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A Twice Told Tale

Date: 
February 11, 2018
Speaker: 
Rev. Connie Bickford
Reading: 
Acts 11:1 – 17

This is a long passage because it tells a whole story, and actually it is a re-telling of the story which takes place the chapter before in Acts 10.  A commentary on Acts says that this story is so momentous that it requires telling twice! (1)  It is the story of the conversion and baptism of Cornelius and his household.  A common enough theme in Acts, but this is different because Cornelius was the first Gentile who was baptized into the church of Jesus Christ.  Until Peter had this vision and welcomed Cornelius, a person would have to convert to Judaism before they could be accepted as a Christian. 

Those were early days and the church is still finding its way.  Peter, like many of the apostles had gone out to spread the good news of Jesus into the world.  Peter of course was a devout Jew and so when he was offered a sheet filled with representatives of all different species of birds, beasts and reptiles, and told to kill and eat them, he was horrified.  And so, Peter said, Lord, I have never eaten anything unclean. But in this vision, God said, “What I have made clean, you must not call unclean.”  Three times this was repeated for Peter and then it was taken up into heaven.

When, immediately after this vision, Peter received an invitation to visit Cornelius, a Roman centurion, he began to get the idea, that God’s vision of the church might be broader than just a sect of Judaism

When the Holy Spirit came to Cornelius, Peter understood that baptism was meant for all.  The voice of God was already breaking down walls and expanding

 

Jesus’s message beyond the narrowness of the first disciples into a universal call to all.

I have always seen this as a message that set inclusion and openness as the way God intended the church to be and to become.  No longer did circumcision matter, no longer did keeping kosher matter, no longer did one have to be a faithful Jew to become a Christian.  If God made you, that was enough.  If God created you, YOU were enough.

The church through the years has struggled with what God’s inclusiveness might mean.  Could you be married, or a woman, and still lead the church?  Could you be of another race?  Could you be differently abled?  Could you be gay, lesbian, or transgender?  Through the years, God has spoken, and always in the end, God’s still speaking voice has said “Yes”.  “Yes, you can be part of me because I have made you.  I have called you good and I have given you gifts for discipleship and for ministry.”

The reading from Acts is one that has a message that resonates on this first anniversary of our vote.  That vote put into words what I believe had been true for many years.  Dennis Union voted to make this church a welcoming and open place for all of God’s children no matter what they looked like, who they loved or what their physical abilities or disabilities might be.

In that vote, we like Peter said, “If God gave them the same gift that he gave to us when we believed in Jesus Christ, who are we that we could hinder God?”

The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003), page 1977.

 

Peter’s Report to the Church at Jerusalem

11Now the apostles and the believers* who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. 2So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers* criticized him, 3saying, ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’ 4Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, 5‘I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. 6As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7I also heard a voice saying to me, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 8But I replied, “By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.” 9But a second time the voice answered from heaven, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” 10This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.* These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, “Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.” 15And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 17If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?’

 

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