Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 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. 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; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 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. 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. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’ While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 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, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.
Still pondering what his vision meant, Peter follows the men to Cornelius’ house where he launches into a sermon—the story of Jesus’ life, death and Resurrection. Peter ends with: “everyone who believes in him receives the forgiveness of sins through his name.” Immediately, the Holy Spirit comes upon these unconverted Gentiles, and they start speaking in tongues!
What Peter did…what the Holy Spirit did through Peter…changed the course of Christianity forever. It was opened to the whole world—to you and me. When Peter declared that “God does not show favouritism,” I’m not sure he really understood what that meant – but by the end of his sermon, he did. But do we? What kind of prejudices do I hold on to, do you?
What do I hand out to others when I have received and continue to receive grace upon grace every minute of every day? We are all prone to justify ourselves and to condemn those who are different than us. We are all prone to judge others, rather than accept them as they are—the way God accepts us.
There was a time, not too long ago, when some good Christians thought God meant for people to own slaves. There was a time when black people were not allowed to worship God with white people. We could go on and on.
But Peter says in our Lesson for today, “I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism.” Do we believe this to be true? If so, are we living it? Social boundaries, class boundaries, racial boundaries…from the early Church to have so much today, still to overcome. If the rules were changed for you and me, so that we could come in—who are we, then, to prevent God from blessing the whole human family? Who are we to stand in the way of God’s love?
from a prayer by two Jewish Rabbis:
Holy One, we know you by many names, but still we are part of one human family, Your family. Open our hearts and minds so that we see Your reflection in the face of everyone. Help us to forge bonds of compassion, dignity, and respect with every person. Amen
The Rev’d Sue Henderson, retired URC minister, member of the United Church Bradford on Avon.