Acts 10 – 11
In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. 2 He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. 3 One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” 4 He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; 6 he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.” 7 When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him, 8 and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa.
9 About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” 15 The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.
17 Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate. 18 They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there. 19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Look, three men are searching for you. 20 Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.” 21 So Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?” 22 They answered, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23 So Peter invited them in and gave them lodging.
Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
In most cultures there is an us and them about food. In Australia it is about Vegemite – how likes it – who has tried to introduce other people to it? How did you go?
Do you feel a kinship with others who like vegemite?
Exchange student story about vegemite
Malaysian story about duran
It’s amazing, isn’t it, the power of food? Power to shape our identities; to connect us to our histories, and to others who share similar journeys?
Sometimes food can define who is in and who is out
Who is us and who is them.
I want in Video
- What most stands out in this video and why?
- How does this commercial make you feel about the product they are advertising?
- What kinds of things do you sometimes think other people are in on that you’d like to try, and why?
- What are some things you are already into but would rather keep certain people out and wh
Bible Reading Acts 10 – 11 – listen what part food plays in this story?
Peter’s dream about food is an amazing and transformative experience for him and a sign and guide for all of us. It forced him to overcome the barriers that his diet had always set up between himself and others who were not Jewish. It asks us to consider how we can cross similar boundaries that exist between ourselves and others.
What most stands out most in this story? – look back at the story – discussion
That Cornelius knew God and worshiped him?
- Cornelius is the first person with Roman authority named in Acts. Religiously, he is “a devout man, who feared God–gave alms generously–and prayed constantly to God”
That he was probably living out his faith in ways that the Jews probably weren’t. That eating and entering the house was taboo
That Peter and Cornelius both had visions? – a double vision is employed in Acts to get two people on God’s page.
- both Saul and Ananias had separate visions about the same future
I find it interesting that Peter was baffled by his vision – he was up on the roof trying to figure it out when the messengers from Cornelius came. Peter’s understanding of his Gentile mission unfolds as a result of hearing about Cornelius’ vision hence the“double visions”, it also came from internal reflection through the reports of these messengers and by Cornelius’s hospitable reception of him and his word. Peter turned to Scripture for confirmation and clarification only after he learned by these multiple experiences over several days that God’s forgiveness is offered to all people without partiality.
- We need other people in our lives to help us discern God’s will and purpose. We are not alone in this Christian walk which is why coming to worship and being with other Christians is so important.
- The process of getting on the same page with God is frequently confusing, profoundly dependent upon others and often takes a considerable time.
That Peter actually went against Jewish law to go to Cornelius? – why – because the Holy Spirit directed him to.
That the holy Spirit came upon these people like on the day of Pentecost? This is called the Gentile Pentecost
That these gentiles were baptised?
That the believers in Jerusalem would question Peter and what he did?
They didn’t question Peter’s preaching to these gentiles or that he baptised them – what were they worried about – Food – eating with these people – being invited into their homes – this was forbidden.
The Circumcision party – yes there were divisions and factions within the early church – This faction wanted the Jewish law to be strictly upheld. They had a strict legalistic background and couldn’t fathom associating with anyone unless they were circumcised. Jewish law upheld that as part of the covenant, so it was non-negotiable. The belief was that these new believers must first become a Jew before becoming a Christian. Otherwise, table fellowship was strictly prohibited.
However there is a real danger in trivializing th anxiety and criticize these Jewish believers as “legalists” or worse. Their concern for purity is in reality a concern for the community’s solidarity. This is after all a community of friends that has distinguished itself in Jerusalem’s public life by living together with “one heart and soul” as shown earlier in Acts 4:32.
Now, however, the currency of the community’s solidarity is no longer merely sharing goods; the community’s new currency through this story is the sharing of the same spiritual food, “the gift of the Holy Spirit,” which purifies everyone who calls upon the risen “Lord of all.” That is, while the stated anxiety is table fellowship, the implied and real anxiety is over sharing the Holy Spirit with unholy Gentiles.
Today’s church does the same thing – do they believe the same thing about the bible? About homosexuality, about politics, about any other thing that we hold dear.
How does Peter react?
He retells the whole story, with some added bits like the 6 eyewitnesses. He doesn’t mention Cornelius by name but he does place the emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit in all this. Peter’s witness is not to a law or doctrine but to the religious experience.
There is little room for the importance of religious experience in the Christian congregation that views Scripture as the only source of divine revelation. In fact, some faith traditions dismiss human experience of God’s truth as inherently flawed by human depravity. Such a theological perspective is at odds with Acts, where God’s word often takes the form of a surprising phenomenon rather than a biblical text. In fact, when testimony of God’s new direction is asked for in Acts, the prophet-like-Jesus typically cites a saving event before a sacred text. Scripture is reread by experience. For all our proper attention to careful Bible study, God’s prodding is sometimes felt within us or first observed in the bustle of life around us. Often our opinion is reversed for the Lord’s sake by our existential encounters with the Holy Spirit in the mess and muck of ordinary living.
When Christians and the church are divided by rules, doctrinal matters or particular emphasis then we often miss the intention of God of unity and wholeness. When we make a distinction between us and them or see someone as “unclean” or “unworthy” then we differentiate ourselves and falsely believe in our own superiority.
Let’s go back to where I started – food
What if the role of food in the story was not simply to serve as an allegory for divisions and distinctions? Perhaps sharing food – accepting and sharing things that are deeply meaningful to different cultural origins and ethical perspectives, to different regions and households – maybe it could play a critical role in binding us together as a spiritual community.
Maybe Food is one way of connecting with people who are different from us, maybe food and encountering other people’s traditions, stories, and histories is a way of changing our biases towards others. When we eat and show hospitality to others we break down so many barriers.
“God shows no favouritism” for one human being other another.
What we see in this section of Acts is that God’s Spirit will work with or without us, our institutions and social constructs. Recognizing our biases as Peter did, is a good start to breaking down the barriers meant to keep the “other” out.
Being open to the leadership of the Holy Spirit can help erase the lines we have drawn to create barriers and walls to true fellowship. If we are really committed to doing that with each other, we might end up radically transforming what it means to be in a “church” with one another.
God is the God of all