Sermon:         Astonishment Scripture:       Acts 10:44-48 Preacher:       Rev. Michael Bodger Location:        First Presbyterian, DeLand Date:               May 06, 2018 Today we are looking at a text in the Book of Acts 10:44-48. It follows on from the text we used on Easter Sunday, Acts 10:34-43, which told us of the time when Peter told the story of Jesus to those in the house of a Roman Centurion called Cornelius.   Now Peter had arrived at Cornelius’s house after both he and Cornelius had received visions and Peter has heard the Spirit telling him to go with three men who have arrived from Cornelius’s house. It was a house in which Peter would ordinarily never have even entered into, let alone share with those in it the gospel story. After all, Peter was a Jew and Cornelius nothing more than a Roman citizen, a gentile, unworthy on so many levels, so but for the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and Peter’s response this encounter would never have taken place.   It also follows on from a text we used as we journeyed through ‘Living the Five,’ when Philip was prompted by the Spirit to talk to an Ethiopian. For those of you who weren’t here for that sermon series, we took a journey to discuss what it meant to be followers of Jesus Christ with five key points. Now I should ask at this point all those who were here what the five points were – shouldn’t I. Well, let me put your minds at ease and remind you. As Christ Followers, You Can’t Do Life Alone, we are made to be in community. Growing People Change, if we are growing in our faith, change is a given. Saved People Serve People, we look to serve others. Found People Find People, having embraced the gospel ourselves an overflow is to find others and tell them and finally, Worship is a Lifestyle we wrap all these things together as we worship the Lord our God. The focus of the Acts text was Found People Find people and our text today sheds more light on how that might come about.   With that in mind, listen then to what the Spirit is telling the church this day.   Acts 10:44-48 44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47 “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.   As I said, our text comes to us today as Peter, despite his previous understanding in who it was he should be talking to, is speaking to all those who are gathered in Cornelius’ house. What must Peter have been thinking? What is more, what must those who were with Peter have been thinking? Regardless of Peter’s opinion, and the only light that is shed upon this is the words he shared when he had his vision. Asked in his vision to kill and eat all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air.  Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” In other words, he had kept himself pure and true to his Jewish upbringing in following the requirements of the law in what he could eat and who he could interact with.   Peter says this is my understanding of what it is I should be doing, for I have done it throughout my life and I’m not going to do anything considered unclean now, “By no means, Lord!” Yet he does, Peter listens to the Holy Spirit and by the time he first arrives at Cornelius’ house, he says this to Cornelius and the waiting group. “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?”   “I am here,” says Peter, “though I don’t know why.” He is present, in the moment, and yet is still unsure of what is needed, let alone what the outcome might be of anything he does next. Now may I ask why you sent for me?” Even at this point, I don’t think Peter envisaged sharing the good news with them, until Cornelius gave his answer.   Cornelius simply says, “you are here so we can listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say.” Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality….”   Peter is taken to the very point of telling the message of Jesus Christ to a group who he previously believed to be excluded and as he begins, he has no idea how it is all going to pan out. He speaks, and it is during this act of faithfulness on Peter’s behalf, that we read these words, While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.   That’s right Peter, that’s right church, all who heard the word. We are not the arbitrators, we are not the mediators, we are not the judges of who is in a position to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. Peter said, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality….” And so neither should we.   It happens again later in the Book of Acts. Paul is convinced of where he should go, but the Spirit has other plans. They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” So that’s what Paul and his fellow travellers did and the gospel spread. The Spirit was involved again.   Let’s be clear on something, this is a text about proclaiming the word of God, about telling the story, about putting ourselves into positions and doing things which allows others to see and hear about the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is about being led by the Spirit, listening to where the Spirit would have us go, which means being open as individuals and as a community to the leading of the Spirit in our lives and leaving the results up to God.   The acting agent in all of this text is the living, triune God who says, with humanity this is impossible, with God, all things are possible. The prophet Isaiah tells us that God says, I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.   In other words there is a way, when there is seemingly no way, with God in and through Jesus Christ.   The Holy Spirit is what brings action and power to Peter’s ministry. It’s what brings action and power to our ministry too. It interrupts and infuses the situation. Cornelius, we have previously been told was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God.   What was missing was the understanding of Jesus Christ and when Peter, answering the direction of the Holy Spirit, spoke, the Holy Spirit acted in the life of Cornelius and all those in his household. We know nothing else about Cornelius, other than he was a gentile, a Roman Centurion, one who epitomized those who surely should not, would not receive the gospel message. What are the boundaries that we consciously or unconsciously put in place, before we are willing to tell others the good news of Jesus Christ? Peter had a lifetime of Jewish tradition, which said don’t you dare engage and make yourself unclean with gentiles and Peter laid it all aside and went anyway, led by the Holy Spirit.   