June 18, 2023
• Rev. Dr. Jevon Caldwell-Gross
At some point in our lives we all needed to be
liberated from something. Juneteeth gives us
the space to celebrate the freedoms in our
nations history and invites us to think about the
conversations around liberation and
acceptance that still need to be discussed. In
fact, the church was having similar
conversations as it was trying to figure out
what it meant for them to be the church. They
didn’t know it at the time, but the church had to
go through its own journey of liberation.
So, our text takes us to one the most influential
turning points within the early church. We
often think of the Israelites going into the
promised land, or the three years of Jesus
ministry, the resurrection, Pentecost, or the
calling of Paul. But this too was a pivotal
moment that altered the direction of the church
forever. Without Acts 10, the church would very
different. There is no St. Luke’s. There is no
United Methodist church. I would even go so
far as to say that I think what Peter did in Acts
is one of the reasons why he was chosen by
Jesus to lead the church. Crossing racial and
cultural thresholds was one of the most
influential and impactful things Peter did as a
leader. It took the church from this local
movement to a global phenomenon. It took
faith from a limited Jewish expression to a
multicultural and multilingual community that
would forever change the world.
And it began with a mindset. It didn’t start with
Peter sitting down mapping out a detailed plan.
In fact, it started with a Gentile named
Cornelius. It started with a mindset of someone
that was willing to believe in his own liberation.
Cornelius teaches us that Freedom first begins
with the self. (slide) It is the courage, the will,
and the decision to define oneself apart from
what others have said, thought, and believed.
Think about this for a moment. Cornelius was
surrounded by a culture that labled him
unclean. For generations, this was the
message he would have heard from this faith
community. He would hear it on the streets. He
could not associate with them. He could not
enter their temples. Someone would have
been labeled unclean just by simply
associating with him.
And yet, the text starts off with a glowing
recommendation of Cornelius. He’s God
fearing. He is respected in the Jewish
community. He gives to those in need. This is
a stand up guy!
Something is off! How does one move past all
of the cultural and racial limitations to come to
such a place. I could understand it if this
description came after the church had worked
out there cultural and racial baggage. But this
kind of freedom didn’t start with a vote, it didn’t
with a church council, it didn’t start with him
being accepted, it started in his mind.
The temptation that many people face is to
only see themselves through the eyes of other
people. The threshold of possibilities becomes
limited by what other people think and say. But
can we see the possibilities of our own
This is what makes the celebration of freedom
so remarkable. While Juneteenth recognizes
1865 as a day of emancipation, this is just a
date on the calendar. This is a date when the
country recognized what many already
believed about themselves. Why? Because
Freedom was a mindset.
In a culture that devalued, dehumanized black
Americans, you still had people that believed in
their minds they were free. They saw the
possibilities of their own liberation. You had
religious leaders like Richard Allen and
Absalom Jones and preachers like Jarene Lee.
You had writers like Phillis Wheatley and
Frances Harper. You had people like Benjamin
Banneker and Frederick Douglass. There were
artists, soldiers, preachers, academics,
inventors, thinkers, musicians, song writers in
world that said they were unclean. In a country
that questioned their intelligence, they still
believed they were brilliant. They believed they
were capable of love. They believed they were
worthy of dignity. I think it’s worth celebrating
the freedom that started long before votes and
amendments. These don’t have dates.
Sometimes the world has to catch up what we
believe about ourselves. Which raises the
challenging question, What do we believe
about ourselves? (Slide) Most importantly,
What does God believe about us. (Slide).
Sometimes the hardest part of faith is seeing
what God sees in you. Liberation must first
begin with ourselves. Long before Peter even
shows up to the home of Cornelius, he
believed something about himself. He was God
fearing. Believe he was a person worthy of
respect. Believe he had something to give
those in need.
(How the text describes Cornelius makes a
difference in our narrative and understanding
how we create these spaces of liberation and
acceptance. God could have chosen any
Gentile as a character in this story, and yet God
choses someone that doesn’t need a single
things from Peter. He doesn’t need to be
healed. He’s not in a crisis. He’s not desperate
for resources. This now creates a mutual
relationship). FREEDOM WAS AT THR HEART..
So Cornelius has this vision about Peter and an
angels tell him in the dream that he is
supposed to bring Peter back to his home. So
sends some of his attendants to where Peter is
staying. (Don’t lose this,) the goal of this vision
he gets from God is not for him to go to Peter,
but its for them to bring Peter back to his
gentile infested house.
So that’s what they do. They find out where
Peter is staying and show up at house.
However, Peter is also having his own visions
from God. Peter sees all of these foods that are
unclean and God tells him to indulge! Have it!
Eat your heart out! How can you label
So by the time the guests show up at his
home, Peter has spiritual awakening and invites
these men into his home. And that could have
been the end of the story. Gentiles accepted.
Case closed. Cultural and racial thresholds
have been crossed. Job done. Church
But if that’s the end of the story, that carries
very different implications for how we
understand our expectations of liberation and
the church’s role. If we end there, it’s founded
on the Gentiles willingness to cross the
threshold. If this is the only example we have,
then its always on them to be the one’s who
are crossing the thresholds into the Jewish
community. And the implications to that can
and have been quite dangerous.
Think of it like flying….What makes flying so
difficult now are all the restrictions. From the
time you pull into an airport you are given
reminders on what you can not do or bring.
You can’t wait outside too long. Luggage has
to be a certain weight. You can’t bring liquids.
