Forming Faith Blog

Radical Inclusion (Acts 10)

The people of Israel were called to be separate from other nations. But, as we see in the story of Peter and Cornelius, God now has something different in mind: radical inclusion.

God's radical inclusion of all in Peter's vision of food (image of traditional Filipino dishes).

As we are continuing in the Easter season, we now encounter a story that exemplifies the Great Commission. God calls us to take God’s greatest promise in Jesus and share it with the world.

A Jewish Beginning

This story is a key event in the life of the early church. Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, the fulfillment of the promises God made to the chosen, Jewish, people. The first followers of Jesus were Jewish, and, with few exceptions, Jesus only ministered to Jews. Christianity (before it was so named) was a Jewish movement. But, the question was: what about the Gentiles? Would this Jesus movement be marked by exclusion or inclusion?

Set Apart

One of the themes in the Hebrew Bible is that Israel was God’s chosen people, and they were not to be like the people around them. This separateness was a defining characteristic (or was supposed to be) of a holy people. This specialness was not intended to promote the exclusion and condemnation of people based on national origin. This nation was to be a holy priesthood for the sake of the world.

Covenantal Community

God’s chosen people were unique in that they were included in the covenant God made at Mount Sinai. More than lineage, it was this covenantal community that made the nation separate. People were born into the nation, but it was the covenant, represented by the Torah, and fulfilled by obedience to it, that made them part of God’s community, God’s kingdom.

Us vs. Them

However, like with many differences between people, this distinction became clearly about “us” versus “them.” In our time, there is a lot of division related to race, nationality, immigration status, gender identity, sexual orientation, political views, and most other differences we humans can distinguish (or create). Even, and especially, this exclusion can be found in religion, within Christianity, and in our own congregations.

Radical Inclusion

But then we hear the Great Commission in Matthew, echoed in the commission given by the ascending Jesus in Acts 1:8. God is expanding the covenantal community, the kingdom of God, to include all people, Jew or Gentile. This radical inclusion contradicted the culture of exclusion that defined God’s people for so long. Something had to change.

And, so something did. God chose Peter, the leader of the renewed Twelve, to receive a vision and connect with a Gentile. This Gentile is even a military representative of the Roman Empire that was oppressing the Jews. God created a connection that made clear that the expansion of the kingdom and the radical inclusion of all people takes precedence over those things that separate us.

A Multisensory Feast

One of the great things about this story of Peter’s vision and the Roman centurion is the teaching opportunities it affords. A variety of foods is the content of the vision itself. Food is a favorite topic of our young disciples (and our older ones as well). Bring this story to life and engage the senses of your participants by including food in your faith formation. Have small groups discuss the oddest food they have eaten or heard of. Display pictures of different foods. Or, arrange a variety of dishes from around the world for participants to try!

God’s peace to you,

Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

Note: This blog post is edited from the original written for May 5, 2019.

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: September 11 to May 28), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download a free activity “No Partiality Collage” from our Living the Word: Youth (NL) (Year 1, 2022-2023 and Year 2, 2023-2024) curriculum. This activity can be adapted for use by households, groups, and classes of any size or age range.

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