God has a funny way of changing things up on us; of not asking our opinions about who is a child of God; of reminding us that sometimes we are the ones who are in need of transformation.
May 22, 2022
“We Are The Church . . . Let’s Act Like It”
Act With Acceptance
Acts 10: 1-17; 4-38
Rev. Dr. Heather W. McColl
Acts 10:1-17; 4-38
In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.” When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him, and after telling them everything he sent them to Joppa.
About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while it was being prepared he fell into a trance. He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.
Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate.
Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every people anyone who fears him and practices righteousness is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
Act With Acceptance Acts 10:1-17; 4-38
We continue in the Book of Acts and we come upon a fascinating story about Peter and Cornelius. Every time I read this story, I think, “Exactly! This is the story that we as the Church should be really telling every time we proclaim the Kingdom of God.”
Maybe it is just the preacher geek in me but I have come to appreciate how smart Luke is for adding this story into the Book of Acts. In just this simple act, he takes away all of our excuses. Through this reframing of the Gospel narrative, Luke holds up a big mirror to our faces and asks us, “Where do you see yourself in this story?” Through this conversation with Peter and Cornelius, Luke reminds us that God is God and we are not.
He does this by using the lovable apostle Peter as the main character of this story. Peter is someone we can relate to. Peter is someone about whom we have all thought “Been there, Done that. Peter is someone who is well-respected, who is a leader of the church. Peter is someone who after a rocky start, finally finds his footing and allows God to use him in amazing ways, something we all hope is true of ourselves as well.
Yet after all that, Peter learns the hard way that God doesn’t care about our opinions about who is worthy or not, about who is deserving of grace or not, about who is on the outside and who is on the inside. Peter learns the hard way that God doesn’t hold to the same idea that we as the church are in charge and God is simply allowed to be a part of our lives.
Through his experience with Cornelius, Peter learns once again that God doesn’t seek our approval before God acts to bring healing or reconciliation to God’s creation, a lesson we as the modern day church are called to remember.
Here’s why I say that: At this point in the Book of Acts, as I said, Peter is a well respected preacher. He is no longer a bumbling disciple who speaks before he acts. Peter is out there preaching the message to the people. The only problem is Peter is limiting who he speaks to about God’s grace. He is limiting it to only the people who look like him, who think like him, who act like him.
You see, Peter is an insider. He thinks he knows exactly what his mission is, that mission being to reconnect the House of Israel with the new things that God has done through Jesus Christ and continues to do through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter is so sure that he is only supposed to be speaking to the people who think like him and act like him that he doesn’t stray too far away from Jerusalem. Sure, he does some day trips to spread the Gospel, but he always comes back to Jerusalem as his home base. That is until one afternoon.
Peter has this unusual vision which pushes the boundaries of his mission. It forces him to rethink his perceived notions about the Kingdom of God. Peter sees this blanket coming down with food which according to the rules is unclean, and therefore not acceptable. But wouldn’t you know it, God changes things up. God tells Peter to eat this food, something that was definitely out of Peter’s comfort zone.
The ironic thing is that Peter starts to tell God that God is all wrong, only to find himself being told, “Just who do you think you are?” If God makes it clean and tells you it is clean, than what makes Peter think he has the right to question or do things differently!”
The beauty of this story is that Peter discovers the thing about God is that just when we think we know the rules, God has a funny way of changing things up on us without even talking to us first. God has a funny way of not asking our opinions of who we think should be or not be embraced as a child of God. God has a funny way of reminding us that sometimes it is us as the supposed insiders who have it all wrong and that in reality, we are the ones who are in need of transformation.
When Peter sits down and has a real conversation with Cornelius, Peter’s eyes are open to a much bigger, more inclusive vision of the Kingdom of God than he was preaching. When Peter actually got to know the person, not just the stereotypes or assumptions, transformation happened. In that moment, Peter realized that the Israelites were not just the only ones who could experience the Kingdom of God here on earth. He realized that God was working in ways beyond his limited understanding. Peter realized that there were no limits to God’s amazing grace.
Through this conversation with Cornelius, Peter realized that God was working and speaking to people in new and amazing ways , ways that didn’t need the apostles’ approval or permission. And that is the good news of the Gospel which changes everything.
As part of the Body of Christ here on earth, we are called to remember that God is God and we are not, and sometimes, okay all the time, we need to remove our self-made blinders. We need to realize that the mission field is not always about us saving others. Rather instead the mission field more often than not is found within our own congregations, within our own sanctuaries, within in our lives. Because more often than not, we discover that we are the ones in desperate need of transformation.
What Peter realizes is that The Kingdom of God is not about our rules and regulations. It is not about our practices and our policies. Rather, the Kingdom of God is an invitation to be the best church for God we can be, to be the best disciples that we can be, to be the best child of God we can be through loving action and word while embracing the fact that God takes care of everything else.
Our text reminds us that just when we think our mission can be boiled down to budgets and programs, God has a funny way of changing the conversation, of reminding us that everything the church does, everything we do as modern day disciples should be about proclaiming the Kingdom God, should be about building the bridges so Jesus can walk across them. Our very calling as modern day disciples is about sharing the Good news that thankfully, God loves us, no matter what, even when we are at our most unlovable moment, God’s amazing grace abounds for one and all.
Because as insiders too often we forget, too often we ignore the fact that the good news of the Gospel is too good to be confined to just one group. The good news of the Gospel is just too lifegiving to be limited to a chosen few. The good news of the Gospel is just too wonderful to be given and shared with only those who think and act like us.
Maybe that’s why I love this story so much. It humbles me as a believer and reminds me that I don’t have all the answers. It reminds me that at some point in my life, I was lost and then found by God. It reminds me that at some point in my life, someone showed me a little grace and welcomed me into the Kingdom of God. It reminds me always that God loves us, no matter what, no matter our race, our creed, our color , our nationality, our lifestyle choices. We are all precious in God’s sight. Maybe that’s why I love this story so much. It reminds me, it reminds us, that for a time such as this, we have been called to be the Body of Christ here on Earth. We are to be the church called to act with power, to act with generosity, and more importantly to act with acceptance. May it be so.
See Theology Tuesday for Sunday, May 22, 2022 – Act With Acceptance Acts 10:1-17;4-38.
This sermon is also available as a podcast.