Acts 10:34-43 These weeks, our language is filled with who’s in and who’s out. Recently, the NCAA released its bracket for the college basketball tournament and immediately conversations collided around water coolers and sports forums about who deservedly and undeservedly was left off the list. On the campaign trail, it has become a favorite phrase to command security to get protesters out of the room. Get with the agenda, accept the speech, or get out. I do not want to be too quick to judge the culture. Boundaries and categories seem to be the default mode of human conversation in handling complex issues of behavior, religion, race, politics, sexuality, etc. In and out, right or wrong, clean or unclean have been amongst our most typical conversations since the creation of humankind. We have argued about the deservedness of offerings right alongside our first brothers and pitched fits over the beauty and righteousness of worship styles. We have fought for our father’s blessing like Jacob and Esau, and we have bickered alongside the disciple’s over who gets to sit at the seat of favor next to Jesus. Doctrines of God’s grace have forced us into corners arguing over acronyms and the nature of sin. More recently, celebrity pastors published competing books on who gets to go to heaven, and today, in this text, we encounter a Jewish apostle knee deep in the profane and unclean world of the Gentiles. The conversation of boundaries and borders, clean and unclean, righteous and unrighteous, in and out is both ancient and new. This is our default pattern. We are desperate to be affirmed, and worse, we are confident we know. In our second reading for Easter, we come into the middle of an already unfolding drama between Peter and a Roman Centurion, Cornelius. Their meeting together in this scene was preceded by two correlating visions in which preliminary matters were dealt with allowing Peter’s sermon to do the work of the Gospel. Like elsewhere in Acts, the Spirit is always ahead moving the church forward for the accomplishment of God’s will. Cornelius, a Gentile and solider of the Roman army was a devout man who feared God. One afternoon, Cornelius sees an angel of God who tells him to send for Peter, someone he has never seen or met. The next day, Peter, a devout Jew and apostle of Jesus Christ has a vision during prayer in which unclean meat is provided for him to eat. Peter denies the invitation on the basis of his religion saying, “I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” (v.14) In response, a voice says to him, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” (v.15) Three times this interaction takes place before the meat is taken to heaven and vanquishes. Shortly thereafter, the men that Cornelius sends for Peter find him and explain Cornelius’ vision. Together, they go back to Cornelius’ home and the devout Jew finds himself in the unclean living room of a soldier from the evil empire. Peter is all sorts of out-of-bounds, but something is different now, a conversion has taken place. Peter explains, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.” (v.28)The boundaries that Peter thought he knew are being radically redefined by God’s in-breaking kingdom. God, through the Spirit, is once again on the move breaking in to borders, annihilating categories, and reconciling all the world to God. This is the context that leads us to our next scene in this drama: Peter preaches his fourth and last sermon but this time it’s new, with fresh converted eyes. Now, all are bound to the work of the Father. The sermon in Acts 10:34-43 is Peter’s most concise and articulate sermon in Acts which bears witness to the comprehensive reach of God, for all. This passage is bookended by Peter’s declaration that “God shows no partiality” (v.34) and that “everyone who believes in [Jesus Christ] receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (v.43) (emphasis mine). Peter’s sermon stands out in comparison with his other sermons in Acts, because Hebrew scripture is not directly quoted like it is in the sermon at the Pentecost (Acts 2) but rather referenced through allusion (c.f. Deut. 10:17, 21:22; Is. 33:24, 52:7). More, Peter’s sermon is a beautiful tapestry of Luke’s Gospel and God’s unfolding plans through the Spirit to the world. For Luke, the story of Jesus does not reach its conclusion at the point of ascension but continues to progress and unfold through the ministry of the Spirit and the witness of the early church. First, the promise of “great joy for all people” is told to the Shepherds in Bethlehem (Lk 2:10). Then, through the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit God’s “all” expands from the people of Israel to everyone including the gentiles (v43). The weaving of Peter’s sermon with Luke’s earlier account of Jesus includes his baptism (v37; c.f. Lk 3:21-22), anointing (v38; c.f. Lk 4:16-30), ministry, healing, and doing good (v38), God was with Jesus (v38; c.f., Lk 1:28), preaching peace (v36; Lk 4:16-19), and eating with the disciples (v41; c.f. Lk 24:30-32). Peter’s sermon is cohesive and comprehensive. His witness to Cornelius is the one he has been praying for is the Jewish Messiah and this salvation is for everyone who believes, even for a Roman Empire Gentile. The reach of God’s promise has expanded! Like Peter, Cornelius is now a witness.This story and its implications make for a natural fit on Easter Sunday. Up from the tomb He arose and the barriers of division and categories of human power cannot hold. The power of God is too great and the Spirit of God carries the church into conversion: from legalistic Jews to card carrying gentiles in the Roman army and everywhere in between. Among other topics, this passage opens up opportunities to preach on previenent grace and the work of the Spirit in the church, the Gospel of Peace, and the power of the resurrection. In the power of the resurrection, we are all bound to the promise of God to reconcile all things, to forgive all things, to go all places, so that in the face of division we can proclaim Jesus is Lord of all! Like Peter and Cornelius, we are now witnesses. Happy Easter. He is risen!
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