When do traditions become law?
One of my favourite authors is Robert Rankin. He writes very funny (well, I think so anyway) “Far Fetched Fiction” which is full of nonsense with streams of running gags all the way through. One phrase he uses a lot to describe why one of the characters does something a little odd is that it is “a tradition or an old charter or something.”
I often wonder what it would be like to be a complete stranger walking into a church. What would they make of the singing? Or the praying? Or all the other stuff we say and do? Much of what we say, sing and do is connected right back to the things the early church did. Some of it has become part of our traditions in the relatively recent past. There is always a blend of new and old ways of worshipping God that is healthy and appropriate. Some stuff we do, though, is not so good. We can get very hung up on what is “a tradition or an old charter or something” and force others to do what we do in the way we do it not because it’s honouring to God but because it’s the way we want it to be. This is not how God wants us to live. That is not welcoming to strangers and is not how Jesus wants us to live.
So how do we know how Jesus wants us to live? Todays passage shows us some key ways. Firstly, God speaks to us through dreams and visions. Cornelius had a clear vision with an instruction to meet with Peter. Sometimes (although not that often in my experience) God speaks to us so clearly that we can do nothing but act on it straight away.
Secondly, Jesus will gently correct our behaviour and point us in the right direction. The Jews had many Laws in place about what they could and could not eat and some had placed more importance on sticking to these, rather than knowing the God who gave the laws. Things were done in Gods name that were really just traditions or an old charter or something. In Peter’s dream, he said to the Lord (verse 14) “‘Surely not, Lord!…I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’” but Jesus says to him “‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’’ (verse 15). It’s not that Peter wasn’t trying to do the right thing, just that he might have got the wrong end of the stick and needed to be shown the right way. Remember that, in Matthew 5:17 Jesus said “’Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.'”
Thirdly, God doesn’t reveal everything straight away but only when it is the right time. Peter again, in verse 34 speaks about this. He had heard from God but didn’t understand it all. Now, in the meeting with Cornelius he says” ‘I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” Sometimes it takes a while for everything click into place but if we keep ourselves close to God and ready to hear from Him by His Spirit then we will see the amazing things that He does today.
Lord Jesus, speak to us today we pray. Show us dreams and visions of how we should live and who you want us to meet to share with them your Good News. Amen.
What are the dreams and visions that you have had about how God might want you to live? Share them with someone you trust who can help you make sense of them. If you can’t think of any, pray that God will speak with you and show you His way.