When I was a child, my brothers used to get together with some of our cousins to go to one of the family fields to play baseball, or to go camping, or to go help my father and uncles in the wood lot, or to go fishing. I remember that I always wanted to go with them. But they would say “No. You’re too little” or “No. You’re a girl” or just plain “No”. I hated it. I wanted to play with them. I wanted to be with them. I wanted to join the boys when they played baseball, even though I was not good at it. I wanted to join them when they would go out camping later in the summer and when they went fishing. The only thing I was ever able to join them on was the fishing.
I was curious. What were they doing on their camping trips, and when they played baseball? What were they doing when they went to the wood lot to chop trees with my dad and uncles that I could not go with them? It wasn’t fair. I wanted to be just like them. I loved my brothers, uncles, and cousins and wanted to be included. I understand now that they needed a break from their little sister, that there were no bathrooms on the camping trips, and that the wood lot was too dangerous for a little girl. I understand this now but at the time I just felt left out, unloved, and lonely.
In life there are always those things that are exclusive. Those groups that just have a knack for making others feel different, left out, unappreciated, and unwanted. For a long time, religion was very exclusive, religious leadership was even more exclusive, and even within congregations there was even more exclusion between factions. There is nothing like feeling as if you don’t belong in your own place of worship. This happened in the Jewish congregations and in the early church. There were people excluded because of their Jewish heritage and people excluded because of their Gentile heritage. What Peter was observing is that this exclusion had absolutely nothing to do with God or the message of Christ. This was and still is a symptom of humanity.
The message of Christ is really quite different. It is about not being exclusive, not putting prerequisites on candidates for inclusion. It is about extreme welcome and recognizing the love of God as moving beyond what someone looks like, where they are from, or what gender they are. All people are children of God and are thus included in the church family. Diversity is not bad but something to be celebrated in a community because with diversity we get to see different facets of who God is and how he is working in this world. Antoine de Saint-Exupery observed, “[The One] who is different from me does not impoverish me – [but] enriches me. Our unity is constituted in something higher than ourselves – in [humankind] … For no [one] seeks to hear [one’s] own echo, or to find [one’s] own reflection in the glass”.
We are each called into relationship with the holy. We are each called to seek God in all that we experience in life. But the best way to get to see God at work in the world around us, the best way to find God in our lives is through community and interactions with one another. There is much to learn from the life experiences of another person. This is why we see Peter reaching out to the Gentile population with the message of Christ because our differences reveal the multiple facets of God in this world. Through one another we can have a more life altering experience of God.
So we are called to be like Paul and Peter and to welcome those who are different than us. We are called to seek out what we can learn from one another. We are called to allow the community of faith to transform us into the people that God has created us to be. And in so doing, we are learning to work together for his message of hope and love, learning to be more open and compassionate to the needs of others.
Today we welcomed two new members into our church family. Today they have agreed to journey and search together with us learning how God is shaping our lives and our community for the future. Learning together with us about how God is calling us to work with him and for him. It is only together through unity that we get the most powerful faith experiences. Remember what our scriptures said for today, “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” Instead of questioning or judge people, we need to embrace them and share what we have with them as God asked Peter to do. Our challenge today and this week is to welcome the revelation of the Spirit through the people that we meet and to ask what God is trying to teach us in those moments. We are all apart of God’s family, we are all a part of a unique community of believers and we are called to welcome all people. Christianity and church are not exclusive clubs but rather a group of people always searching to make ourselves and others stronger through acceptance and welcome.
 Antoine De Saint-Exupery, 20th century.
 Acts 11: 17, RSV.
(Based on Acts 11: 1-18)