On Peter’s arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshiped him. But Peter made him get up, saying, “Stand up; I am only a mortal.” And as he talked with him, he went in and found that many had assembled; 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. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?”
Cornelius replied, “Four days ago at this very hour, at three o’clock, I was praying in my house when suddenly a man in dazzling clothes stood before me. He said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon, who is called Peter; he is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ Therefore I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say.”
I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. Yet you have still a few persons in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; they will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before his angels. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
The theme of this year’s Devotions is centered on the unique nature of the Christian Community and what it means for our everyday lives. The tenth chapter of Acts takes us back to the earliest days in the formation of these communities, back to the time when the original questions of who can belong, what to believe, and how to live arose. The first people in the communities were all Jews, but what about Gentiles?
The chapter tells of a devout Roman Centurion, Cornelius, who feared God, prayed constantly, and gave alms generously. In a vision, he is told of a man called Peter, and that he should meet with him. Meanwhile, a hungry Peter has a strange vision. A sheet comes before him filled with strange creatures, and a voice tells him to kill and eat, but he refuses, saying he cannot eat anything unclean. The voice tells Peter that “what God has made clean cannot be called unclean.” Peter does not understand until he comes to the house of the Centurion, where he knows it is forbidden that a Jew visit a Gentile. He recognizes that “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him,” and by Peter’s teaching the Centurion and all his household were led to believe in Christ.
In the passage from Revelation, the critiques of the churches stress these same basic principles. They speak of things done or not, and attitudes shown to others, not who can belong. Unlike secular organizations, the Christian Community is called to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). In our upside-down world, it is only through the support we give each other that we can even approach this calling. It is the core value of our community.
Dear God, in these times of stress and uncertainty in our lives, we ask again for the knowledge of your presence with us, which gives us the strength to support each other through difficult times of separation and isolation. Help us to strive toward our calling together. Amen.