Even On The Gentiles!Fr. Barnabas Powell
Christ is Risen!
It’s always a bit amusing, and even a little sad, to watch some people’s expressions when someone who doesn’t fit their idea of who should attend church strolls into their church building. I watched one woman, desperately try not to appear visibly upset when a black family came to church one Sunday. She caught herself too late to wipe off the mixture of shock and disdain on her face when this beautiful family of four walked in and sat down in a pew near her.
And I confess to being a little too pleased to see her discomfort. You see, I had been preaching that if Orthodoxy isn’t for everybody, soon it will belong to nobody! And now, here was an opportunity to have this message leave the realm of comfortable theory! Of course, I quickly repented of my self-righteousness and prayed for all of them to be at ease with the uncomfortable truth.
Look at our lesson today in Acts 10:44-48; 11:1-10:
IN THOSE DAYS, while Peter was still saying this, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can any one forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days. Now the apostles and the brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” But Peter began and explained to them in order: “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, something descending, like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came down to me. Looking at it closely I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘No, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven.”
We rejoin Peter at Cornelius’ home and Peter’s message of the Gospel has been received by these Gentiles full force! But wait, they are Gentiles! They don’t have the centuries being formed by the Law of Moses! They don’t have the Temple worship that teaches them to pray! They don’t have all the lessons learned through the centuries! And they get the Gospel just like us “chosen” people! How confused these Jews must have been to see the extent of the grace of God!
But what these members of “the circumcision party” missed (by the way, this was a group of people who believed that the Gospel was only for the Jews, and one had to become a Jew first before you could become a Christian) was that they weren’t diminished by God being gracious to Gentiles. Not in the least! All they had to do was to remember just why God made them the “chosen” people in the first place: to be a blessing to all nations! That was one of the three promises God made Abraham in the very beginning – to make Abraham’s name great (done), to make Abraham’s descendants as numerous as the sands of the seashore (done, but not in the way some expected!), and to make this nation a blessing to all nations! You see, the very purpose of having a “chosen” people was so that God could shape a nation to be an example (not an exclusive club) for all people and then to make all nations like His chosen nation!
Of course, God fulfills all His promises to Abraham through His Church in Christ! It is in the Church that all nations gather with their uniqueness and beauty preserved and transformed into gifts for all people, no matter where they come from!
Today, is your Orthodoxy big enough, loving enough, and strong enough to accept others who don’t look like you or come from where you come from? If it isn’t then maybe it’s time to revisit what is at the heart of being Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. This Sunday is a 5th Sunday and normally you’d be hearing from my dear friend Bill Marianes on his live program “Stewardship Calling” but we are having a Special Faith Encouraged LIVE program to follow up on our first program about the Holy and Great Council being convened on Pentecost of this year. Bill’s “Stewardship Calling” will be back at the end of July and visit his website at stewardshipcalling.com