The First Lesson: Acts (10:44-48)
While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.
The Response: Psalm 98
1 Sing to the Lord a new song, *
for he has done marvelous things.
2 With his right hand and his holy arm *
has he won for himself the victory.
3 The Lord has made known his victory; *
his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.
4 He remembers his mercy and faithfulness to the house of Israel, *
and all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
5 Shout with joy to the Lord, all you lands; *
lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.
6 Sing to the Lord with the harp, *
with the harp and the voice of song.
7 With trumpets and the sound of the horn *
shout with joy before the King, the Lord.
8 Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it, *
the lands and those who dwell therein.
9 Let the rivers clap their hands, *
and let the hills ring out with joy before the Lord,
when he comes to judge the earth.
10 In righteousness shall he judge the world *
and the peoples with equity.
The Epistle: 1 John (5:1-6)
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.
The Gospel: John (15:9-17)
Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
“By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean” (Acts 10:14). In the part of the story that precedes today’s first reading, Peter’s dream had totally baffled him. He had been flexible in accepting into the growing family of believers a whole variety of Jews from different places and cultures and with different interpretations of Judaism. He had even grudgingly accepted some Samaritans, who held many beliefs in common with Jews even with their significant differences. But not Gentiles. Not non-Jews. That was going way too far.
Everything that Peter had been taught from his earliest childhood, everything that he had believed, drew a clear distinction between Jews and Gentiles. It was “us and them.” That was a line that you simply did not cross. It wasn’t that Jews and Gentiles didn’t live side-by-side and associate with each other. It was just that, in their relationship to the God of Israel, he and his fellow Jews were special; they were distinct; they were separate. That was, in his mind, the way that it had always been. His parents and grandparents had impressed that fact on him. Mixing the two of them together, treating them as equals, was just plain wrong.
And so when he had that strange dream, in which the voice of God called him to take and eat of a menagerie of “four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air,” he adamantly refused. Many of them were clearly not kosher. This was not the way that Jews lived. All of that was for Gentiles, and he certainly was not one of them.
Clearly implied in Peter’s vision was a call from God to break down the great wall that separated Jews from Gentiles and to welcome non-Jews as full and equal members of the young church. That was something that had never been done before; and, in Peter’s mind, it was something that should never be allowed and could never be allowed. It was contrary to the teaching of scripture, and it was contrary to the long tradition of the Jewish people.
Even when Peter reluctantly entered the house of the pagan military officer, Cornelius, and witnessed God’s Spirit working in his life and in the life of his family, he still struggled with this totally new thing that was happening. God had made the unthinkable thinkable, and the impossible possible.
Despite Peter’s objections, God had made it clear that all people were to be welcomed as equals into this new way of life. And in response, Peter gave his final sermon in Acts, one that begins with his assertion (10:34-35) that: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
In reflecting on this key turning-point in the story of Acts and in the history of the church, William Willimon reflects (Acts, pp. 98-99):
“Peter’s sermon is an attempt to struggle with his recently received new perception of the movement of the gospel. He has no proof text to justify himself. He is out on risky terrain without tradition or Scripture to back him up.
“This is the way it sometimes is in the church. If Jesus Christ is Lord, then the church has the adventurous task of penetrating new areas of his Lordship, expecting surprises and new implications of the gospel which cannot be explained on any basis other than our Lord has shown us something we could not have seen on our own, even if we were looking only at Scripture. This does not mean an undisciplined flight of fancy into our own new bold ideas or the pitiful effort to catch the wind of the latest trend in the culture under the guise of seeking new revelation. Rather, it means that we are continuing to penetrate the significance of the scriptural witness that Jesus Christ is Lord and to be faithful to divine prodding. Faith, when it comes down to it, is our own often breathless attempt to keep up with the redemptive activity of God, to keep asking ourselves, ‘What is God doing, where on earth is God going now?’”
“Faith, when it comes down to it, is our own often breathless attempt to keep up with the redemptive activity of God, to keep asking ourselves, ‘What is God doing; where on earth is God going now?’” That is a key question for faithful people of all ages, as God continues to make the unthinkable thinkable, and the impossible possible.
Over the history of the church, God has continued to surprise the faithful by divine acts that seemed to contradict some of the things that they thought they knew for sure. They were shocked to see God’s Spirit working in the lives of those whom they had previously excluded from full and equal participation in the life of the church: Christians in Asia who continued to practice aspects of their ancient cultures, people in America who were descended from slaves, indigenous people from all parts of the world, women as well as men, people who were LGBTQ as well as heterosexual people, people with perceived disabilities – essentially what an old Prayer Book Collect refers to “All Sorts and Conditions” of people (The Book of Common Prayer, pp. 814-5).
In reflecting on this always important story, the first question for us to answer as a church, both today and every day, is the same one that faced Peter, standing there in Caesarea long ago, bewildered by what he was witnessing. It’s not “What do we want the church to be and to do?” or “How do we want the church to make us comfortable and to satisfy our preferences?” but rather “What is God doing? Where on earth is God going now?”
The second question, the necessary result of the first, is then: “How can we be a part of what God is doing; how can we as a church welcome and reflect and further the work of the Spirit in our time and place?”