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By Meg Jenista
In Acts 10, we hear the incredible story of an afternoon siesta on the roof. Peter dreams of a great white sheet being lowered from heaven. It descends until Peter is at last able to peer over its hem. Inside are all kinds of animals – tasty chickens and cows, along with forbidden pigs, reptiles and birds.
Peter hears a voice from heaven: “Get up Peter, kill and eat.”
And Peter is offended! With injury in his voice, Peter tells God: “Oh no, sir! I’m not like that. I know the rules. I keep the rules. I would never eat those filthy and forbidden animals. Even fried chicken or a T-bone steak is out of the question now that they’ve been tainted by association with those other, unclean animals.”
And you know what is so tricky about that? Peter gave the right answer. For thousands of years, Peter’s people have known that there are animals and associations that are simply off limits. But, in response to giving “the right answer,” all Peter receives is rebuke: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
This vision repeats itself on loop three times. Three times Peter is commanded: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” Rising from his nap with more questions than answers, Peter follows God’s Spirit into the unknown.
And will we follow the Spirit in unexpected ways? Will we open our arms to the unfamiliar? Even if it means reconsidering “the right answers”?
At “The Festival of Homiletics” some years ago, Nadia Bolz-Weber gave us this analogy for the changing work of the church: We’re walking around downtown and, all of a sudden, we realize, “You know, there just aren’t as many phone booths around today as there used to be. Used to be there was a phone booth on every corner. Used to be a necessary part of urban lives. But golly if they’ve all mostly disappeared. Huh,” we conclude. “It must be because people don’t use phones anymore.”
“But, man, phones are great! It’s a shame so many people are missing out. I wonder…if we decorated phone booths differently or engineered them to be more welcoming spaces? Maybe we could invite people to drink coffee in phone booths and they’d think that was really hip. Maybe these phone booths could have smoke machines and stage lighting with different colored gels. Cause if people aren’t showing up in phone booths anymore, it must be that they don’t care about phones.”
Plenty of churches have moved into the phone-booth-decorating business. For the last three decades, that’s been “the right answer” in the church growth movement – which, got somehow tangled up to mean the same thing as the spread of the Gospel, the coming of Christ’s Kingdom. But maybe that isn’t “the right answer” anymore.
If you are paying attention you know that, along with the decline of phone booths, there is a rise in public places offering charging stations. Places where people can plug in their smart phones and laptops and tablets and readers. We don’t need better phone booths–designated places where people go in to hear the Gospel. We need to become charging stations out in the world.
Since the Spirit is already at work in people’s lives. Since God is already in communication with people. Since the Spirit is equipping us and pushing us out into the world, we are called to be outlets and charging stations in our schools and neighborhoods. In our homes and workplaces and in our city. Rising from our pews, even with more questions than answers, will we follow God’s Spirit into the unknown?
Meg Jenista is the pastor of DC Christian Reformed Church in Washington, DC.