Bishop Election Devotional for May 8, 2019
By Rev. Nancy Eckels (Mount Vernon/Storla)
I was fortunate to be in the audience when James Taylor performed for fans this past February in Sioux Falls. “On the roof it’s peaceful as can be,” he sang. “And there the world below can’t bother me. Let’s go up on the roof.” Generations of God’s people have retreated to places of quiet and calm to find peace, help, and discernment; roof top patios, candle lit sanctuaries, or if you are me, a backyard deck overlooking the James River. While there is something to be said in this lesson about the value of good spiritual practices, it is not the point of the story. Nor is it whether we will find bacon or fish in the soup. Peter’s dream is more about whom is being served in God’s community than what is being served.
When Peter goes up on the roof to spend time in prayer, God sends a vision. But Peter rejects the command God gives him on the grounds that doing what God asks him to do will be disobeying God. Of course, we can see that there is no logic in this, but to be fair, God’s messages are not always so clear. Peter’s dream is not only ambiguous, but is in direct conflict with what he has always understood as faithful obedience based on some pretty compelling scripture and years of law and tradition. See Leviticus chapter 11.
If we read on in Acts 10, we see how Peter deciphered the vision in order to arrive at God’s intended conclusion; that Gentiles be embraced and gathered into church. “I understand now,” he says in verse 34, “that God shows no partiality.” In other words, Jesus came for the whole world. Bringing into relationship those that are considered outside God’s community was the struggle of the early church and the church still struggles this way today.
Several things happen in the story that can speak to our own discernment of God’s will and what God is asking of us as we move into a new era of leadership for the South Dakota Synod ELCA. For starters, we have an opportunity to meet in this place, to seek God through these devotions and to solicit our own rooftop experiences. I wonder what messages, visions, and dreams have disturbed and delighted God’s people, as we have been engaging with God’s Word and praying together.
Secondly, if we pay attention and are willing to participate, these things often get worked out in community as it did when Peter and Cornelius were brought together by divine intervention. We are rarely called to something alone. Who is God sending to us and are we paying attention to their presence in our story?
Thirdly, new learning requires humility. At first, Peter was resistant to God’s vision of inclusion for those Peter himself deemed unclean. He was still hanging on to the idea that the grace of God could be manipulated by human behavior and strict adherence to the law. Through the help of the Holy Spirit, Peter finally let go and allowed God to continue God’s own story of salvation through the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ alone.
The story of Peter’s dream demonstrates that God’s ways are higher than our ways and God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). His vision challenges our own assumptions concerning the limits of God’s grace and mercy. God may never change (Malachi 3:6), but God is eternally and always up to something new (Isaiah 43:19). We can count on that.
LET US PRAY
Eternally Creating God,
It is your will that the entire world be shalom, a place of love, unity, mercy, and reconciliation. Take away our resistance to those you wish to include and add our readiness to love and care for our neighbors everywhere as you have loved and cared for us. Enlighten our hearts to see the expanse of your grace and mercy through the crucified and risen Christ. Give us humility, discernment, and keen observation so that your vision for the world will also become ours. Instruct and teach our leaders in the name of Jesus our Savior and hope for the world. Amen.
ELW 532 Gather Us In
ELW 643 We Are All One In Christ
ELW 575 In Christ Called to Baptize
ELW 684 Creating God, Your Fingers Trace
When have you said no to God?
What tempts us to place limits on God’s mercy and activity in the world?
Where do you see God’s vision for peace and unity already happening in our synod?
How are we uniquely called to the gathering in of God’s people?
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