St. Matthew’s Sermon 01-12-2020

St. Matthew’s Sermon 01-12-2020 Oh…

Oh… Now I Get It

Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 29, Acts 10:34-43, Matthew 3:13-17

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

Our reading from the Book of Acts this morning is just a snippet of one of my favorite stories of the New Testament. I would have loved to have had (John) read the whole of it but as it runs on from verse 1 of chapter 10 to verse 18 of chapter 11, well, it wouldn’t have left much time for my part of the message. So I’ll just give you a summary but will also strongly encourage you to read it in its entirety sometime soon after hearing what I say today.

We call it the story of Peter and Cornelius. Cornelius is a righteous, God fearing man but he is a gentile and a Centurion of the Roman army, living in Caesarea. One day, while in prayer, he has a vision of angel that tells him to “…send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter”.

As Cornelius’ servants are en route to find Peter, Peter is praying on the roof of a house in Joppa, goes into a trance, and has a vision of a large blanket bearing all kinds of animals, reptiles and birds and hears a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” And Peter replied, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” Peter then heard the response “What God has made clean, you must not call profane”. All this repeated 3 times and the vision ended leaving Peter perplexed and pondering.

About that time Cornelius’ men arrived and the Spirit told Peter “Look, three men are searching for you. Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.”

Peter went with the men to Cornelius’ house in Caesarea and, as we heard in today’s reading, began to preach to all gathered there.

In the part immediately following today’s reading, as Peter is still speaking, the entire household received the Holy Spirit. Then Peter and his companions Baptized all of them.

Later, When Peter returns to Jerusalem, the Church leaders challenge him saying “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?”

Peter tells them the whole story, from beginning to end, the leaders of the Church accept and understand as Peter did, and, as is written at verse 18 of Chapter 11, “… they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.””

To some, the focus of the story is on the conversion of Cornelius. To others, taking Peter’s vision out of context, it is about God making all foods clean and acceptable for believers to eat, which might be extended to who you eat it with. And, still others see the story as the opening of “the repentance that leads to life” to those outside the Jewish tradition.

There is merit in all of these, but each one leaves out another part of the story.

Yes, Cornelius received the Holy Spirit (along with the rest of his household), but it was stated in the beginning of the story that he was a righteous man; so where is the repentance.

The household received the Holy Spirit…. Before they were Baptized; contradicting our notion that it is Baptism that instills the Holy Spirit.

And, although Cornelius is identified as a righteous, God-fearing man, He was a Gentile, not a member in good standing with the Jewish faith nor the Christian Faith.

The part that I believe is left out of the story by Christian readers is the part about conversion. Not the conversion of Cornelius, we’ve covered that; but the part about the conversion of Peter.

It’s lost in most of our modern translations but it begins in Peter’s first words as he addresses Cornelius and his fellows. We heard it this morning as “”I truly understand that God shows no partiality…” But in the nuances of the Greek tense, Peter’s understanding is something new, something being gained now; and would be more accurately rendered “Now, I truly understand…” or as the American Standard translation reads, “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality…” or, as we might say in simple English, “Oh, now I get it”!

Peter, who has been pondering the meaning of his vision of the animals on the blanket for days, and wondering why the Holy Spirit has sent him to the home of a Gentile, now begins to understand. He understands that the vision wasn’t about what was clean to eat and what was not; he understands that righteous Cornelius didn’t need to be told to repent, he understands that God’s Spirit moves at God’s will, not his; and he is gaining a new understanding of what a Christian community should look like, act like, and who it should include!

But now, the leaders in Jerusalem come into the story, criticizing Peter for going to a Gentile, entering his home, and even eating with them.

Peter recounts the entire story; but adds at the end, “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.’ 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?” “…who was I that I could hinder God”?

The argument was over and the whole Church was converted.

Again, I strongly encourage you to read the story in its entirety for yourself and then ask yourself, “What has God made clean that you still call profane”? “Who did God send his Spirit upon that you would not accept into your community”? And, most importantly, “Who are you that you could hinder God”?

Don’t put a period where God put a comma. God is – still speaking!


Isaiah 42:1-9 42:1 Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth

justice to the nations. 42:2 He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 42:3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 42:4 He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching. 42:5 Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: 42:6 I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, 42:7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. 42:8 I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. 42:9 See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.

Psalm 29 29:1 Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. 29:2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor. 29:3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters. 29:4 The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty. 29:5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon. 29:6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. 29:7 The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire. 29:8 The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. 29:9 The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!” 29:10 The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever. 29:11 May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!

Acts 10:34-43 10:34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 10:35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 10:36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ–he is Lord of all. 10:37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 10:38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 10:39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 10:40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 10:41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 10:42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 10:43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Matthew 3:13-17 3:13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 3:14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 3:15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 3:16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 3:17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”