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The Conversion of the Church

By Dr. Mark W. Hetrick
 
Friday, March 5, 2010

Scripture Verses
Acts 10:1-48

 1At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. 3One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, "Cornelius!"

 4Cornelius stared at him in fear. "What is it, Lord?" he asked.

   The angel answered, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. 5Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. 6He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea."

 7When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. 8He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.

 9About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. 13Then a voice told him, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat."

 14"Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean."

 15The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."

 16This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

 17While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon's house was and stopped at the gate. 18They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there.

 19While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Simon, three[a] men are looking for you. 20So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them."

 21Peter went down and said to the men, "I'm the one you're looking for. Why have you come?"

 22The men replied, "We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say." 23Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.

The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa went along. 24The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. 26But Peter made him get up. "Stand up," he said, "I am only a man myself."

 27Talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. 28He said to them: "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. 29So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?"

 30Cornelius answered: "Four days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me 31and said, 'Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. 32Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.' 33So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us."

 34Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. 36You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

 39"We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed 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."

 44While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46For they heard them speaking in tongues[b] and praising God.

   Then Peter said, 47"Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have." 48So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.


Devotion
“Jesus loves the little children/All the children of the world/Red and yellow, black and white/They are precious in his sight/Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

When we sing this simple song today, the powerful truth that it declares is so obvious that we don’t give it a second thought.  God loves everyone and the church is for everybody!  At least that’s what we say, because that’s what we believe.  But it certainly wasn’t always that way, and sometimes it still isn’t.       
           
As Acts 10 makes clear, the first followers of Christ, including the apostles, struggled to welcome “those who were different” into the church.  Racial prejudices, family/ethnic barriers, and socio-economic divisions were just as real in the first century A.D. as they are today.  The division between Jews and Gentiles was especially problematic, and it cut both ways. 

God had to intervene through two visions, one for Cornelius and one for Peter, in order to convert those who believed in Jesus to the divine way of thinking.  “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism,” Peter eventually concluded (Acts 10:34).  But when the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius and his friends in a type of “second Pentecost,” Peter was still astounded that “the gift of the Holy Spirit has been poured out even on the Gentiles” (Acts 10:45).         

Surprisingly, the church really was and is for everybody!

So, how are we doing today?  Do we make our guests feel welcome or do we tend to ignore them?  (Most congregations think they are friendly, and they usually are . . . to each other).  Is there a place in our church programming for single adults?  For persons who are divorced?  For single-parent families?  Are there certain types of people in our community that we tend to avoid?  Just how accepting are we of people who dress differently, who talk differently, or who think differently?

These are not “academic” questions.  They get at the heart of what it means to be the church of Jesus Christ: a community for everyone!  

Prayer
God, thank you for accepting me into your church, your family.  Enable me to see other people the same way you do: with no favoritism whatsoever.  And help me make our congregation into a community where everybody has a place.  Amen.