Last weekend I preached about a dream experienced by the apostle Peter (Acts 10). It was a strange dream about a giant sheet lowering down out of heaven, on which all sorts and manner of animals stood. In the dream, Peter heard a voice command him to eat of the animals, but Peter objected, because the animals were unclean according to Jewish dietary rules. Then voice then said, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”
Peter woke from this strange dream and quickly realized that it wasn’t actually about animals or dietary laws. It was about identity and mission. Peter realized that he had been wrong in believing that Jesus came to save Israel only. God wanted him to understand that the salvation of the Christ was not just for some people, not just for Jews or religious insiders, but for all people. Salvation was like a huge banquet, and God wanted to make sure everyone was invited to the party. So soon after this dream, Peter and the other apostles began their mission to the Gentiles, and the Church was never the same.
In my sermon last weekend I reflected on how this story should inspire us to be more enthusiastic and committed evangelists. There are people out there who God wants to join the party – to experience the soul-changing and life-giving love of Christ – and, just like Peter, we need to wake up and start sharing that good news. If the love, mercy, and hope of Jesus is not just for some people but for all people, then it’s up to us to do some more inviting!
But the dream and its meaning are about more than just a creative way to get us to become better proclaimers of the Good News. The dream and its meaning are also about helping us to understand that God’s way of seeing people is often bigger than our way. We have a tendency to put boundaries around who is “clean” and “unclean,” who is worthy and unworthy, who is deserving and undeserving. And our boundaries are almost never of God. This weekend, Peter’s dream is reminding me of another grand dream, one that also challenged notions of insider and outsider. Martin Luther King, Jr. did as much to break down the walls that divide and enslave us as anyone in recent history, because he understood that God desires all people to experience dignity and justice, and all people are deserving of love and mercy.
I’m praying a lot these days for our nation and for our world, and especially for all those elected into positions of leadership and authority. I’m praying that they will start dreaming holy dreams – dreams like Peter’s, dreams like Dr. King’s. Dreams that show us just how big is God’s love and embrace for all people, regardless of their race, religion, gender, or orientation. Dreams that challenge old ideas and biases and assumptions. Dreams that grow our empathy and spiritual imaginations. Dreams that have the capacity to change the course of history.