© Rev. Erika Demeter, 2011. All Rights Reserved.
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
March 29, 2011

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I read the biblical story [in Acts, Chapter 10] of the Vision of Peter where he is tempted by God to eat "unclean" meat for the first time 19 years ago. I was a young girl then, and I hardly had a keen theological interest. I lived with my head in the clouds of idealism, weaved romantic dreams, wanted to save the world - I was in love, of course. There was a reason, however, for having read the story: I was preparing for admission exam into the Theological seminary and this was a required text. The competition was fierce: 13 of us competed for 2 places.

When I first read the story of Peter's vision, I was unable to get its meaning at all. So I just put it aside. This is my nature: if something does not stir my enthusiasm and my interest right away, I just avoid it. About two years ago, unexpectedly, I began to contemplate on this text, hoping that I had become mature enough to understand its deeper meaning. And I experienced a moment of eureka, an AHA! moment. Teachers often recount their common experiences of how certain children just don't get a piece of material, no matter how thoroughly and repeatedly it is explained to them. But a few days later all of a sudden they understand everything.

I too had this "Aha!" experience as the wisdom of the text had ripened in my understanding. Since then, this story has become my favorite, for I see a parallel between my own life's struggles and successes. But most of all, I have come to realize, that amidst of our best intentions, we are filled with all kind of prejudices.

This biblical story is not a familiar one. Even for the most traditional congregations, it seems a stunning novelty because of its unusual message.

I imagine this story as an old film, where the events run in two threads. On the one thread we see Peter, praying in the upper room (on the roof). But he gets hungry, and while waiting for the food, he falls asleep. In a mystical vision - or dream - a mighty sheet comes down from heaven, with all the imaginable animals on it. And the heavenly voice encourages him to pick some and eat it. Peter had always been extremely careful about ritual purity, and he saw some animals that were off limits for consumption. And, surely, he had no intention of touching them. But a heavenly voice now orders him to choose from them and eat them. Peter refuses to obey, but in the meantime he tries to understand what the vision actually means. What is the divine message in it?

The events unfolding in the second thread of the story allow us a glimpse into the life of a Roman man, Cornelius, who is not a Hebrew-Christian, and yet, he lives according to Christian values. He too has a vision in which an angel asks him to send a messenger to Peter and invite him into his home so that Peter would talk about Jesus and teach them.

Peter is weakened by the arrival of the two messengers.

"What God has cleansed, you do not call impure!" I think this is the most beautiful sentence in the whole story. Why? Because it warns us even today how ready we are to see the otherness as negative and easily reject it. That is, we are full of prejudices. Anything that doesn't belong to us, we are ready to argue why it is not right.

The media is loaded with news. Not long time ago the media was buzzing about France's expelling the Gypsies or Romas from France and sending them back to Romania. Nearly everybody had an angry reaction - either against the Gypsies or against the measures taken against them. I live among them, and yes, sometimes I too am angry with them, for some of them are stealing, cheating and are aggressive. But at the same time, I also know many Gypsy families living in the villages who desperately struggle with economical hardship, and barely can put bread on the table. Generalizing is one of the most unfortunate human traps.

Once I read an article in a Hungarian journal that talked about a Palestine refugee family. The words of the mother deeply touched me: "Why does everybody assume that we all love war? Palestine mothers and fathers are no different from the rest of the world in their wish to raise their children in peace."

At the same time, I realize how the media is manipulating us - and in the wrong direction. (I am not familiar with the media here, I mostly talk about ours back home in Romania.)

Why did this story compel me to deal with it right now? My experiences here have evoked it. Because you have accepted me the way I am. Everyone here is tolerant and patient with my English. And all the many differences of the other - be that cultural or religious - seem perfectly compatible with each other and they live together. Your openness and sincere curiosity to inquire about our life has truly overwhelmed me.

I have heard many things about America - good and bad. I also heard a lot about our partner church relationships - also good and bad. During these seven months I have seen and experienced quite a bit. I have always focused on overcoming my prejudices, similar to those of Peter. God does care about cleansing us all. And who am I to question this truth?

Those who wish (and own a Bible at home), can read this story in Acts, chapter 10. I wish to conclude my sermon today with the closing phrase of it. For Peter goes to Cornelius' home, and as he enters, he says: "It is only now that I see how God never discriminates."

I believe that God accepts and loves us just the way we are. With our faults and virtues, our pain and happiness. For you are perfect just the way you are! Amen

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