Scripture: Acts 10:1-44
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
“While Peter was still speaking…” This sentence says it all. I have yet to successfully teach my children to voluntarily take turns speaking at the dining room table, and observe the respectful ways of interacting once we are all together at the end of the day. On the days I have Elizabeth, it’s one interruption after another if I try to sneak away to do anything even remotely resembling schoolwork or church work. It’s like she has a sixth sense when I need space to just get a thought down or a sentence written, and she’s right there, “Daddy, will you come play with me?” “You be the kitty,” or “I’m the mom, you’re the grampa.”
Things just get compounded when Timothy and Sarah are done with school and all three of them want attention. It is a crazy balancing act, ricocheting between them all and the kitchen trying to get dinner made and on the table. I suppose I could just not preach one of these Sundays and we could simply sit in silence, waiting for the Holy Spirit to speak. I’ve heard some Friends/Quaker Meetings still do that. It sounds so refreshing to me sometimes.
That being said, here in Acts, we have an instance when the Holy Spirit really does show up in more than a spectacular way. Peter was speaking about his vision and responding to the experience Cornelius had of an angel of the Lord telling him to send for Peter when all of a sudden, he is interrupted!
“While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.” Was this instance the same as the first one when Pentecost arrived at the upper room, a wind with tongues of fire and all? The text doesn’t tell us – until we read ahead to Acts 11:15. Here, Peter relays his time with Cornelius to those in Jerusalem and tells them, “the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning;” a Holy Interruption, indeed.
I wonder what that must have been like. Thinking back to the first Pentecost, which we will commemorate in two weeks time, the disciples had been instructed to wait in Jerusalem until they received power from on high. They were waiting, singing, meeting in worship, no doubt discussing among themselves how their whole lives had been interrupted by God’s activity amongst them through Jesus Christ. Then the Holy interruption as the Spirit descended upon them with a sound like a wind, with visible tongues of fire alighting on their heads and an outbreak of praising God, audible in many languages.
Here we have another instance of a Holy interruption producing an outbreak of praising God. But the Holy Spirit didn’t do it decently and in order! The Holy Spirit didn’t come to the waiting disciples as it was bid to do by Jesus; These were Gentiles – albeit God-fearing ones, but they had never been circumcised or confirmed as Jewish proselytes; plus they were in the camp of the Roman enemy! Yet here the Holy Spirit comes to them and anoints them, interrupting Peter’s explanation of recent happenings. What can we learn from this? Taking it verse by verse:
“While he was still speaking…” (45) Perhaps the Holy Spirit is like a child, full of enthusiasm for the present moment in which to blow life into the world, heedless of the deliberations, schedules, and responsibilities of grown-ups. Heeding the Spirit might be one of the most important things we ever do.
“…the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.” (45) The Holy Spirit will come when it will and do what it will, sometimes by pouncing upon the merest opening in conversation. Do we listen for those moments? Yearn for them? Wait for them? Let them speak when they come?
“The circumcised believers were astounded….” (46) Those who had some familiarity with the workings of the Holy Spirit have to correct some assumptions –the Holy Spirit is not bound unto the Jewish believers alone – or even Jewish people alone!
“…the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God.” (45-46) When the Holy Spirit does pour itself out upon a people, of whatever kind, praising God happens in exciting and sometimes frighteningly new ways.
Peter asks, rhetorically, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people…?” (47) No, the water of baptism is also, like the Spirit, for everyone who trusts the Lord. Remember your dunking, or sprinkling, however you were baptized – does the Breath of the Wind still stir your souls as tongues of fire rest upon you?
“… who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (47) When the Holy Spirit pours itself out upon a people, there is then an opportunity for recognition that we are One in the Spirit – strangers no more, enemies no more, all one people anointed to be God’s people in the world.
“So [Peter] ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.”(48)
As a symbol and recognition that these God-believing Gentiles are one with the Jewish Followers of Jesus, Peter has them baptized. For that time and place, that would be like becoming an official members of the congregation: Cornelius, Centurion of the Roman Empire, and all his household and those gathered with him: remaining who they are still, yet everything changes because they have experienced true communion – same root word as community – of God within this deeper, more profound way of being in the world – blessed with receiving the Holy Spirit, blessed with membership in God’s kingdom.
Peter and his companions stay with these new members of the family for several days, no doubt savoring the moments, teaching and learning from one another, and preparing to bring the good news to believers back in Jerusalem.
What joy! What celebration! Perhaps, in the end, what we can learn from this is the need to open our doors even more, listen and watch for where the Holy Spirit is moving – even if it seems to be “outside the box” of our understanding – even perhaps outside the box of our faith. For, as we have seen from today’s passage, the Holy Spirit of God works when and where it will. Who are we to question the Lord? Let us instead be carried by the wind of the Spirit. Amen? May it be so.
Question for Reflection
In our Gospel lesson this week, Jesus speaks of his extreme love for us, calls us his friends, and says that he makes known to us everything that he hears from God. How does thinking of Christ as our friend and lover—or Lord and Master—affect our daily living?
Household Prayer: Morning
Holy One, I begin today breathing in your love for me, for others, and for the world. Keep me mindful of all the marvelous things you are doing around and within me today. Help me to feel my friendship with Jesus and his confidence in me. Maintain in my heart the image of myself as a tree, bearing the fruit of Christ’s love everywhere I go today. Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
God, you are both judge and friend. Even as I review my day, I give it over to you. I let go of the good, the bad, and the in-between, trusting in your care for me. I am content this night to abide in your love. I breathe in your joy and your peace. Whatever I need, I ask of you in Jesus’ name. Amen.