This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on March 27, 2016.
Most preachers will choose one of the gospel passages for this Sunday, but if you are looking for a slightly different spin on the usual Easter texts, Acts 10 is a good way to go. This passage occurs within the larger context of Cornelius’ conversion story which serves as the climax of the first half of Acts. Throughout Acts, the gospel has been gradually moving forth unhindered from Jerusalem, into Samaria, and now into Joppa. Along the way, Samaritans and an Ethiopian have believed the good news. And if that wasn’t enough to stir things up, Luke now presents a Roman solider! It is no wonder the circumcised believers at Cornelius’ conversion with Peter were just a bit overwhelmed. “Is there anyone this God won’t save?” This is the question that had to be racing through their hearts and minds.
Just moments before, Peter had that transforming vision on the rooftop. The sheet was lowered, and he was instructed to eat the animals in it, many of which were unclean. Three times Peter hears the voice, along with the command, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane” (vs. 15). The ambiguous vision becomes clear in verse 34 when Peter finally gets it! God shows no partiality. The vision was not simply about unclean food but about “unclean people,” and who is fit to sit at God’s table… and at our table. In this moment of revelation, the invitation to convert shifts from Cornelius to Peter, and then to the reader. Are we willing to let the gospel of Jesus Christ engage and overturn some of our long held preferences and beliefs? Are we especially willing to be converted in our understanding of who we view as “worthy” recipients of the gospel? Even more, are we willing to be challenged with a new vision of who we invite to sit at our table?
A preacher can go several directions with this short text. He or she will likely notice the brevity and simplicity of the gospel story, especially compared to other gospel recitations in Acts that go into much greater detail (Acts 2:14-42 for example). This may be a frustration to a preacher hoping to find three quick sermon points. On second look, however, it might be just the invitation needed for the preacher hoping for something a little different this Easter Sunday.
When Peter arrives in Cornelius’ home, he is so eager to preach the good news to the Gentiles that he jumps right to it. No need for fluff. No need for three alliterated points and poem. He just lays out the story of Jesus. Plain and simple. And intentionally so. Every Easter is a welcome opportunity for the preacher to put forth the good news of Jesus Christ and get out of the way. This Easter, you may want to use Acts 10 to simply proclaim the resurrection as the central truth of the Christian faith, while presenting a few applications for its meaning in daily Christian life. Peter was not short and concise because he was lazy or in a hurry. He was short and concise because he had one clear message to share, and did not want to leave room for anything else to get in the way. May it be so with us preachers on Easter Sunday.
There is then the theme of God’s impartiality and inclusivity. While the first direction addresses the message of the gospel, this one addresses who is worthy to receive it. In his own moment of conversion, Peter realizes God accepts people who fear and obey him from any nation. Your congregation may not be surprised to hear that God accepts Syrians, North Koreans, and Mexicans just as passionately as he accepts Americans, Russians, and Japanese, but I bet something about God’s impartial love and grace will strike a chord with them this day. Perhaps you will show how impartiality extends beyond nationalities – to political affiliations, denominational preferences, and social and economic standings, to name a few.
And if the congregation truly believes God loves, accepts, and longs for followers from every group among us, then they too, must wrestle with their necessary response. Just as God desires a relationship with all kinds of people, so should we. Just as God makes himself accessible to and loves all people, so must we. Because God is a God of impartiality, so we must be a people of impartiality. Because God makes peace with all, we too, must make peace with others. The church has the calling and potential to be a community of peacemaking and radical reconciliation on this earth. The courageous preacher will ask the church to honestly consider whether or not their life together reflects their God of impartiality. If not, he or she might help them imagine how it could.
There is also something to be said for hospitality in this text. One of the greatest places for inclusivity to take on flesh is around the table. Peter has witnessed Christ’s life and power on both sides of the cross. Of all the details Peter leaves out, Luke includes his note of the disciples’ meal with the resurrected Christ. In so doing, Luke shows how hospitality and table fellowship provide settings where the living Christ has always been discovered. It is fitting that Peter’s testimony in Cornelius’ home is sealed with the coming of the Spirit and an invitation to stay for a few days longer. Hospitality and table fellowship, with the Spirit as a guest, and the Son as the main point of conversation, invite a Jewish fisherman and Roman solider to call one another “brother” and “friend.” On Easter Sunday, many in the church will rush home to gather around a table. The preacher might ask which chairs will be added because the God who shows no impartiality has spoken, and Christ is alive? The gospel texts tell the story of the resurrection. Acts 10 tells us how to live because of it.
Belfair Community Church, Belfair, Washington
Tags: inclusivity, hospitality, conversion