Have you ever been rejected? Like, really rejected? Have you ever shown up at a party, a meeting, or (worst of all!) a church, and everyone seemed to be sending you not-so-subtle cues that you were not welcome there?
Rejection is difficult and yet, it’s an almost universal experience. In fact, if we haven’t experienced rejection, maybe we aren’t trying enough new things or meeting enough new people. The church, however, should never be a place of rejection.
And yet, rejection has been part of the Christian church since the beginning because, well … people are people.
In Acts 10, the Apostle Peter—one of the leaders in the early church—hears God say several times, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane” (Acts 10:9-16). As God says this, he shows Peter a variety of food, including food that was prohibited by the Levitical laws Peter lived by.
As Peter is puzzling this out, trying to understand what God means, he gets word to go to Cornelius’s house. Cornelius is a Gentile (meaning he was not Jewish) but he worships the God of the Jewish people (Acts 10:22). When Peter arrives at Cornelius’s house, there are a lot of people gathered, none of whom are Jewish. Peter tells them, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile” (Acts 10:28). Peter states it plainly: I’m in the in-crowd and you are not. But having just had a powerful vision of God’s inclusive and expansive nature, Peter doesn’t stop there. He goes on to say, “but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean” (Acts 10:28).
When Peter sees people gathered together, eager to love God and learn more, he understands that his vision was not just about food, it was about people, too.
Before long, Peter launches into a sermon. And it’s a good one, too! He opens with, “God shows no partiality” and he goes on to talk about his personal experience with Jesus. But just as he’s really getting started, do you know what happens? God interrupts him! “While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word” (Acts 10:44).
A less humble preacher might be inclined to think they were really something, as if their preaching was what caused the Holy Spirit to fall on the congregation, but Peter knew better. It’s almost as if God was impatient with Peter’s non-stop talking and opted for a little less talk and a lot more action (a la Toby Keith).
The disciples who had come with Peter “were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles” (Acts 10:45). Peter stopped his sermon right then and there and asked, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:47).
Even though Peter just preached “God shows no partiality,” he still seems a little surprised by the movement of the Spirit. He sees God’s lack of partiality becoming reality before his very own eyes.
Since the days of Peter, good God-fearing church folks have tried to find ways to exclude people from the church. I guess sometimes we get confused and think we’re the ones who decide who’s in and who’s out. When we do, may God be gracious enough to interrupt us and show us (again) that we “should not call anyone profane or unclean,” because “God shows no partiality.”
Have you been rejected by a church? Do you feel that God has rejected you? Or, have you someone who has rejected others because you thought God needed to be defended? Tell me about it in the comments, in an e-mail, on Facebook, or on Twitter. I love hearing your stories.
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