Acts 10 is a story where we find Peter, Jesus’ best friend disciple, post-resurrection. He has taken the Great Commission seriously, and he has hit the streets outside of Jerusalem. In fact, the story finds him sitting on a roof top in Joppa, praying. It was noon, and he was hungry. But while he sits there, Peter has a vision. He sees a white sheet with animals of all kinds leaping, slithering, and crawling. Then he heard the words, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” By law, Peter was prohibited to eat outside of Jewish customs, and this vision confused Peter. That is until he meets Cornelius.
That is the twist in the story here: Peter meets Cornelius. Upon their encounter with one another, Peter understands the vision – the vision was not concerned about his hungry appetite, or about Jewish food laws, or what Peter could or could not eat. His vision is about how God’s love is for all people, whether they are Jewish or Gentle. In fact, he says: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality” His new enlightenment goes completely against the prevailing Jewish thought of the time that God showed favoritism towards the Jewish people. Now, Peter is stating that all people BELONG to God.
But what does it mean to B.E.L.O.N.G. to God in light of this story? B.E.L.O.N.G. is an acronym that says: B – Believe, E – Everyone, L – Love, O – One, N – Never, G – God.
A more spelled out understanding of B.E.L.O.N.G. goes like this:
B stands for Believe.
This is why Cornelius is important. He is mysterious character that only appears in Acts 10. He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. He believed in the God of his vision – God who called him by name and gave him work to do for the sake of God’s kingdom. My thoughts are on my own faith to believe. Do I believe that God can show up in my dreams? Give me a modern day vision? How would I respond? Would a vision for me be a wish come true or my worst nightmare?
Statement: We Believe…
E stands for Everyone.
God’s love shows no partiality, but that indeed God’s love is for everyone. Peter in his sermon says, “Jesus Christ – he is the Lord of all!” which means Jesus is love for all people. There are no distinctions to be made here. Jesus is not like a restrictive diet or an incomplete meal. There are no exclusions of who is in or out of God’s love. Peter is quite clear that all means all. In our congregations, we receive holy communion, a complete meal kit for our soul. Bread and wine, the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose very words said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for all for the forgiveness of sins.” All means all. The question is can people shoulder it? Can people drop their biases, their distinctions, their exclusions, their restrictions and stand shoulder to shoulder at the Lord’s table with everyone?
Statement: We Believe that Everyone…
L stands for Love.
How can it not be love? Peter noted in his sermon that the Gentiles received the same Holy Spirit as the Jewish people did. That means God loved and blessed the Gentiles just as God loved and blessed the Jewish people. Because God is love. It’s just that simple.
Statement: We Believe that Everyone is Loved…
O stands for One.
Peter preached about the One. One God, one son, one death, one resurrection, one baptism, one forgiveness, one spirit, one salvation – all for one people. The question then becomes what do we have to offer the One? Well, we have only one life with one heart – one heart that when filled with the one spirit is capable of believing, is capable of inclusion of everyone, is capable of loving.
While I was driving home the other day, you have to know I am slow driver, I received the one finger from someone. Now, I just happened to be thinking about this story when that happened, and thought “the One who loves me, loves that one, too.” So what if we approached each day with that thought, “The One who loves me, loves that one, too.” as a sort of mantra? How might that change our hearts to love and serve the One?
Statement: We Believe that Everyone is Loved by the One…
N stands for Never – Never stops [fill in the blank with a gerund] us.
My mother used to say, “Never say never!” What she meant was the things that we think we would never do, we often end up doing. But that’s not how it works with God. God promised never to flood the earth again. God promised never to leave us. God promised to never stop [People in the congregation will shout out their favorite gerund – loving, creating, caring, abiding, adoring] us. Peter preached the promises of God as he recounted what happened to Jesus in Jerusalem.
Statement: We Believe that Everyone is Loved by the One who Never stops [fill in the blank with a gerund]
G stands for God
As a missionary in Madagascar, I learned the Malagasy language. With English, our brains are taught subject + verb to make a complete sentence. But the Malagasy language puts whatever is being emphasized – an action, the subject, or a direct object – at the end of the sentence. The last word is most important word in the sentence.
Statement: We Believe that Everyone is Loved by the One who Never stops [fill in the blank with a gerund] is God
God at the end of this sentence is what is most important – God is the source of belief, everyone, love, never stopping [fill in the blank with a gerund]. God is the One, and we B.E.L.O.N.G. to God.