Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor Bible Background
When I first looked over this Sunday’s scripture lesson, I was a little put out that the vegetarian got the Sunday that includes a blanket full of meat. This scripture also is often called, “Cornelius’ conversion.” As United Methodist and ELCA, we are pretty horrible about talking about converting others to what we believe. Meat and conversion. What is a preacher to do with that?
Upon further reflection and study, I came to realize that this isn’t actually about striving to convert Cornelius. At the end of the day, the person who is actually transformed is Peter and the community becomes stronger and more transformed as well. Cornelius doesn’t have to find God because God is already present. I also have come to realize that the vision Peter has is not just about hunger or even eating what he isn’t supposed to. This scripture has many ways to say the same thing; God does not favor one type of person. God does not have boundaries on love and community. Relationship matters over law that separates people. I can preach that because I fully believe that. God is bigger than our divisions.
The book of Acts is an extenuation of the book of Luke. In Acts, the author leads us through the story of the early church. From the very beginning we are set up to see that the holy spirit is moving in ways we can’t explain and God’s kingdom is expanding. Over and over again, we are told that this is a movement beyond just Jewish people. The Gentiles are welcome as well. We enter today’s story by meeting Cornelius. He is outside of the Jewish realm and yet he already knows about God. He is a faithful man who is not afraid to cross boundaries. When God tells him that Peter is going to visit, he is open and willing. Peter is not even supposed to be in Cornelius’ house but it will be.
In the meantime, Peter is having a weird vision that expands past what he believes is law and true. The vision tells him to eat forbidden things. God is laying the groundwork for a powerful interaction between these two leaders. Timing is everything and even when Peter doesn’t quite get it, we, as the audience, should get it. God is opening the doors for different communities to connect in order to form a stronger and more bonded community grounded in relationship and faithfulness. Meat doesn’t matter. The law that keeps us apart has to be revised. God will do what we think is impossible.
Traditionally, we say that Cornelius was converted but in reading this again and reading Peter’s last comments, I would argue that Peter is converted to include more into the kingdom. The church is only enriched by breaking down boundaries when we are working toward s the same goal. If I have learned anything in working in churches the past nine years, it is that we are much better in cooperation and faithfulness to mission together rather than building up our boundaries because of what has been in law. We are better together and with. We are better when we listen to where God is moving.
Quotes of the week
“I know there is strength in the differences between us. I know there is comfort, where we overlap.” ― Ani DiFranco
“Healing is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is healing. To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation. ― Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays
“To build community requires vigilant awareness of the work we must continually do to undermine all the socialization that leads us to behave in ways that perpetuate domination.” ― Bell Hooks
“The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status, or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we all believe that we are above-average drivers.” ― Dave Barry
Acts 10:1-17, 34-35 (NRSV) In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. 2 He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. 3 One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” 4 He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; 6 he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.” 7 When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him,8 and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa.
9 About noon the next 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 it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” 15 The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”16 This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.
17 Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate.
34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
Questions for the Week
Have you ever had visions? What did they signify?
Where is God calling us to cross boundaries for the sake of community and inclusion?
How do we discern what God is calling the church to do?