots of people will tell you about their moment of calling. Lot’s of people talk a good line about their spiritual life. All well and good. It’s essential to know who you are.

Second, there is the blood. This is the part about the cross. It’s what you do as a consequence of why you are. Are you willing to lay down your life for who you really are? Are you willing to live the life you know you’ve been called to live or no life at all? Are you willing to put your life on the line for someone else? This is also a spiritual experience. Witness Franklin McCain, one of the four black protestors who started the lunch-counter sit in movement at a Woolworth’s in 1960 Greensboro, NC (courtesy of NPR):

“Fifteen seconds after [I sat down] … I had the most wonderful feeling. I had a feeling of liberation, restored manhood. I had a natural high. And I truly felt almost invincible. Mind you, [I was] just sitting on a dumb stool and not having asked for service yet…

“It’s a feeling that I don’t think that I’ll ever be able to have again. It’s the kind of thing that people pray for … and wish for all their lives and never experience it. And I felt as though I wouldn’t have been cheated out of life had that been the end of my life at that second or that moment.”

Third, there is the spirit. That’s, as John explains, when you internalize what you know about yourself and your mission to the point that you no longer depend on someone else, anyone else, having to tell you who you are or what that means you should do. Accept that spirit, and you will live, no matter what happens after those first 15 seconds at the lunch counter. Reject it, and no matter what you do, you’ll never really experience the fullness of life.