Can We Have Coffee?
Our neighbors across the street have an invisible fence. I know this because they have two beautiful yellow labs. The dogs are now geriatric, but when they were younger, they would burst out of the front door in the morning and run around the yard, but they never came near the edge of their yard and they never, ever left it. At some point, they had learned that there was a boundary there. Perhaps they had a visual cue, maybe there were little flags placed in the yard along the line where the electric wire was run. Perhaps their collar gave them an audible cue, maybe it beeped whenever they approached the boundaries. Certainly, at some point they experienced the shock, the unpleasant tingling sensation of the electricity when they crossed the boundary. And they learned to stay in the yard.
In the passage from Acts, Peter is being questioned because Peter had gone beyond the invisible fence, clear out of the yard. The leaders of the church in Jerusalem, remember this is before Christianity and Judaism divided, so these were Jews who were followers of Jesus, they were concerned about Peter going beyond the boundary. Peter had been in Joppa and there he had a dream that a picnic blanket full of Fear Factor foods descended and spread out in front of him and a voice told him to “Rise, Kill and Eat.”
I looked up some of the Fear Factor food challenges, just to help us imagine Peter’s reaction to the idea of eating these animals. I can’t talk about them. That’s how Peter felt. These animals were not food! They were beyond the boundary. Peter reacted, “No, Lord, I will never put anything like that in my mouth!”
And the answer came, “Never consider unclean what God has made pure.”
Three times this scene played out in Peter’s vision. And then a knock came at the door, and three men were there, saying they had been sent bring him to Caesarea to a man named Cornelius. Cornelius was beyond the boundary. And Peter went, and he brought 6 others beyond the boundary with him into Cornelius’s house. Eating with somebody like Cornelius was taboo. That is what they need to talk to him about when he arrives in Jerusalem. He ate beyond the bounds. Cornelius was a Gentile. He wasn’t Jewish. He wasn’t circumcised. He didn’t follow the law. He was a Roman centurion. He also was a man of prayer, charitable, and kind. But Peter never should have found that out, because he should not have socialized with him, and he went into his house and he ate with him.
Rev. Richard Game is an Epicopal priest in Dunwoody, Georgia, near Atlanta. He recalls getting a phone call about 9:30 one morning. His dog had escaped their invisible fence. It had kept her inside their yard for many years, but today she had broken through. Something unusual had happened; it was the first day of what the news media would come to call Snowmageddon 2011. Atlanta would be shut down for a week. And Rev. Game’s dog? It wasn’t the first snow she had experienced. It wasn’t the first time the boundary of the yard was obscured by a blanket of white. So, why had she broken through the boundary this time when she hadn’t before? “Well, this time school had closed. And that morning children – including [Rev. Game’s] – were whizzing down the best sledding run in the neighborhood, which [happened] to be located in their side yard, just beyond the boundary of the invisible fence.”
It was the children that caused her to cross the boundary. And once she was across the boundary, she was playing in the snow with the kids, running and romping, and chasing – her joy was visible. And the incredible thing is that once we endure the momentary discomfort of crossing that boundary, relationships and great joy await us, too.
Because the truth is, we all are bound by invisible fences. We have dividing lines between “us” and “them,” “clean” and “unclean” even today. We have taboos that if they were placed in front of us on a picnic blanket, we would cringe. We have people we don’t socialize with; we don’t eat with; we don’t reach out to across the boundaries because it is uncomfortable.
As Doug was planning for the Peacemaking Retreat last month, a question came to the surface. The question is “Can we have coffee?” Can we sit down to a cup of coffee with someone who differs from us and talk about politics, about religion, about lifestyle? Can we listen to one another? Can we share our point of view in a non-defensive way? Can we discuss without trying to change? It is hard to get the courage to break through that invisible fence – whether it is to invite someone who is a supporter of a different political party to coffee, or a person who is a member of a denomination or faith tradition, or a person whose culture or lifestyle is different from yours – it is hard to gather the courage to break through that invisible fence.
The joy of the Kingdom of God lies outside the fence.
We, like Peter, are reminded of the words of the Lord, “John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” If God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when WE believed in Jesus, who are we to try to limit God?
As you go into the world, I invite you to consider the question, “Can we have coffee?” If you have an invisible fence that you have been hesitant to cross, I invite you to take a “Can we have coffee?” button to encourage you to reach beyond the boundary and start with a simple invitation. “Can we have coffee?” Can I see the face of Christ in you? Will I let you see the face of Christ in me? May you have the courage to break through the invisible fence to the joy of the Kingdom of God.