Theme: Sharing our gifts
Let us pray.
Most holy, Lord God, you sent many people to share the gospel with others; we give thanks for your servant Peter, who told many about your son, through whom we pray. Amen.
There is a folk tale from India that helps us understand how insignificant people (in the eyes of human being) make a significant difference in the welfare of humanity. There was a king who ruled his kingdom wisely and who ruled well. He had three daughters. He called them together and told them he was leaving on a long journey to learn about God.
In his absence, he intended his three daughters to be in charge of the kingdom. As a sign, he wanted leave each of them with a gift that would help them learn how to wisely use their power to rule. Then he placed in each of their hands a single grain of rice.
The first daughter tied a long golden thread around her grain of rice and put it in a beautiful crystal box. Every day she looked at it and reminded herself that she was powerful.
The second daughter took one look at the common grain of rice and threw it away. The third daughter just looked at her grain of rice for a long time, until she finally understood what to do with it. She went outside and planted it in the ground. And it became a seed, giving life beyond itself, eventually turning into vast rice fields of hope and nourishment for others.
The father returned years later. He asked his three daughters what they had done with their grains of rice. Obviously, he was not impressed with the explanations of his first two daughters.
The third daughter did not give explanation but took her father to the vast fields of grain of rice and showed him how a small grain of rice could make a life-lasting difference in the kingdom. Taking the crown off his head, he placed it on hers, saying: “Beloved, you alone have learned the meaning of power even in a grain of rice.” From that day, the youngest daughter ruled the kingdom. She ruled long and she ruled wisely and well too.
The king gave each of his daughters a gift. Each daughter chose a different way to exercise the gift they received. Only one daughter was rewarded for how she used her gift.
God has given each of us a gift. Typically, we have more than one gift. God is likely not too impressed if we don’t use our gifts for others, like the daughter from the tale. Theologically, we say that our gifts are given to us by the Holy Spirit in baptism. I actually think that God gave us our gifts in the womb.
Jesus knew what gifts Peter had when Jesus called Peter to follow him. The great things Peter did for the church was an evolutionary process. Peter needed to grow into his ministry. But the gifts Peter needed for that, he already had. And both God and Jesus often had to repeat themselves with Peter.
So we have a part of the story of Peter and Cornelius today. Previous to the reading we heard from Acts, two people had visions from God at about the same time. The first one was a Roman officer named Cornelius, a centurion. He was stationed at Caesarea on what is now the Israeli coast. He received a vision from God requesting him to send for a man named Peter in Joppa.
The second man was none other than St. Peter, Jesus’ closest friend. He was staying in Joppa. Peter received a vision of a sheet of animals coming down to him and declaring Peter to eat. But the animals were unclean and Peter, being a Jew, could not eat them. Peter, being Peter, needed to see the sheet three times before he understood that God was declaring all food as clean.
Then just as Peter was trying to make sense of this vision, people from Cornelius called and asked Peter to accompany them to Caesarea. The Holy Spirit told Peter to go with them. After arriving at Cornelius’ house, Cornelius shares his vision with Peter. What we heard was Peter’s response.
Peter had believed that in order to be a follower of Jesus, that that person must first be a Jew. Peter now connects his vision with what God is trying to tell him. God can work with anyone, even an Italian Roman soldier.
God doesn’t really care who worships God. It may be a Jew. It may be a Roman soldier. It may be anyone. It doesn’t matter who are or where you came from. If you want God, the door is open. Jews do not have a special place with God.
But God did choose Israel for special consideration. God chose Abraham and his descendants to have a special relationship. This culminated in the coming of Jesus. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. The good news brought with Jesus was one of peace.
There was no peace in Tucson yesterday morning. I wouldn’t be surprised if the people responsible for the shootings claim to be a Christian. There are people who claim to be Christian, but do not know Jesus in this country. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. The gospels record how Jesus is all about peace. Jesus’ own words are of peace. Jesus said we are to turn the other cheek. We are not to beget violence with violence. A prominent politician used gun sights to identify political opponents. Sarah Palin took that page off of her web site hours after the shootings. The political discourse in this country has gotten out of hand. Inciting violence has no place in politics or anywhere else. Now I’ll get off of my soapbox.
Peter assumes his audience is familiar with the Jesus story, but he summarizes it just in case. It is interesting that Peter begins, basically as the gospels begin, with John the Baptist. This may be one of Peter’s stock speeches that later, when put together, may be the basis for Mark’s gospel.
It was through John the Baptist that Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit. It was this God-given anointing that seems to give Jesus his title, the messiah, the Christ. It is only after his baptism that Jesus begins his ministry. Jesus then proclaimed by word and deed what God wants for the world. Peter and his friends were witnesses to everything that Jesus did.
Peter and his companions were witnesses to Jesus’ arrest and execution. Ironically, an arrest that resulted in Jesus’ death at the hands of the Roman government, of whom Cornelius is an employee. But Jesus didn’t stay dead. Three days later Jesus rose from the grave and was seen by those chosen by God to be witnesses. Peter and his friends even ate and drank with Jesus after he died! In other words, Jesus was real and not a ghost.
Peter and his friends were commissioned by Jesus to tell people that Jesus is the judge of the living and the dead. The prophets of old also say that everyone who believes in Jesus will have their sins forgiven by Jesus.
Peter presumes some knowledge of what was going to become the Old Testament. Jesus’ life can only be understood in the context of the Old Testament. The Hebrew prophets of old mention Jesus. Only Israel never imagined the messiah rising from the dead. This was a new and difficult concept.
For Peter’s brief sermon to Cornelius the Centurion and his household, Peter enjoys the advantage of Cornelius being receptive to hearing God’s word both through the Holy Spirit and through Peter. Cornelius seems to have also studied Jewish scripture. Cornelius becomes a believer after hearing Peter and Peter baptizes the whole household.
Peter’s message is this: God welcomes all people, Jesus received the Holy Spirit at his baptism and healed people, and Peter is personally a witness to all Jesus did and he is a witness of Jesus’ death. Peter is also a witness to the resurrection by eating and drinking with Jesus after Jesus’ execution. Peter and the other witnesses are commissioned by Jesus to share Jesus’ story and that Jesus is the ultimate judge of our lives.
Baptism is our initiation rite giving the one who is baptized membership in the church. We are joined with Christ in baptism. Cornelius and his whole household were baptized by Peter after hearing the gospel. We are made ministers in baptism. Baptism makes us a Christian, not an Episcopalian, not a Roman Catholic, not a Baptist, not any other denomination in Christianity. We belong to Christ and not to a specific church.
As Christians, we are called to utilize our God-given gifts for the church and others. We are not to throw away our gifts. We are not to cherish our gifts, leaving them dormant. We are to take our grain of rice, plant it, and feed others.
We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, we give you thanks for the many gifts you gave us, infuse us with your Spirit, empowering us to share our gifts with others, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Text: Acts 10:34–43 (NRSV)
34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 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. 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; 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 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. 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. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”