Sermon, Easter 6B/Mothers Day
Sunday May 13, 2012, St Petri.
45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles.
Friends, last week we were left in no doubt that the Holy Spirit is way ahead of us making so called “chance meetings” occur. I wonder how many “chariots” were entered or at least presented!? How many Directors prompts in the show called, Mission Dei” did you receive and did you jump up to the conversation?
Well, sometimes even the Holy Spirit has to go to amazing lengths to make these significant moments between disciples and searchers happen. What we hear in chapter 10 of the Book of Acts is a show of just how determined the Spirit of Jesus is to get us, his holy people, into the various “chariots’ with searchers around us.
It takes so much for the Holy Spirit to get this one done. It takes a whole lot of ground shaking challenge by the Holy Spirit to get peter into this particular “chariot” – this particular conversation.
The Holy Spirit first of all prepares the ground for this BIG moment up ahead. First of all, this interesting man, Cornelius, needs some work.
He is a Centurion in the great Roman military machine that has Judea and most of the known world under rule. Cornelius commands 100 men. He lives in a beautiful Mediterranean sea-side city of Caesarea, named after Caesar Augustus. It is the capital of the Roman military in this far-from Rome province. He lives in a neighbourhood of military colleagues and friends who live on the sea shore in their lovely Roman villas next to the Hippodrome (horse racing track) and the amphitheatre. He goes to the races. He has a bet. He goes to the show….life is good.
We hear something unexpected about Cornelius. He is a “God-fearer”. He believes there is only one God, not many as do most of his colleagues. He respects the moral law of the Jewish people. In other words, many would say, Cornelius is a “good man”. He is about to find out that being a “good man” is not enough. He is not complete.
The Spirit has been at work in this man’s life for years it seems. But now is the time for a new conversation. The Spirit creates unrest and action by means of a dream. “I have heard your praying and seen your generous giving to others, says the Spirit. You need to meet this man of God named peter. He is over at the tanner’s house about 30kms away in Joppa”. Cornelius shares this with one of his men – also a “God-fearer”. He sends two men to find this Peter.
Part one done. The ground is made ready by the Sprit. Now for the harder task; to convince an insider to get to an outsider!
Peter is on the move in and around Jerusalem. Joppa and Caesarea are only 30-40 km’s from Jerusalem. At Simon the tanner’s house, Peter goes up for an afternoon snooze in the heat of the day and is also unsettled into action by means of a Holy Spirit initiated dream or vision.
This Jewish law abiding man of God cannot stomach the dream. It is a call to do something he has been taught NOT to do all his life. He is told to kill and eat every kind of unclean animal as laid down in the Torah! “You’re going to get dirty on this one, Peter!” Peter protests at this gross demand of God. He takes the call to mix it with the wrong people in the wrong places as an insult to his prized status as a chosen one of God. This mission is below him. You can hear him thinking, “Surely Jesus does not want me to break the rules of my family and faith to really mix it with people I have been told all my life are no good, below me, not worthy of God and not worth my time and effort?”
The Holy Spirit says, “Yes. That is exactly what Jesus is calling to do now. As Peter tries to recover from this ground shifting assault on his sensibilities, Cornelius’ men turn up, looking for him.
The conversation has begun. Cornelius’ men tell Peter the story about their Centurion. Peter starts to get what God is asking him to do. He sleeps on it. In the morning they all hit the road for the moment the Holy Spirit has orchestrated.
Peter gets there and does not find just one Centurion, but one centurion and his while clan – servants, relatives, babies, grandparents, dogs and cats! They tell each other the stories of what they have noticed God doing in their lives – they share their dreams and the actions that ensued.
Peter goes with what he knows. He tells the gathering about what he is now beginning to understand through what he knows of the Word, what he knows of Jesus and what he is beginning to hear in the recent events directed by the Spirit of God through various people and sometime quite directly.
“I now know that God does not show favouritism but accepts every kind of person from every kind of background, skin colour, language group, sub-culture and place who honour him and do what he says – do what is right in God’s sight” he says.
While Peter is going with what he knows even he is astonished that the Holy Spirit comes upon these outsiders as he had come upon all the insiders at the Festival a just before at Pentecost. He and the other Jewish followers of Jesus, we “astonished’ that this would happen. “They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have”, they say.
Now in our time this may not seem such a big deal. We are the unclean gentiles who have been included for a long time now. But what about the reality that God still shows no favouritism and seeks all kinds of people in our town?
What if like peter and the others, we viewed everyone, and I mean everyone, who was not of our family heritage, our nationality and custom as inferior, unclean, unacceptable to God, in line for his judgement and completely unworthy of our time effort and money? What if this was embedded in our family gatherings, our worship gatherings, our media and your culture in general?
Peter and the others thought that church was only for the chosen ones. They thought that Jesus’ love and his wonderful peace was just for them who were already in the church. They could not really believe that what they had been given by God was also for those outside.
What if all your life you had been brought up to view all “those people” different from you as lower, dirty, even incapable of good at times. All your life you had lived under family rules and customs and church practice that did their best to keep you, the chosen few, out of reach to Cornelius and his “type”? What if this was who you were and the Holy Spirit cracked open this cacoon by sending you to “those people’ and then using you to bring in a complete revolution in a lounge room!?
If God truly shows no favourites and really does want all people to share in the love and hope of Jesus as we here do, then what does that mean for being St Petri?
There is no one around this town who is excluded from the reach of the Holy Spirit. He goes where and to whom he wants.
He invites us to get into the chariot, or the lounge room, or the school ground or the church building, or the factory or office or winery or park or pub with people he is preparing – like Cornelius and simply go with what we know of the Word, our experience of Jesus and what he has been doing lately.
There is no one we should favour, exclude, avoid, be scared of or shy away from on any basis as we listen to the Word of the Spirit together and do what he says in our own ways, words and style with what he had given us to share – everything.
When we gather in whatever way we are to be as inclusive as we can – inclusive in how we invite people, what we say when we are together, what we don’t say – not out of being politically Correct, but out of love for people whom God loves and respect for the working of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives.
“God indeed shows no favouritism”: A gift and a call for us now.
Think this through, friend. Dream about it. Talk about it. Seek the Lord on it. Do what you hear him saying when he says it. It will be surprising! You will be an instrument of hope and love and this is what they might say about us. St Petri people? O, they don’t have favourites. They celebrate life and they share the love and hope of Jesus with anyone everywhere!