This meditation is broken into three sections. The first section was read as we sat at the opening of the labyrinth and prepared for our journey. This portion provides a theological and Biblical (Old Testament) foundation upon which the New Testament text builds. In the center we recount the story from Acts, understanding the passage in its context and applying it to ours. Then a word of blessing was spoken over each child as he or she left the center and walked out of the labyrinth individually.
This week we’ve learned about the tower of Babel and the time when God confused the languages and dispersed the nations. But on Pentecost, God entered into history and enabled his people to communicate the message of Jesus into many languages at once as the church, God’s movement to reunite the nations, was born. We’ve also learned about the origins of the Samaritans, the half Jew,half pagan race that developed in the land during the time of exile. Again, God’s movement tore down the walls of hostility and brought people together.
Exodus 19:5-6 “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”
God’s purpose and plan for Israel is sometimes misunderstood. It is true that Israel was set apart for God’s purposes. God commanded them to keep themselves separate from other nations for the sake of purity. But God did this for a purpose. Israel was to be a kingdom of priests. A priest is a mediator, a go between. Israel was called by God to be a bridge between God and the other nations in the world. This was a tough job for Israel and today it is a tough job for the church. But it is our calling.
We are called to be set apart from the world for the sake of the world. God tried to protect Israel from the worship of false gods and other sinful practices that consumed their neighbors. Yet, at the same time Israel had this priestly mission, they were to be calling the nations to come and worship the One, True God. Israel (like us) often failed in one of two ways. The first problem comes from being too much like the world. Many times Israel fell into the sinful practices of their neighbors. The second problem comes when those who are set apart fail to love the people they are called to reach.
This second problem is the one we are dealing with today. Israel’s leaders had to work hard to keep the people away from the sinful practices of their neighbors. Also, from the time of the Exile forward Israel was never free, there was always a foreign oppressor, a Gentile government ruling over them. These two factors created a certain hatred for the Gentiles, anyone who was not a Jew. God’s people lost sight of the goal to draw the world to God and developed an us versus them mentality. Us vs. them is a common mindset in our world today, but it is not the mindset we are called to as followers of Jesus. The goal of the church is to draw human beings into one united “we”. Who do you struggle to accept? Where would you be willing to go? What are you willing to risk to bring others into the Church of Jesus?
Our story takes place in two cities today. It begins in Caesarea, a town built to house Roman soldiers as they patrolled the far reaches of the Empire. In Caesarea, we find a God-fearing Gentile who both loved God and others, even though he was not a Jew. Here in Caesarea, our story begins as an angel appears to this man Cornelius, a centurion, an officer in the Roman Army. The angel tells him to send for Simon Peter.
This takes us to our second city, Joppa, where Simon Peter, the apostle who had spent three years at Jesus side and then become one of the primary leaders of the young church in Jerusalem, was staying with a leather worker named Simon “the Tanner”. Around noon the next day Peter is on the roof of the house praying, and he too had a vision. The vision ended with a message from God, “Peter do not call anything unclean that I have made clean.”
Peter was confused by this vision and sat on the roof struggling to figure out how to apply this message. As he sat and wondered a knock came at the door…it was the messengers sent by Cornelius. They exchanged stories about their visions and Peter. Then Peter left Joppa and went with them back to Caesarea to meet Cornelius.
When Peter and Cornelius met they shared the stories of their visions with each other. This was a challenging time for Peter. He told Cornelius, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man unclean.” Peter went on to say, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”
Then Peter shared the gospel message with Cornelius and his friends. As Peter was speaking something amazing happened. The Holy Spirit was poured out on Cornelius and his friends. God acted in this moment to clearly show Peter what he should do. God accepted these Gentiles, so Peter knew he should, too.
Peter said, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”
It is difficult for us to realize just how big these events were. Peter took many great risks through this story. It took faith to even go to the house of Cornelius. He was brave to share the story of Jesus with a Gentile audience. And it took great boldness to accept these Gentile believers and baptize many of them. Peter knew there would be other Jews who did not approve of his decision to welcome Gentiles into the church, but he knew God had called him to do so in this moment. Peter finally understood that God accepts men form every nation who fear him and do what is right.
What are you willing to do to extend the boundaries of the gospel? Where are you willing to go? Who are you willing to talk to and share your life with? Most importantly, are you willing to ask God, “Where do you want me to go? What do you want me to do?”
Prayer of a Growing Kindgom
You came to this earth, your love to show.
You planted a seed, your kingdom to grow.
For a new beginning, your Spirit you gave.
A sinful and broken, lost world to save.
Thank you for your grace that welcomed us in.
Now give us the boldness to bring you to our friends.
“The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you.
The Lord be gracious to you
And give you peace.”