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Galatians 2:11-13 

 

"But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. [12] For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. [13] And the rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy." 

"Birds of a feather," they say, "flock together." It is natural for people who have something in common to want to hang out together and spend time with one another. I suppose there isn't anything sinister or evil about that, but there is a point where this attitude can cross the line of acceptability. Especially when it stops clustering people together and starts dividing them. We live in an age of enlightenment-where we strive for equality and celebrate diversity-something, I might add, is more easily said than done.

In an article for Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria berated Christian preachers for making anti-Muslim statements. He called their statements, "bigoted rantings by preachers." He wrote, "Falwell, Robertson and Graham's hate-filled campaign is lighting fires that could grow into a terrible conflagration." (Newsweek, October 21, 2002, p. 40) 

My immediate response to these words is to take offense. Part of my reaction is because of the climate since the terrorists attacks of 9-11, and I'm sure part of my reaction is because I am a conservative Christian preacher myself. I want to ask, Isn't Zakari's article the pot calling the kettle intolerant? Don't his words seem hate-filled? I guess it is wrong to criticize anyone in the Muslim world, but OK to have a field day on Christian preachers. 

But when I set aside my offense and think about his statement, another issue really emerges-it is hard, even for the most enlightened among us not to have prejudices of one sort or another. Do you? Be honest. Do you struggle with prejudice from time to time? I know I do. In this article, even while denouncing hate-filled communication, Zakaria communicated with harsh language. It is almost impossible to be prejudice free. Something Peter learned when Paul confronted him with his inappropriate behavior. Peter should have known better. 

In Acts 10:11-17 Peter had an awakening of sorts, the scripture says, "and he beheld the sky opened up, and a certain object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, [12] and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. [13] And a voice came to him, 'Arise, Peter, kill and eat!' [14] But Peter said, 'By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.' [15] And again a voice came to him a second time, 'What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.' [16] And this happened three times; and immediately the object was taken up into the sky. 

[17] Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be, behold, the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having asked directions for Simon's house, appeared at the gate;"

The vision was an effective means of communication on a couple of levels. One, Peter was hungry and could immediately relate to the food element of the vision, and second, the dietary law was something that was particularly important to Peter. Three times the voice in the vision told him to take and eat and three times Peter refused. Peter really didn't get the point of the whole vision until he came out of the vision and heard the Lord tell him to go to the house of a Gentile, with the escorts that were at the door. At that point, Peter had a spiritual awakening-he realized that God loved all people-even the Gentiles he'd learned to despise. So obediently, Peter went to witness to Cornelius and later to other Gentiles. He'd learned what Paul would later write: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28 NASB)

Yet, even after his awakening, Peter lapsed back into inappropriate behavior. When he was around the Gentiles, without his Jewish friends, he did not distinguish between clean and unclean food. But as soon as the Jews came around, he began to make the distinction. I don't know about you, but I'm just a little fatalistic at this point. I wonder if it is possible to change.

Did you hear about the church secretary in Moberly, Missouri who recently received a card, postmarked in 1949, and addressed to a minister at the church who had died the previous year. 

The mysterious card was from an evangelist and addressed to the Rev. Jack Stanton; it had a one-cent stamp, pencil writing, and no ZIP code. The note inside discussed topics such as meeting God, Armageddon, and the question of whether the atomic bomb would end the world.

The Postal Service does not know what kept the card from being delivered or where it had been for the past fifty years. They say there's a good chance the mystery will never be solved.

(Associated Press, January 29, 2003, Submitted by Jim Sandell.)

What is amazing about this news item isn't just how long it took for the Postal Service to deliver this piece of mail, but that the issues in the letter are still pressing questions in our time-the letter may have been delivered 50 years too late, but it could have been written last week.

It makes me think that some things will never change. Will there ever be a time when there will be peace between the nations and peace between people? That question has immediate and eschatological implications. This is where I leave my cynicism and become more optimistic. Yes, eschatologically, there will be a day when there will be peace. Isaiah 11:6-12 says, "And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, And the leopard will lie down with the kid, And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little boy will lead them. [7] Also the cow and the bear will graze; Their young will lie down together; And the lion will eat straw like the ox. [8] And the nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, And the weaned child will put his hand on the viper's den. [9] They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord As the waters cover the sea.

[10] Then it will come about in that day That the nations will resort to the root of Jesse, Who will stand as a signal for the peoples; And His resting place will be glorious.

[11] Then it will happen on that day that the Lord Will again recover the second time with His hand The remnant of His people, who will remain, From Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, And from the islands of the sea. [12] And He will lift up a standard for the nations, And will assemble the banished ones of Israel, And will gather the dispersed of Judah From the four corners of the earth." (NASB) 

The day will come when there is peace among the nations and people. Until then, we should be the peacemakers Jesus spoke about in Matthew 5:9 when He said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." (NASB)

We do that by remembering that God loves the world, not just people like us. "For God so loved the world..." (John 3:16 KJV) God created and loves all the people of the world. Even those who do not share your politics, religion and belief system. He loves them.

We also need to remember that Christ died for those he loved. John 3:16 continues "...that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 

Peter had to relearn something he'd learned on a roof top earlier in his life-he had to learn that God loves all people and that Christ died for their sins. I don't know, he may have had to relearn the lesson again down the line-that's the way it is with important lessons-sometimes we need reinforcement.

Is this a lesson you need to learn or relearn? Take a moment to examine your own prejudices. Confess them as sin, and pray for the insight to view those people you harbor prejudices against as people that God loves, and Christ died for.
 

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