Bent, not Broken: Reformation Sunday!

This week we celebrate Reformation Sunday, the birth of the protestant beliefs, and our Lutheran heritage!  For those of you who may not know the history here’s a brief synopsis starring (lego) Martian Luther:  Lego Reformation

Our devotional this week looks at inclusion and exclusion from faith.  How tradition plays into these divisions, and what should we look at reforming…

Scripture: Acts 10:1-29, 44-48

1 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. 18 They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there. 19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Look, three men are searching for you. 20 Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.” 21 So Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?” 22 They answered, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23 So Peter invited them in and gave them lodging. The next day he got up and went with them, and some of the believers from Joppa accompanied him.

24 The following day they came to Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 On Peter’s arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshiped him. 26 But Peter made him get up, saying, “Stand up; I am only a mortal.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found that many had assembled; 28 and he said to them, “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.

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. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear,

41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God 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.”

44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.

45 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, 46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47 “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

Background on the Text:

  1. From this point forward in Acts, the shift in the story is toward conversion of the Gentiles. Peter remains a central character until chapter 13, when Paul takes over.
  2. This is the story of Peter’s conversion to more openness to the Gentiles. Later Paul will accuse him of going back on his word.

Exegesis (close reading) of the Text:

  1. Cornelius is a very Greek name, and he is a Roman soldier, in charge of 100 soldiers. The town Caesarea is a port city associated with the Herods, along the Israel coast. All this explains that the story is about Gentile conversion.
  2. Cornelius is a God-fearer. These were people who were devout and worshipped the God of Israel but were not Jews. It was common that the head of the household dictated the religious lives of his entire household.
  3. Cornelius has a vision: again, a sign of his closeness to God. The vision isn’t very specific. It merely tells him to send for Simon Peter. Cornelius does so.
  4. Meanwhile, back in Joppa, Peter has a vision. He sees a picnic blanket lowered from heaven containing all kinds of food. They are not specified as being unclean, but rather represent all the animals placed on earth. See Genesis 1: 20-25.
  5. Peter is told to eat (remember he is in a trance), but Peter objects because some of the animals are not “clean” according to the Jewish customs. The dietary laws were one of the ways that Jews maintained a distinctive identity separate from non-Jews. So asking Peter to eat unclean animals was asking him to set aside his identity.
  6. God or the angel said, God had made clean all the animals on the sheet. The word “profane” comes from the Latin, profanus which is pro: before, and fanum: temple.
  7. Before Peter can meditate on this, the people from Cornelius show up. Another angel tells Peter to answer the door. The fact that Gentiles would seek out a Jew was quite noteworthy, as was Peter’s hospitality to them. Peter puts them up for the night and then they all go (with a few extra believers) to Joppa the next day.
  8. Upon arriving at Cornelius’ house, Peter is surprised to see a small crowd of people. Cornelius tries to worship Peter, but Peter puts him straight. Again, a most extraordinary gesture.
  9. We get a bit of repetition then, with each side telling the story of the visions. But by then, Peter has figured out the meaning of his vision: he is to preach to all people because all people are acceptable to God. Actually those who fear God are acceptable. So Peter preaches once again.
  10. The gift of the Holy Spirit pours out on the Gentiles and they begin speaking in tongues. Peter asks a rhetorical question, and then baptizes them. For good measure Peter stays a few days longer.

Questions the Text Asks of Us:

  1. This is a story of the ever increasing circle of inclusion of the early Church. Why do groups exclude others to begin with?
  2. The dietary laws of the Jewish people were markers of their identity as God’s chosen people. What markers do we have as God’s children? Which of those markers do we use to exclude others from God’s love?
  3. Whom are we excluding from God’s care?
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