(Thinking about Easter 6)
While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days. (Acts 10:44-48)
It’s still the Easter Season for a few more weeks, and at this time of year we get stories of the early church, from the Book of Acts, instead of a Hebrew Bible reading each Sunday. The Acts of the Apostles is sort of an adventure book about the early church, rather than a CNN-type documentary. It conflicts with accounts in the epistles, and we have no way of fact-checking it. But it brings us those famous and modestly well-known first Christians and gives us a sense of who stands behind our faith.
Peter had to come around to accepting ministry to the Gentiles. Despite what Jesus told the disciples about taking the gospel to the wider world, Peter feared the different and the “unclean” until a dream taught him to know better.
I live in a state where the legislature and the governor last week made marriage legal for any two people who love one another, reaching the conclusion that we cannot withhold civil rights from people who have received love just as others have. This gradual process, not quick enough for some and too fast at any speed for others, continues to unfold. We’ll have a challenge to the law, a collection of signatures on petitions, which may lead to a referendum with a campaign for and against the measure.
I wonder how it felt for Peter to baptize the Gentiles that day? Was he happy? Thrilled? Solemn? Simply busy making sure they were all included?
It’s selfish, but my first thought on the passage of the law was about myself. When, I wondered, will I have the chance to perform a marriage ceremony for couples who could not have had one before? I thought about couples I know, committed couples, couples whose commitments have been blessed by other pastors, but who could not attain the rights and privileges my husband and I got very easily when we decided to marry. I wondered if they would even care about having a church wedding, if there has already been a ceremony of blessing and commitment?
God, you see, already recognizes their relationships.
When I got married the first time, my Cousin Jack told us that the marriage license and the wedding ceremony in church didn’t really matter to each other. It’s merely a convenience that your pastor can sign the piece of paper and make it all legal.
This is one convenience I will be happy, thrilled and solemn to offer, when the time comes.