Adult Object Lesson: Acts 10 and Acts 11:1-18
God’s Boundaries/Our Boundaries
Today’s object is a balloon.
The story of Peter’s dream addresses the concept of boundaries and rules in the Church. No wonder it is not one of the more prominent Bible stories.
I like to point out that as described in the preceding chapter of Acts (Acts 10) this message came to Peter at an inattentive moment. Peter was waiting for his host to put dinner on the table. Peter’s best intention was to spend some time on the rooftop “patio” in deep prayer. His intentions were derailed by his human shortcoming. He fell asleep.
No worries! God can use our shortcomings. He came to Peter in a dream. A rather bizarre dream . . . the kind you don’t forget when you open your eyes.
Blankets fell from the sky with all kinds of disgusting animals emptying from them. And God told Peter to kill them and eat, despite the fact that Jewish law forbids it.
God challenged Peter to open his mind and expand his thinking.
We have a way of creating boundaries. Boundaries usually begin as a way of defining who we are. They help us sort out what we believe and the kind of people we want to have around us. We often have no trouble justifying the boundaries we create even in the face of absurdity.
“All Welcome,” as we’ve pointed out before, is a common notation on church signage, but it often comes with unspoken caveats. Those who don’t fit in will know it and disappear. No need to dwell on it.
That many churches are nearly empty might be a sign that we need to expand our thinking.
We create rituals with rules that can change only with divisive confrontation. These rules create boundaries that often blind us to possibility and mission opportunity. Wine or grape juice? Cups or chalices? Contemporary or traditional music? Pastor’s job, women’s job, or men’s job—who is responsible? Should we waste our money reaching people who cannot contribute or should we court families with two incomes?
The big rule on Peter’s mind (perhaps in his subconscious and hence God’s use of a dream) was “Jew or Gentile?”. To open the community to Gentiles meant accepting ways that violated Jewish law and custom. Food was an obvious symbol of the differences but circumcision was among others. It was a problem to sit at the same table!
As you talk about this Bible story, pause now and then in puff into your balloon. Your congregation will watch it expand as you talk about how Peter’s dream led him to greater acceptance and expanded the community of believers.
Discuss God’s message.
“What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”
As your balloon is about to pop, end with the thought: We will still create boundaries. It’s human nature. We will still argue about what God considers clean.
This could lead to many discussions on many topics (the age for communion, the role of women, the inclusion of modern customs, accepting diversity, the ordination of homosexuals).
Address what might be on your congregation’s mind.
You can let your balloon pop to make the message a bit more memorable. Or you can ask someone to come up and stick a pin in it.
The message of this lesson can be tied to the gospel message for today. Love one another. Period