“If God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, then who am I? Could I stand in God’s way?” (Acts 11:17, CEB)
The most difficult part of making changes in our lives is that our communities do not always change with us. Our friends do not always change with us. Our family members do not always change with us. When we first begin to make a change, we may feel excited about it. We may become passionate about what we are learning, and we want to learn more. We want to share it with other people so that they might have their eyes opened, too. This excitement may last for a little while, or even a long while, but then the resistance comes. We may even face open hostility from others we once thought were our friends.
When disagreements arise, we can be tempted to backtrack. Moving from one way of thinking and believing to another is painful. In an effort to self-protect and stop the pain, we may be tempted to take it all back and pretend we never had our eyes opened in the first place. Rather than push forward and hold firm, we may try and take steps to make it all go away.
Peter had a vision that challenged everything he thought he believed. Three times God told Peter that he shouldn’t call profane what God had called clean, but even still Peter was nervous about going to eat with Cornelius, a Gentile. Yet, once Peter arrived at Cornelius’ house, ate with Cornelius’, and shared about Jesus with him, Peter could no longer deny that the Spirit was with Cornelius’ household. He had seen it. He had experienced it. Peter could no longer believe that Gentiles had to fully embrace the law before they could know God. I imagine Peter was first confused, and then excited. I can almost hear the light bulbs turning on in Peter’s head when he said, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34, NRSV).
But, only one chapter later, Peter is confronted by the reality that although he has changed, the apostles and believers in Judea had not. Peter went from against meeting with a Gentile to convinced that the Spirit had been given to the Gentiles, but his friends and community were not buying it.
The encouragement of Pentecost in this story is that Peter did not retreat from what was right, but he continued following the movement of the Spirit. Unfortunately, in many of our lives, this has not been our experience. We have retreated from what we knew was right because we were afraid of the consequences. We have faltered instead of speaking up because we didn’t want to lose face, or lose friends, or damage our reputations. We have wounded people by our fear and self-preservation, all the while the Spirit was promising to go with us if we just wouldn’t let fear drive our lives. Instead of stepping into the future with the Spirit going before us, we retreated, and we wounded people and the church by doing so.
Austin Channing Brown wrote about this as she talked about what happens far too often when institutions are called on their promises. We say we want to be a church or an institution where all people belong, but as soon as someone says, “I am excluded,” we don’t want to hear it. We make excuses. We retreat, not because we don’t believe that we are excluding people, but because we are afraid of what will happen if we move forward.
Brown writes this: “Rather than jumping at the opportunity to bring in a new leader, or to make changes to the chapel service, or to add to the curriculum, or to create a new center or department… there is instead a retreat, a pumping of the brakes, usually introduced with the words: I’m not sure we have enough buy-in yet. I’m not sure the student body / congregation will understand. This just isn’t the right time. We have so much that we are juggling right now. There are competing values at play here. Next time. Next time.Next time. Next time.”
The Holy Spirit isn’t waiting for next time.
The Spirit is ready now.
Far too often, we are the ones who are afraid to move forward, and for entirely selfish reasons.
Peter stood to lose credibility and authority, but to have backed down would have been wrong. He knew that the Spirit was already moving amongst the Gentiles, not because of anything he had done, but because of what God had already been doing. To back down from that would have been to save himself the conflict, but what good is it if we “gain the whole world and forfeit [our] life?” (Mark 8:36, NRSV).
Friends, the Spirit who is going before us did not promise us an easy road, but we are promised that if we keep on walking it, we are never alone as we go.
God of changing hearts and lives, sometimes the changes you are making in me are not popular with my friends, family, and community. Give me the courage to be faithful to what you are calling me to do. Amen.
-Rev. April Emick Fiet
April Emick Fiet is a pastor, author, wife, mom, and lover of words. She finds inspiration under the big Nebraska skies, in the garden, in the yarn aisle, and in the backyard with her chickens. April is active on Facebook and Twitter, and she writes for At the Table with April Fiet (http://aprilfiet.com). Her first book The Sacred Pulse was published in 2021.