by the lakeside you renewed your call to your disciples:
help your Church to obey your command
and draw the nations to the fire of your love,
to the glory of God the Father.
44 Even as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message. 45 The Jewish believers[e] who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too. 46 For they heard them speaking in other tongues[f] and praising God.
Then Peter asked, 47 “Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?” 48 So he gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Afterward Cornelius asked him to stay with them for several days.
Acts 10:44-end (NLT)
Homily by the Rev’d Jo Joyce
This account in Acts of the gentiles – non Jewish believers, receiving the Holy Spirit is a little different to the account of Pentecost. When the Holy Spirit came then, those who were filled were all Jewish believers or Gentiles who had converted to Judaism. This account comes a little later when Peter is speaking to Gentiles who have not converted. First, he had an encounter with Cornelius, a roman centurion, a captain of the Italian Regiment and as he reflects on this he realises that God’s message is for all, not just those who have converted to the Jewish faith – Christianity at that point remined a small sect of Judaism. Peter’s speech, the revelation of the Holy Spirit and a vision convincing him that new believers no longer needed to follow Jewish food laws led him to open the message of Jesus to all comers, without putting barriers in the way of conversion to Judaism and all of its laws.
As we move then to our part of the story it’s worth looking closer. Often, I think when we are reading in the bible about the gift of tongues we are a bit sceptical, or maybe even anxious. Unlike more obvious gifts such as healing, it doesn’t seem to have much purpose. At Pentecost others heard them speaking their language and believed, so it was missional, but it doesn’t seem to happen here, rather the gift of tongues seems to be used in worship to praise God with no other obvious purpose. There is no clarity as to why it happened or whether it happened again to that group of people. Add this to it being one of those gifts which in the modern church can end up being divisive – “they are one of those born again people” – where there is genuine fear about people being manipulated or making it up, and where some church leaders have made it into a badge of their particular type of church – either you’re in or out, it can be sadly dismissed.
Yet all of this, whether it is making it a requirement of belonging, or something of which to be afraid somewhat misses the point. The early believers didn’t ask for it it, it just happened, it was a kind of spontaneous worship, as natural as breaking into song, or dropping to their knees to pray. And for Peter it was a sign that what he was coming to believe – that God saw all people as equal, was right. And remember for him that was a radical cultural shift.
Later in the letter to the Corinthians St Paul talks of love as being more important than the gift of tongues, while in the letter to the Galatians he talks about the fruit of the spirit – love, joy peace gentleness etc. These are the ways that we know if something is of God. My guess is that the day that Peter preached the atmosphere would have been full of that peace, filled with the presence of God. He is not afraid of what God is doing, even if it doesn’t look like how he would think of worship, but he sees similarities in his own experience, and opens his mind to the fact that God might be doing something radically new, including people who until now had been, not just outside but religiously unclean.
So how might we see this today, well firstly, I think the key message is that God includes those we least expect. The Holy Spirit doesn’t put barriers on who can be included. As I read this it’s easy to get blasé and think but of course God is like that, but we too can be like Peter. I wonder who we think God would never include? Who are the outsiders who make us feel a bit different? What are the experiences of worship that we shy away from or deny are of God? When we see others experience God differently to us how does it make us feel?
Peter was on a journey – it took him a while to come to terms with allowing others in and enabling them to worship in a different way to him, but it’s a journey we all have to go on at some point. As we pass the faith on, we realise that God doesn’t always work in others the ways God works in us. That worship can be different from ours but just as holy. That sometimes God challenges us to step outside our comfort zone and realise that he is doing a new thing. The work of the Holy Spirit in bringing others to faith might sometimes challenge us, but if we are not being challenged to see and think about faith in new ways then maybe we need to question how open we are to the work of the Spirit.
May the Lord God Bless you each step of Life’s way.
May you learn each day to open yourself to love and the blessings of love.
May you find a stick to lean on when the road is hard- and not use the stick to beat
May you be blessed with life’s abundance and blessed in poor days too, learning again
what really matters, what lasts. May you never give in to despair or the lie that
nothing can change.
May you find ways of life and walk them with courage, knowing that every step is
within the heart of Christ who holds all our days in love.
© Revd Dr Christopher Jenkins