By Michael Fitzpatrick
A Reading from Acts 11:1-18
1 Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, 3 saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” 4 Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. 6 As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7 I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 10 This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11 At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14 he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” 18 When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
Our lesson today is in some ways a highlight reel of the events in the previous chapter. St. Peter predictably has offended the other Jewish disciples by eating with and preaching to Cornelius and his fellow Gentiles. St. Peter has to help his siblings in Christ make the conversion he did to seeing God’s grace for all people; so he tells them his story. At the end, he compels them to realize that “if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”
Few words in Scripture are more timely for us today. As we look at the state of the Church in the West, we are confronted by issues of sectarianism, debate over liturgy and worship, confrontations between the sciences and faith, political co-option of religion, and more. These dissensions are often symptomatic of God’s people standing in God’s way as he is inviting more people to trust in Christ. Maybe, in these moments, we need to stop what we’re doing for a moment and ask what God is doing. Where is God sending the Holy Spirit, and are we standing in the way?
Yet if this sounds like just a religious version of fashionable inclusivity, we’re not really hearing St. Peter. The Holy Spirit is indeed for everyone, and we must not stand in the way of anyone to whom God gives the Spirit. But St. Peter’s gospel proclamation was not that God welcomes all and leaves them just as they are. No, “even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.” The fullness of life is offered to all, but the road goes through repentance, dying to self, turning away from who we once were to become forged in the image of Christ. Our responsibility is to call people to repentance and faith in Christ, while always remembering that it is Christ who is their judge (and ours). We are simply called to preach the gospel and not to stand in God’s way!
Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctoral student in philosophy at Stanford University. He attends St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, Calif., where he serves as a lay preacher and teacher.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
Church of the Holy Faith, Santa Fe, N.M.
Church of the Province of Uganda