No firearms. No sharp objects. Nothing to set
the place of fire. I get it! Then you go through
security, and you have to take off your shoes,
take off your jacket. Take your lab top out. You
have to do so much just to obtain entry. Its
hassle isn’t it? Makes you not want to fly
sometimes? Makes you dread going in the
lines? Frustrating isn't it?! Leaving is simply.
But entry can be exhausting.
But its often the temptation surrounding places
of acceptance. If Peter and the Jewish
community is always waiting on the other side
of the threshold for the Gentiles to cross, then
they get to set the terms of entry. And too
often the ask is for others to become more like
us. The ask is for others to sacfrice a piece of
them selves. If this is the case, then
acceptance become sysnomous with
But remember that’s not what God was asking
of Peter. Peter was supposed to go to the
home of Cornelius. He has to experience what
it was like being on the other side. The
threshold of acceptance would now
determined by Peters capacity to change.
(Slide). When he walks through the doors of
that Gentile everything about the church
changes. Everything about Peter changes. This
was not just about the accpetance of Gentiles
but it was also about the liberation of faith that
had been defined by narrow margins. It was
about a faith that needed to be liberated from
his its own traditions and from its own cultural
preferences. When Peter stepped through
Cornelius doors, he had to step over hundreds
of years of hatred, false teaching, and cultural
differences. When he entered the house he was
taking a risk of being labeled unclean. He was
taking a risk that nothing would ever be the
same. But wasn’t that the point?
Sometimes we are ok with acceptance as
long as it doesn’t go beyond a certain
threshold. As long at it doesn’t change us….
(Slide) Let me prove it.
I served on the board of my alma Kalamazoo
College and I distinctly remember when the
decision was made for the college to
intentionally become more diverse. Best
example ive ever seen. At the time our campus
was very homogenous. Small liberal arts
college in MI. There were 6 African American
students in my freshman class (4 were Detroit)
and we had the highest number of any
incoming class in my 4 years there. And were
the largest underrepresented group on
campus. Does that give you a picture?
But we had a president (Dr. Wilson- Oyelaran)
who was a genius. She realized that we
couldn’t live out our mission to create leaders
for an ever changing world unless we provided
our students with intentional diverse
environments. She wanted the students to
prepared to learn and lean into a world that
was becoming increasingly more diverse.
And I remember some of the grumblings.
People’s true colors came out. People were
afraid that a commitment to be more inclusive
was lowering our threshold for excellence.
Afraid we’d lose money. Afraid our reparation
as rigorous academic institution would be
ruined. Let me use this language, people were
open to acceptance up to a certain threshold.
So here’s what she did. She made sure that
how we lived out our mission was infused in
every aspect of our college. They let the
admission director go who said students of
color would not come to Kalamazoo College
and start recruiting all over the country and full
time international students. We hired new
security so that a more diverse group of
students would feel more safer on campus.
Our counseling center was retrained and given
additional resources. They created different
qualifications for incoming professors that
included ones that had done cross culture
research in their respective field.. They added
more classes. They added support to the
students and even more support to our faculty
of color. They changed the food served in the
cafeteria. I remember walking on campus one
day and seeing students from all over, speaking
different languages thinking, I didn't recognize
this place. But that wasn’t the point!
You can’t ask God to be free and then expect
life to be the same. It requires our own
liberation and willingness to let go of things
when thresholds are crossed. This was more
about Peters conversion, not the gentiles.
Juneteenth is not just a celebration for Black
Americans, but it’s a celebration for the
freedom of this entire country. It gave this
country an opportunity to free itself from its
own narrow understanding of humanity,
morality, and decency. It gave America that
chance for its own conversion experience.
That why free Freedom is and will always be
The room was packed when Peter walked
through Cornelius home. This is not just a
turning point for the people involved but it has
such wider implications. This is going to send
shock waves into the Jewish community and
through the Gentile community. It’s going to
make people question and rethink their cultural
thresholds. And it will show them the
possibilities and potential of what’s on the
You see when we start to embrace our own
liberation, it gives others permission as well.
It’s shows people what’s possible. In a packed
room all God did was allow them to see what
possible! That’s why images, words,
representation, and moments of celebration
matter because it shows and reminds us of
Their was a new movie that recently came out
that was remake of classic movie. My two
daughters actually went to to see it and it was
great seeing people reaction to it. I didn’t know
the little mermaid would be so controversial!
The LITTLE MERMAID! It was such a
controversial movie because the mermaid was
played by a young black actress named Halle
Bailey. (Picture )It was so great seeing people
reaction to it! People were posting about it how
it brought them to tears. Others were saying
that having someone black play that role was
not appropriate. I mean it is a fictional
character about a mermaid. Last time I check
mermaids didn’t exist. It’s not as mermaids are
specific to a particular race! But it’s moments
like these that are telling. Because how we
respond when we experience something is the
barometer for both our spiritual maturity and
our capacity for possibility.
But at least it allowed people to see something
different! And when people see something
different it sparks something inside of them
that maybe they too can be liberated from
whatever has them enslaved. It opens up
On that day in that room, these people say
something different in Cornekous and Peter.
And on 1865, our nation saw something
different as well. Freedom is always
contagious and reminds us of whats on the
other side when we are willing to cross difficult
and different thresholds.
God asked Peter to walk through the doors
because God knew the church could never
become all that it could unless they could cross
the cultural and racial thresholds. Our nation
will be all that it can until we learn to
consistently and courageously do the same.