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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Thursday, July 18, 2019              

Today’s Scripture Reading | Acts 10:1–16

In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.” When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him, and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa.

About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven. (NRSV)

Today’s scripture verses tell the story of Cornelius, a non-Jew, and his relationship with Peter, a Jewish follower of Jesus. The early Christian community was faced with the question of how Jews and non-Jews could both be followers of Jesus. After all, Jesus was a Jew and he followed Jewish teaching. Peter, featured in today’s story, was also a devout Jew. Cornelius was not Jewish, and yet he is described as a man who feared God. In other words, he too was devout: he prayed constantly to God.

Peter’s vision from God in his dream is about foods that Peter thought could be eaten and were ritually pure or “clean” and foods that could not be eaten and were considered impure or unclean. But God breaks down Peter’s limitations and expands the possibilities.

Through this dream and through his encounter with Cornelius, Peter learns that sometimes we humans create distinctions, labels, and segregation that God does not see. What humans call unclean or profane, God might call clean, holy, and worthy.

In verse 34 Peter says, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality.” Peter learns that God accepts even people seen as “outsiders” and that God pours out the Holy Spirit on them (Acts 10:45). Cornelius and his whole family became baptized.

God of all creation, you have given your spirit, the breath of life, to all humans. Help me to love as you love, across all barriers and differences. Break down my limited thinking, and help me to see your image in all people. Amen.

Written by Nanette Sawyer, Associate Pastor for Discipleship and Small Group Ministry

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