Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; *
he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty savior, *
born of the house of his servant David. (BCP 92)
God has come to his people and set them free
The Spirit includes in our fellowship people we normally wouldn’t include, and the apostles proclaim inclusion and freedom.
Peter has a vision from God that leads him to understand God is doing a new thing, inviting him to move beyond the familiar boundaries of Jewish law and practice.
In response to that vision, he follows God’s leading — “the Spirit told me to go with them, and to make no distinction between them and us” — and goes to the house in Caesarea where some Gentiles are gathered.
And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” (Acts 11:15-17)
Peter’s story convinces the leaders of the Jerusalem church. “When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life'” (Acts 11:18).
God has included in our fellowship people we were once commanded to avoid, and the leaders of the church recognize that God is doing a new thing.
It’s a good start, but it doesn’t last very long.
People don’t want the freedom God offers
It’s no accident that the lectionary appoints the passage from Ezekiel for Morning Prayer on this Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul.
Like Peter and Paul themselves, the early church struggles between law and grace, and in fact we still struggle with it to this day. We refuse to hear the message of inclusion and freedom.
Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord GOD.” Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them (Ezekiel 2:3-5).
It is, however, a lovely coincidence that the lesson appointed for this Monday morning (Proper 8) in the normal lectionary tells exactly the same story of rebelliousness.
Samuel summoned the people to the Lord at Mizpah and said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all the kingdoms that were oppressing you.’ But today you have rejected your God, who saves you from all your calamities and your distresses; and you have said, ‘No! but set a king over us.’” (1 Samuel 10:17-19)
We do not want the freedom God intends for us, the special covenant relationship with God that saves us. We want what everyone else has.
So Samuel gives us Saul, whom he has already warned us about and (with God’s grudging permission) anointed as our king.
But (what a bunch of jerks!) we don’t even want the king that we chose instead of God’s freedom.
Then Samuel sent all the people back to their homes. Saul also went to his home at Gibeah, and with him went warriors whose hearts God had touched. But some worthless fellows said, ‘How can this man save us?’ They despised him and brought him no present. But he held his peace. (1 Samuel 10:25-27)
Can this man save us? Of course not, as Samuel has been trying to tell us.
For freedom Christ has set us free
Our apostles (whom we call bishops) still have to beat their heads against our stubbornness.
Like Paul before them, they have to keep reminding us not to slip backward into law, into exclusion, into wanting what everyone else has — a secular king who will enslave and exploit them.
We need our apostles to remind us to keep pressing forward into inclusion and freedom.
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)