What’s more, Peter had not come on his own. Those who came with Peter were traditionally of the same mind as Peter. He had no doubt told them about his vision and they went along with Peter, but they must have still been wondering about why they were even there. Then we read about the AHA moment. Just like the scales that fell from Saul’s eyes when he realized the truth of Jesus Christ and he was re-named Paul. Our text continues,   The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God.   They recognized the work of the Holy Spirit and the so called in-crowd were astounded, the word also translates as astonished, or insane. They were out of their minds that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.   It was that dramatic of a revelation to them.   It was a defining moment, they stood there in astonishment – it was simply a jaw dropping experience that those circumcised believers witnessed. This was not supposed to be happening. There was amazement and astonishment back in Acts 2 when Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit spoke to the people gathered at Pentecost.   What they were experiencing now was not in their script, but it was in God’s script.   What do we do with such moments – that despite all our understanding, all our reasoning, sometimes even everything that we have held dear – unfolds before our very eyes and God has stepped in and said ‘it’s okay, this is my way.’   This past week we had the final leaders meeting for the Presbyterian Women’s Bible Study as we concluded the PW study on Hebrew’s about being surrounded by a Cloud of Witnesses. During the conversation we began to talk about the journey that we are all on in Jesus Christ and the fact that we are all at different places on that journey and that’s okay. Unless of course we want everybody to be on the same page as us, at the same point, with the same understanding! One young lady, who just happened to be 92 years old said, “I’m still learning, we never stop learning.”   Peter and the circumcised believers were learning about what God asks of us and the question we are asked is do we and are we open to that learning?   [1]Now brother Bartholomew was a timid man, he dreaded speaking in public. So he was terrified on the day it was his turn to give a devotional message. With his knees trembling, he faced his listeners and said, “Do you know what I’m going to say this morning?” “No,” answered the audience. He then said, “Neither do I,” and he ran from the room. The next day he was told to try again. He said, “Do you know what I’m going to say?” This time they replied, “Yes.” So brother Bartholomew quickly answered , “Then you don’t need me to tell you.” Again he fled. He tried for a third morning, saying, “Do you know what I’m going to say?” Now, his listeners were wising up to brother Bartholomew and so this morning half his hearers shouted, “Yes!” and half shouted, “No!” “Ah,” said brother Bartholomew, “then let those who know, tell those who don’t know,” and again he fled. At first, his hearers sat in silence. Then the words hit home: “Let those who know, tell those who don’t know.” Our event in scripture today is sometimes termed the Gentile Pentecost. It’s about those who know, telling those who don’t know regardless of who they are about Jesus Christ.   In our text, Peter seizes on the astonishment of those with him, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.   Peter says to those around, specifically to those circumcised believers, those gathered here are a part of the family of Christ – our brothers and sisters, we just didn’t realize it.   In baptism, we recognize the claim that God already has upon our lives and we live into the call that he places before us and we are brought into the body of Christ. It’s God’s agency through an acceptance by both parties that God claims us all. The question is what are we going to do with that knowledge.   The encounter in Cornelius’ house was a two way affair. The impact was felt by both sides, because coming into that moment there clearly was two sides, the circumcised believer’s and those in Cornelius’ household. What came out of the encounter, through God’s intervention, was that under the umbrella of Jesus Christ, led by the Holy Spirit, there is only one. There is unity for all and it comes in Jesus Christ.   Now, unfortunately, what we do with that subsequently, is in our continued brokenness, we find ways to disassemble the unity – the Triune God says we are one and we say, but they are not like us, but they don’t hold to what we believe, but they, but they, but they….   The Holy Spirit took Peter across boundaries – human boundaries – and said they don’t matter to God when it comes to spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. What do we do with that?   What are those boundaries for us – individually or as a church? What is the Holy Spirit telling us in this place and in this time?   Where is Cornelius’s House today? What do we discern that the Spirit is telling us, and where are we led to tell others about the love of God in Jesus Christ. May we overcome our pre-disposed opinions, overcome our prejudices, overcome our fear, overcome our sense of who in our eyes should be those who receive the message, overcome our - this is the way we do it and let us together, as a community discern where Cornelius’s house or houses are today. Then go and when we do,   what we’ll find are people just like us – children of God, nothing more, nothing less, and they are made in my image says God – “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”   Listen to my direction, tell them my story says God’s and leave the rest up to me.   We will not always tell the story in every situation, we will also tell the story in many different ways, sometimes by words, sometimes by actions and when we tell it, unlike that day in Caesarea, those who listen, may not hear what is being told. We are not to worry about any of that, but instead do the best we can.   The good news of Jesus Christ is that day in Caesarea, those who thought they understood who God’s message was for, stood in Astonishment at the actions of a loving, living God who claims us all and calls us to God’s self that we would be in relationship with not only God, but one another.   Look around as we live life, be willing to be astonished by a God who says you are mine – not just to you, not just to me, but to everyone – if we would just open our hearts and minds to the possibilities given to us by the Holy Spirit and all of God’s children said, Amen.     Michael D. Bodger, M.Div. Pastor & Teaching Elder First Presbyterian Church 724 North Woodland Blvd. DeLand, Florida 32720  © 2018 Michael D. Bodger. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved. [1] https://odb.org/2001/09/11/brother-john/