All human institutions rely on rules to function. It’s just the way of things. Even those things that start as dynamic movements end up needing protocols and procedures, strategies and systems.
It’s no less true in the Church. As soon as any community grows to any size, it needs some sort of organisation to keep going. We saw two days ago how even the ‘model church’ quickly had to improve its structure in order to care for people on a long-term basis.
Beyond these human rules, however, lies something deeper too. God’s people had clear laws which determined the pattern of their life. Although we often characterise God’s law as a series of do’s and don’ts, in reality it was a whole vision of life – for individuals, for communities, for lifestyle, for worship.
And two of those rules which any orthodox Jew would observe strictly were: eating certain ‘clean’ foods, and never visiting the home of a non-Jew. Yet, here, in today’s passage, Peter is asked by God to do both of those things. What’s going on? Does God break his own rules?
Well, yes and no. Since Jesus’ resurrection we now live in ‘the age of grace’. Jesus himself taught that his new way fulfilled all the food laws (Mark 7:19), and now people of all cultures and races are welcomed into God’s kingdom. But Peter hadn’t yet grasped the full reality of what this meant. It took this extraordinary series of encounters in Acts 10 to change his mind, and open his eyes to the full reality of the glorious new kingdom of Jesus.
And, significantly, it was the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the non-Jewish Cornelius and his friends (v44) which confirmed to Peter that God was doing a new thing. Even in the new age of grace, God disrupted the ‘order of blessing’ which Peter himself had preached just a few chapters earlier in Acts 2:38-39. The Spirit was supposed to come after profession of faith in Jesus – here it came early!
So, to answer the question: no, God’s laws weren’t being broken but fulfilled. But yes, God was also disrupting the ‘natural order of things’ to do something new.
And this is still the way God works. This story is not a free ticket for a kind of ‘if it feels good, do it’ sort of spirituality. But it does remind us that God’s Spirit is wild like the wind, or like fire. It frequently disrupts our cosy human structures to do something new – for God’s greater glory.
In this unusual season we are feeling something of the effect of that. And like Peter, we may feel uncomfortable. But let’s also pray that, like Peter, we too can see where the Wind is blowing, that God’s creative, disruptive Spirit might birth extraordinary new things in our lives and in our churches today.