St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church

Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia

For personal, devotional use in this season of suspended services.

SCRIPTURE READING

Acts 10:1-23 New International Version (NIV)

Cornelius Calls for Peter

10 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”

Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.

The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.”

When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.

Peter’s Vision

About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”

14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”

15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

17 While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. 18 They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there.

19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three[a] men are looking for you. 20 So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.”

21 Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?”

22 The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.” 23 Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests. The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa went along.

MESSAGE

August 2, 2020                                                                                Acts 10:1-23

“LIVING INTO GOD’S FUTURE”

In the early weeks of the world-wide COVID-19 pandemic, my attention was caught by a human interest story on the nightly news broadcast.  The story came from South Africa and profiled one of the black townships there.  This particular township was caught in a web of gang violence that further deepened the very serious consequences of systemic poverty and lack of resources within the community.  The township lived in a microcosm of fear, and then along came the pandemic.

But an unusual initiative was happening in this place.  A Christian minister, working in the township, had reached out to the leadership of the warring gangs and challenged them with doing something “good” for the community in the presence of the COVID-19 virus.  Since they had led the charge in creating a climate of “fear” in the community, they needed to step up to the plate and lead the charge in creating a climate of “safety” in these pandemic times.  The leaders of the gangs knew the dynamics of the township inside-out and upside-down, but now it was up to them to work side by side in making sure the people of the township had the resources to stay “safe”…wash or sanitize their hands regularly, practice physical distancing, remain self-isolated if unwell, and have access to water, and if needed, food.  The members of the gangs were co-mingled together and divided into teams to be the grass-roots leaders in the community’s fight against the virus.

It was a challenging vision, to mobilize the gang members to serve the township in this way.  It seemed to be a tender and vulnerable collaboration….because it is difficult to suddenly have to work together with others who have long been regarded as “the enemy”.  But it seemed to be working, by the grace of God!  The cooperation between the gangs held influence in the lives of many of the residents who were willing “to listen” to the message that was being delivered.  The sudden reprieve from gang violence, and the delivery of food and water by gang members, caused more than one resident to express amazement at these “strange times”. 

For the Christian minister who served as the intermediary, his confidence was in the power of Jesus to change lives. It was God’s Spirit at work that made this unusual alliance of “enemies” to be a force for wellness and healing in the community. The vision of God’s rule and reign here on earth, and the good news of God’s love found in Jesus Christ provided the crucible for action in caring for the people of that township. 

Faith in Jesus Christ draws us into being participants in God’s future in the world.  Jesus has taught us to pray saying “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.  If we imagine heaven as the realm of God’s unconditional acceptance, mercy and love then surely we can rejoice when there are “kingdom signs” in the midst of earthly life and living!

In our scripture reading for today, God’s future is unfolding in the days of the early church; God’s Spirit is at work making new things happen.

We hear about Cornelius. He is entrenched in the power of the Roman Empire; he has command over Roman troops in the city of Caesarea; he serves the Roman Emperor.  In the nation Israel, Cornelius represents “the enemy”.  Yet the story tells us other things about him: that he is devote, along with his family; that while not a Jew he worships Israel’s God and prays regularly; that he is generous to the poor.  It appears that Cornelius, while maintaining Roman authority and influence, has “a heart” for people.  He might be what one would refer to as “a good man”. 

Our story tells us that one day Cornelius is disturbed by a vision that comes to him.  It happens at the time of public prayer in the Jewish community around him.  An angel visitant startles him, acknowledging that his kind acts towards others have divine attention, and then commands him to send for Simon Peter, a disciple of Jesus, who is presently staying down the sea coast in the city of Joppa. Cornelius is faithful and obedient.  He calls two of his servants and a devote soldier and sends them off as his emissary to find Simon Peter. Cornelius must have been curious as to what this strange set of circumstances is all about.

In the meantime, God’s Spirit is also at work in the life of Simon Peter. Peter, we are told, is at noontime prayers, when he has a visionary experience. Before him a sheet is lowered, containing all sorts of animals, reptiles and birds.  He is told to “kill and eat”.  But Peter refuses. In the mixture of life-forms in the sheet, there are those that any good and faithful Jew has been forbidden to eat….for generations.  Peter’s refusal is challenged: he is not to call anything “impure” that God has made “clean”.  We’re told three times Peter receives this vision before it disappears from his sight.  He is left perplexed by the vision’s appearance and meaning.

While he is wondering what this is all about, the Spirit directs Peter’s feet downstairs to the gate, where the men from Cornelius are waiting to meet with him.  It could well be an imposing three-some, these official, non-Jewish men, but the Spirit gives Peter the confidence to be receptive to their visitation…and their request that Peter is to come with them to speak to their master, Cornelius.  Peter has a message that Cornelius needs to hear.

Stepping past the protocols of his time, Peter invites the three travellers to be his guests overnight and the next day Peter, along with some representatives from the young Christian community in Joppa, make the journey to Caesarea and to Cornelius’s waiting ears.

The message Peter has to share is the good news of Jesus Christ, that Jesus is the promised one sent from God, and that through God’s power Jesus is Lord of all, the living and the dead.  Peter’s message in the days of the early church is always one of repentance, to a turning towards God and God’s ways, to receive divine forgiveness in the name of Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit who empowers believers with new life.  It’s a message that is transformative for Cornelius. He hears it with his ears, his heart and mind.  As in the day of Pentecost with the first followers of Jesus, the Holy Spirit’s presence becomes manifested in Cornelius and those he has gathered about him. 

But God’s future is not just being realized in Cornelius; it’s being realized in Peter too.  In this encounter Peter comes to recognize that the good news of divine love and deliverance in Jesus Christ is good news for all people, even those who are not members of the house of Israel.  God’s Spirit is doing a new thing and Peter’s encounter with Cornelius opens the way for the early church to embrace as brothers and sisters of faith those with whom they’ve had long-standing hostility.  Walls that divide people are being dismantled; barriers that keep people distanced from each other are being thrust down; pathways of generational prejudice and misunderstanding are being torn up.

Such is the Spirit’s work in the midst of those whom God cherishes…in every generation.

As those who gather around Jesus, take his teachings and ministry to heart, and seek to serve him in our living, God’s future before us continues to unfold.  We can only live into it one step at a time, yet always at the heart of this new future is the good news of Jesus Christ.  In him we receive divine love and acceptance; in him there is forgiveness and healing for our lives; in him there is the power to live in new and different ways for the sake of God’s purposes in the world. God is eager for those who are faithful and obedient to live into the divine purposes and intentions in daily earthly life; for those who are willing to take risks for the sake of living into God’s realm in the midst of all the challenges and vulnerabilities that this world brings our way.

  • A minister challenges warring gang members to build up instead of destroying their community.
  • An estranged spouse risks writing a love-letter seeking forgiveness for past hurts and the offer to begin anew.
  • Parents commit to praying faithfully and diligently for the well-being and healing of their child who struggles with mental illness.
  • A concern for affordable housing in the community causes people to invest themselves in advocacy for others.
  • A congregation commits itself to a thoughtful reading of a gospel and the story of Jesus Christ.

Given the opportunity, God’s Spirit can accomplish amazing things that bring newness and healing to our broken world,  that allows us to experience a little glimpse of heaven here on earth!

To God be all glory, honour and praise. Amen

Rev. Marion Barclay MacKay

Minister