Summary: A sermon on tolerance of other people and other faith traditions
During the 1980s, there were a slew of films that fit the genre called “coming of age” movies. These were movies about kids in their late teens or early twenties who, in the course of a two hour film, learned valuable lessons about life and about themselves and became better people because of their new insights. A few examples of these movies include The Breakfast Club, St. Elmo’s Fire (both had excellent soundtracks, I might add) and The Karate Kid. However, I think this genre, these coming of age movies actually started to become more prominent with a 1979 movie called Breaking Away. Breaking Away wasn’t a real flashy movie. It didn’t have any really big stars or expensive special effects. It was just a good movie and it was nominated for 5 Academy Awards and its writer took home the Oscar for best screenplay. Many later films copied its premise of the poor kids, who were the underdogs, overcoming the indignities and injustice of the spoiled rich kids.
Breaking Away is set in Bloomington, Indiana and centers on a group of four 19 year old working class boys who, for lack of a better term, are a bunch of slackers. They’ve been out of high school for a year and can’t seem to figure out what they want to do with their lives. They never have any money, but they’re not really interested in working, and they seem to spend a great deal of time talking about their dreams while swimming at the abandoned limestone quarry. One of the boys, named David, has dreams of one day being a professional bicycle racer. In fact, he is obsessed with bicycle racing, especially with a team from Italy. But his parents want him to quit wasting his time and find a real job or go to school.
Along with their other problems, the boys are made to feel inferior by the students at the nearby Indiana University— you know, the rich, spoiled college kids. The college kids call the townsfolk “cutters”— a term originally used to describe the people who worked in the quarry who cut the limestone used to build the college. The term is now used as a derogatory slur aimed at the people of the town who the college kids see as socially, economically, and culturally inferior. Well, as with most of these types of movies, the rich kids always seem to get the upper hand on the unsophisticated people of the town and, of course, the boys are often frustrated that they can never beat those rich college snobs. Tensions between the townsfolk and the college are starting to run high. But, in an effort to smooth out the relations between the college and the town, the president of the university decides to allow a team from Bloomington to compete in the “Little 500”— an annual bicycle race usually reserved for the various groups on campus. When the president tells a group of frat boys what his plans are, one of them angrily protests, “But, you can’t do that! They’re not good enough!” // That one line, in a scene that lasts all of 20 seconds, sums up the attitude of many of the college kids with regard to the “cutters.” They are smarter, more sophisticated and, therefore, better than the people in the town. This also seems to be the attitude of the Jewish Christians toward the Gentile Christians in today’s scripture. The Jewish Christians follow the law. They follow the dietary restrictions and have been circumcised. So, they are better than the Gentile Christians.
The attitude of the Jerusalem Christians really bothers me. Of course, we are reading this scripture with the eyes of 21st century Disciples of Christ, so most of us can’t even comprehend how one group of Christians would even question the work of the Holy Spirit within another group of Christians. But, what bothers me even more is the heading for this particular passage. It is titled, “Peter Explains His Actions.” Again, the sensibilities of 21st century Disciples of Christ, but why would someone have to explain their actions when what they did led someone to a relationship with Christ?
But, you know, I guess I shouldn’t be so hard on the Jerusalem Christians. After all, all of the disciples, and the other people who followed Jesus, were Jewish— raised to obey the Law of Moses and follow the traditions of the Temple. They had been living this way all of their lives and it was probably hard to break old habits. In addition, if we look at the story of Cornelius’ conversion, which is what Peter is talking about in today’s scripture, we can see that Peter also had a problem believing that the “godless” Gentiles could actually receive the Holy Spirit just like the “chosen” people of God.