Reading Acts 10:9-23
This morning’s reading is set in Caesarea a large Mediterranean coastal city. This is the city that Philip travelled to in chapter eight. Living in the city was a Roman centurion called Cornelius. Although he was not a Jewish man he did believe in the one God of Israel. Along with his family they worshiped and prayed to God. Here we meet the first Gentile or non-Jewish Christian. Further evidence that the teaching and preaching of the word was travelling across the land and being received by Jew and Gentile alike. We pick up the story as Cornelius, having had a vision from God, has sent men to find Peter in Joppa, further up the coast. This morning Peter is the focus of our attention. Coming from a rather conservative Jewish stance, Peter is given an understanding from God about the mission he wishes him to carry out to the Gentiles. I find this morning’s interactions fascinating. Last week we had the experience of Saul on the Damascus Road and that almost instantaneous change for him.
This morning we meet up again with Peter who we know travelled everywhere with Jesus and knew his ministry well. This is the man who in Matthew’s gospel Jesus said would be the rock. ‘And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.’ This is the man who in John’s gospel denied Jesus three times on the night of his arrest but was later reinstated when Jesus asked him three times, ‘Peter, do you truly love me?’ And each time Peter replied yes Jesus said, ‘feed my lambs’ ‘take care of my sheep’ ‘feed my sheep’. If those who met with Saul following his conversion to Paul where sceptical about things then how much more certain people were of Peter as he had been with Jesus throughout and was known as one of his followers. This is where I find the passage we read this morning quite revealing. Peter is on a mission to change people’s understanding of Jesus of Nazareth and to preach to them that he is indeed the Messiah for whom they had been waiting. He was and is the Son of God.
Cornelius, a man who had been changed, wants to learn more even though his behaviour may well bring about the wrath of the authorities. Peter, a man who had been changed, wants to teach people more. A simple enough coming together you would think. But Jews and Gentiles were not allowed to mix together.
Now we discover something that we may all be able to relate to. Even if we happy to discuss and consider change there just might be something way back in our minds that will become a stumbling block when it is brought to the fore and we discover that we may not have been changed as fully as we thought when we were going about our business unchallenged. All of us have and are experiencing change. My Crossingpoint piece in the Courier last week spoke about what used to be normal and now this new normal is coming into our lives. We can all say, ‘yes we’ll need to learn to live differently’ But who is calling the shots? Who is making the decisions that determine this new normal under which we will all be asked to live our lives? In our churches there is much talk about change and how all of this is going to take shape. Peter reveals to us that change never comes easily. During his time on the rooftop he holds fast to his traditions and laws regarding food. Some animals are unclean, they are impure. Then the voice that tells him there is nothing made clean by God that is impure. He holds on to the laws about Jew and Gentile meeting, all-in-all he remains firmly within the laws with which he was brought up. When the men sent by Cornelius arrive Peter now finds himself in a position to go with them the next morning but only after that reassurance from the holy Spirit. But when we follow Peter on to his arrival in Caesarea we find his opening statement is a reminder to those in the house how it is illegal in his laws for Jews and gentiles to meet together. And isn’t that true with most of us? What we have always accepted as normal, remains exactly that, until the day when it is challenged and we have to think our way through something that might well result in us having to change.
During Peter’s visit the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard his message. Those who had journeyed with Peter were amazed that God’s Holy Spirit could come to rest on gentiles. All of this leads Peter to ask can anyone keep these people from being baptised with water? They have received the Spirit just as we have. He ordered that they be baptised in the name of Jesus. The conversion of Cornelius and those who were him that day came about not through any Hellenistic conversation and explanation. It was not brought about by any instruction given through laws to obey. This coming to faith was brought about by the Holy Spirit working through Peter and his teaching of Jesus. I find great comfort in all of this in as much as Peter, even having journeyed so extensively and physically with Jesus, having witnessed first-hand with his own eyes the work of Jesus and having been told directly that he will be the rock upon which the church will be built still needs from time to time that visit from the Holy Spirit, that reassurance when something comes to the fore of his mind that would keep him in his old ways, telling him it is okay to let go and for the journey to continue there will be something in all of us, I’m sure, that may be lying dormant somewhere in the depths of our faith journey that will require God to give us that nudge, that voice, that revelation that comforts us enough to trust in Him and to let go for the sake of moving on.