From Temple to Tribe

5/19/19: Easter 5
Scripture : The Acts of the Apostles 11:1-18

Inspired by an idea of Temple Christianity and Tribal Christianity shared in this Sanctuary space during African-American History Month several years ago by our own Rob Rivers – a testimony that can still be found on our website under

About Us: Members Stories


If our church were to disappear tomorrow … what would our wider community be missing? …

An important question. An essential question. And not a question we might think to ask ourselves.

As you know, following Worship today, we are holding a capital campaign information lunch downstairs in our Fellowship Hall: catered – a taco bar, of sorts! All are welcomed to join us – members and friends alike – free will donations.  

It’s our first capital campaign in two decades. And our Session along with our capital campaign leaders – Joan Kloepfer, Paul Dudek, and Brooke Christian – are excited to unveil what this one is all about. 

Who here today recalls a mini-capital campaign of sorts some 35 years past here – a campaign called Celebration 360? … Two or three of us were around then!

Listen carefully to the purpose of that campaign as framed by the long-departed campaign chair in the lead sentence: “Two hundred sixty years is a long time … yet our congregation has been ministering to the needs of the church since 1723!”


“Ministering … to the needs … of the church.”

I am old enough to recall that, in the mid-80s, that’s what most of our churches seemed to be about. Ministering to the needs of the church. Worship attendance was more robust; church programs overflowed.

Ministering to the needs of the church. The many activities within the body. The Temple. Only natural, this focus.

Today – as we lean forth in four short years into the fourth century of our congregation – we find ourselves between Temple and Tribe. Between this sacred place and space … a tribe known as the people of Bethesda. A community with a downtown now officially on steroids.


From Temple to Tribe. It’s the transition the first Christians faced as told in today’s lectionary scripture from The Acts of the Apostles.

Our scripture from Acts today tells the story of the first big bridge constructed between the first small church and the big Roman world all around it: between Temple and Tribe. The first big bridge between their Temple of Judaism and the universal tribe of God’s kin-dom: the unpure, the unwashed, the unclean outside their synagogue doors.

For Peter and his Jesus-following company had been continuing their lifelong practice of worshiping in the Jerusalem Temple and the surrounding new worship places called synagogues each Sabbath day. They would only then meet – later on the Sabbath day and at other times – as a class-diverse tribe that shared all things among one another as the body of their risen rabbi, Jesus, their Christ. 

And then, today, it happened: the apostles and believers all through Judea that surrounded Jerusalem heard that the non-Jews – that is, the Gentiles – had received God’s word!

The Gentiles! My God, these people were not marked by God – not circumcised! We’re talking about Peter’s peter here! We’re talking about the male-dominance of the Temple and the synagogue! We’re talking about eating of four-footed animals – and eating “that” with “them”! Those people! Another tribe, altogether!

And then, Peter’s vision: the sheet with four corners – symbolizing the known and the unknown world: not just their Jewish own. The four-footed beasts – “of the earth”, he emphasizes: not just of Jerusalemites, or of Judeans surrounding. Not just of U.S. citizens who arrogate to themselves the name “Americans.” But the four corners and the four-footed of the earth: the uncircumcised, the unclean, those who had crossed the border of their purity code. And now, Peter claims, our Temple borders are crossing into them.

We know the rest of the story: how Gentiles like us were introduced to a Jewish Lord. The first bridge crossing from Temple to human Tribe was a story so important, two entire chapters in The Acts of the Apostles are devoted to its telling and retelling. Today, we hear the second chapter, the retelling: the one from Peter’s perspective. The Temple and synagogue perspective. From those who would – as we and most churches seemed to do in the 1980s – “minister to the needs of the church.” 

Yet, in the chapter previous, we hear the retelling from a perspective now opened to visions from another tribe: not just Jewish Peter’s, but from Gentiles from Caesarea. Caesarea Maritima, it was: the place where a great Roman legion was housed. To the tribe of a Gentile man not named here, but identified in the chapter previous as Cornelius, a centurion. A Roman military officer. From the Tribe known as … The Oppressor.

As the apostles and their prominent women compatriots must have said to one another when a Jewish oppressor of theirs named Saul – also known as Paul – had received his vision, only two chapters before: “Really, God? Really? Why does it have to be Cornelius? Include him in our church? First Saul – now him? Another oppressor? Why does it have to be … him?”

From Temple to Tribe. A tribe that knows no borders – except the borders that separate us from repentance from our exclusive hearts. Repentance that leads to life beyond any and all of our safe and accommodating and privileged bubbles.

Today, at our capital campaign information session, we will hear of a movement in our church similar to many churches all around us. We will hear of a movement from Temple-ministry – ministering to the needs of the congregation foremost – to a Tribal-ministry – ministering with the needs of our surrounding community foremost. 

Ministering with the needs of a community that crowds all around us: from our church perimeters to our parking spaces. In the words of the hymn of old …

Where cross the crowded ways of life,

Where sound the cries of race and clan,

Above the noise of selfish strife,

We hear Thy voice, O Son of Man.


From Church Temple … to Community Tribe. 

In the name of the Son of Man – the Offspring of Humanity – the New Human Being: Jesus, the Christ of Jewish peasant and Roman centurion both …

Let us be sent today: from privileged Temple to scandalous Tribe. Amen.