Acts: Welcomed and Wanted
Sermon Series: Acts: The Disruptive Presence of the Holy Spirit
By: Donnell Wyche – June 30, 2019
We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. We’re grateful for you and the gifts of God that you bring with you into this space. Together we’ve been welcomed into God’s family through Jesus. As we become the people of God, we choose to reflect God’s love in our gratitude, in our joy, and in our generosity as we navigate the complexity of our daily lives. We pray that whether this is your first time with us this morning, or you’ve been a part of our community for a while, that you will feel the invitation of the Holy Spirit to join in with our vision. If you are looking for a church home, we would love to be your church home, and I, in particular would love to become your pastor.
The Book of Acts invites us on a journey to explore how we might have faith in the Empire. Acts also asks whether we are open to the disruptive presence of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives.
An Invitation to God’s Disorderly Table
The book of Acts reveals that the life of a disciple of Jesus that is prompted and prodded the Spirit of God to cross-borders, to share tables, to share space, and to share life with those the disciple would rather avoid. Because this is what the Spirit of God is doing in the world, the Spirit is pouring out on all flesh, forming a new multi-ethnic, worldwide family. Over this sermon series in Acts we have considered the power of the story of the resurrection and how God’s spirit poured out on everyone on Pentecost changes everything, from Stephen who is martyred for his faith, Philip who is transported to the news of the resurrection with strangers, to Saul who stops his attacks against Christians and becomes a Christian himself.
This morning, I want to end our study in Acts with a story. A story about God sending Peter to Cornelius. This story is found in Acts 10. If you have a bible, you can turn there with me. This story features two houses and as we get started and enter the story together, I would like to invite you to imagine the first of these houses.
If you are here at the front of stage, Pastor Marissa has setup someone legos for you to use as you imagine the story we will hear today. For the rest of us there is paper, color pencils, and crayons to help you draw what these houses might look like.
We are reading and imagining scripture together using a form of reading and studying scripture known as Lectio Divinia. Here we are being invited to use imaginations as we hear the story and where possible place ourselves within the story to help it come alive.
As we listen to the first part of the story together, consider drawing the first of your two houses. We are going to draw or imagine four scenes as the story unfolds, so you may want to use your paper accordingly. As you draw the first house, which we will return to at the end of the story, there are two main characters. Note who they are and what happens. As you do this, consider where you have placed yourself in the story? What are you doing? What’s happening around you? How are you feeling?
Let’s listen to the first part of this story.
10 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. 3One 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!” 4Cornelius 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. 5Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. 6He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.” 7When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. 8He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.
So we have two main characters of the story now, Cornelius, and an Angel or messenger from God. As we listen to the second part of the story, new characters are added to the story. You can use this listening time to start drawing your second house. Since Peter invites his visitors to be guests, let’s assume that he offered them something to eat. As you draw the second house, include a table and fill it will some food.
9About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” 14“Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” 15The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” 16This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven. 17While 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. 18They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there. 19While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. 20So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.” 21Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?” 22The 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.” 23Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.
Peter has entered the story and he has had a vision to pick something and eat. All of Peter’s life he believed that the best way to follow and trust God was to obey the laws of God he received. But now he’s in this argument with God. (This is the second time that Peter and God have had words, remember the transfiguration?) In this vision, God is telling Peter that the things Peter was rejecting in God’s name in order to be obedient to God, were the very things of God. All of Peter’s life he couldn’t eat bacon, then he has this vision of God saying it’s okay to eat bacon. What does Peter do? He says, “You told me not to eat bacon.” Then God says, “but I’m telling you can eat it now.” to now. Now, Peter resisted this invitation three times. This was probably a really confusing time for Peter. How could break the law and still be obedient to God?
Have you ever been offered something that you didn’t want to eat or drink? Write this down. How did you feel when you imagined having to eat or drink so that you didn’t want to eat or drink? What did you do? Can you imagine with me how Peter must have felt?
Now in this next part of the story, we are going to return to Cornelius’s house. This is the first house you created. You will place Cornelius, Cornelius’ family and Peter all together in this house. Let’s assume that Cornelius offers Peter some food, so be sure to add a table to this house now and fill it with food. Where are they in the house? And usually when you go to someone’s house for the first time they offer you something to eat? What’s on the table? What might Cornelius have offered Peter to eat? What do you think Peter did?
The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the believers from Joppa went along. 24The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. 26But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only human myself.” 27While talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. 28He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with Gentiles or visit them. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. 29So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?” 30Cornelius answered: “Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me 31and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. 32Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ 33So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.” 34Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35but accepts those from every nation who fear him and do what is right. 36You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. 39“We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” 44While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, 47“Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
Now that you have heard the story, why did God give Peter the vision of the sheet with instructions to pick and eat? Do you think it was purely about food? Or was it about something else? Something God wanted Peter to catch and understand?
As you consider those questions, who did I fail to tell you about in the story? Here’s an hint: it’s another main character who shows up at Cornelius’ house. [The Holy Spirit]
What happens when the Holy Spirit shows up in the story?
[Peter changes his mind about people who are different from him. Peter also learns something special about God that in God’s family everyone is welcomed, not just welcomed but wanted.]
How would you explain this story to someone else? What would you say this story is about? Take a moment a sentence about the point of this story. [God welcomes us and our culture to join God’s worldwide family.]
What if there is something or someone you’re rejecting in God’s name, are you open to receiving a new vision? In college I had this distorted view of Christianity that separated believers into groups, those who believed the right things who were fully devoted believers like me, and those who believed the wrong things about God, so I rejected. I remember saying something really hurtful to one of my friends who was Catholic because I falsely believed she didn’t have the right beliefs. As I have matured and grown-up, I now realized that what I said was hurtful, mean-spirited, and just plain wrong. I thought I had to reject my friend because she was a Catholic. But God has given me a new vision, helping me understand that God’s family is diverse, vast, and full of lots of different views and understandings of who God is. I’m so glad that my friend forgave me for my mean and awful words and I’m grateful for the Catholic church because without them there would be no us.
Let’s consider this question together,
What if there is something or someone you’re rejecting in God’s name, are you open to receiving a new vision?
What do you think is required of us to welcome or be friends with those who are new and unfamiliar to us? Who might we be rejecting in God’s name, that we should welcome instead?
- Hope and reconciliation for broken relationships.
- Faith to lean into God, learning to develop and deepen your dependence and trust in God.
- Courage. It doesn’t have to be this way. You can put your faith into action and partner with the Holy Spirit.