Seriously? He loves 500 Athabascans he has never met before? Riiight! That statement was enough to make a few people’s eyes roll, and those who didn’t may have been thinking, “Easy for you to say, but I could never do that. That’s too hard.” Or, “I tried that once, but I got hurt,” or “let me tell you about my bosom friend who betrayed me. That taught me a huge lesson about loving people.”
But somehow he had us all in the palm of his hand. You could have heard a pin drop when he was talking that night about how he had found his purpose in life, that he learned that one person can make a huge difference in the world. He learned that he was addicted to helping people get out of their destructive mindsets and look for the positives as a way of battling poverty, depression and suicide.
He was living out Jesus’ command to love one another. I don’t know if he is Christian or not, but he was living out the gospel in a positive way, sharing his fortune of a Creator-given beautiful voice to Canadians wherever he went. He was turning what had been a nightmare life into a dream to inspire and heal others.
Sometimes I think we get caught in the ruts of our nightmare lives and we need something to push us out of those ruts. Sometimes we get stuck in our pity parties, our resentments, our grudges and our fears and can’t see beyond our noses. Sometimes we are like a heart patient that needs an electrifying jolt to get our hearts started up again.
“Clear” someone yells, and the emergency staff bring down the paddles and our bodies leap up from the stretcher in the intense energy needed to get our hearts pumping again.
That’s what Peter’s dream is about, I think. He had watched Jesus eat with all kinds of people, Samaritans, Syrophonecians, tax collectors, prostitutes, drunks, lepers, the works. He had seen Jesus heal the servants and children even of Roman soldiers, the dreaded enemies. And yet Peter was stuck in a dangerous rut. In fact the whole Jesus movement was caught up in the concept that their faith was one more interpretation of Jewish faith. Jesus was Jewish, followed Jewish laws, quoted Jewish scriptures, followed Jewish traditions, and like all good Jewish men, went to temple to have arguments around Jewish interpretations. So were Peter, Paul, Mary, Martha and all the other disciples. Good Jewish people.
God didn’t want them falling into the same old rut. Hence the dream Peter has, or more precisely the nightmare. I can just picture the horror and disgust Peter felt at looking at that banquet spread on the sheet. Calamari, chocolate-covered ants, lobster, wichety grubs, probably still raw rather than deep-fried and coated in bread crumbs to disguise their appearance. Just because John the Baptist ate locusts, doesn’t mean that Peter was looking forward to grasshopper pie!
So Peter endures what for him must be a shockingly stomach-churning picture of a heavenly picnic and realizes that this means that he’s going to have to rethink who or what he hobnobs with and since Christianity has so many mentions of heavenly banquets and feeding of 500, socializing with those folks, their kind, was going to take a huge act of, well, guts!
This was a deep act of selfless love and acceptance, when you come to think of it, and is actually one of the reasons Christianity spread so far so fast in the early days. Thomas had to eat Butter Chicken and curry in India, two romans named Cyril and Methodius had to figure out holopchi and perehe, goodness knows what they thought of escargots when they first arrived in France, or even dim sum for that matter.
Somewhere along the way, though, we lost sight of the love part of that heavenly banquet, and instead of enjoying pemmican and bannock, we imposed carrots and Brussel sprouts. We forgot that Christianity is sitting down with our neighbors and eating what they put out in front of us. We forgot to watch the Holy Spirit saying, “Shut up Peter, you’ve talked enough, let me get to work in these folks before you mess it up with too many words.”
Imagine what it would be like if Peter hadn’t listened to his dream. I would probably be a high priestess performing human sacrifice on the solstice while wearing little more than mistletoe. We wouldn’t have roads or democracy unless we lived on the land of the Iroquois Confederacy. There would probably be no public schools, health care, employment insurance or shelters for battered women. But if we had kept the love of Jesus’ example firmly at the forefront of our thoughts, we would have never implemented Residential Schools, we would not use violence as a core tool for disciplining children or spouses, and our environment would probably be a lot healthier. Peter was shown that God made all the creatures of the world and they were not to be considered unclean. Would we be in such a position as we are today if we saw polar bears as God’s precious creation? When we have pictures of turtles who got caught in pop bottle holders and grew around them with a figure eight waist before it killed them, would we see them as God’s precious creation?
Jesus wanted his followers to set love as the core of how they chose to interact with each other and those that they would meet in the future. He wanted compassion as the core value to drive all our choices. He wanted love to be the compass that we use to guide all our interactions. Love, not an emotion, but an action. In the end, it’s not the what’s that are important, the what I do, the what I drive, the what I own, the what I have in the bank account. It’s the why’s and how’s. Why I support the Food for Thought, the M&S fund, the prayer shawl ministry, the PRAAC organisation, the AA folks, the people struggling with inadequate housing or poor parenting or suicide or depression. Why? Because we are creatures of love, made by the Great Love at the center of the universe. And when we remember that why, our how’s become simple and straightforward, we do it in love. To everyone, Jew and Greek, Status and immigrant and refugee, gay and straight and alphabet people, rich and poor alike. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. They will know we are Christians, after all, if our why and how are about love.