Jesus is Lord of All!
Acts 10:45 – August 9, 2015
Here in the church, we sometimes talk about missionaries going to far-flung places in distant parts of the earth. They navigate visible and invisible borders and boundaries. But not me! I’ve always lived here in the Chicago area. One big similarity? I served in three multi-cultural hospitals. For almost ten years, in several hospitals and extended care centers around Chicago, I worked as a chaplain. I dealt with patients, their loved ones, and health care staff—on a regular basis. Instead of going to the world, I had the world come to me, in the hospital.
What in the world does this have to do with our sermon today? I’ll tell you, in a story-telling kind of way. We start off in Caesarea, a Roman city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, the Roman capital of the Roman province of Judaea. Thoroughly Roman in every way, from its pagan temples, amphitheater and other architecture to the brand new deep harbor, thanks to superior Roman engineering skills.
Here we meet Cornelius, a Roman centurion, in charge of one hundred soldiers. (He’s a Gentile, by the way.) Let me tell you what Dr. Luke has to say in Acts chapter 10. I’m reading again from the excellent version translated by J.B. Phillips. “1-3 There was a man in Caesarea by the name of Cornelius, a centurion in what was called the Italian Regiment. He was a deeply religious man who reverenced God, as did all his household. He made many charitable gifts to the people and was a real man of prayer.”
Did you all catch that? Cornelius reverenced/revered God! The God who made heaven and earth. The God of the Jews. But, he was a . . . Gentile! Not a drop of Jewish blood in him.
What happens next? “About three o’clock one afternoon he saw perfectly clearly in a dream an angel of God coming into his room, saying, “Cornelius!” 4a He stared at the angel in terror, and said, “What is it, Lord?” 4b-6 The angel replied, “Your prayers and your deeds of charity have gone up to Heaven and are remembered before God. Now send men to Joppa for a man called Simon, who is also known as Peter.”
The town of Joppa was not just a mile or two down the road. No, the soldier Cornelius needed to send his servants between thirty and forty miles away in order to fetch this Simon Peter guy. Which, Cornelius did, right then and there.
Meanwhile, in Joppa—I imagine a split-screen sort of a deal here. On this side, here is the city of Caesarea. A large, Roman-style house. The camera zooms in on the centurion Cornelius, just having dispatched his men to go fetch Peter. And—on the other side of the screen, we have the camera: starting out in a long shot. We see the street scene on an afternoon in Joppa. The camera pans in, coming closer and closer to a particular building. A smaller house. Simon Peter is sitting up on the flat roof, catching some breeze off the ocean in that coastal town.
Dr. Luke continues: “9-13 Next day, while these men were still on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up about mid-day on to the flat roof of the house to pray. He became very hungry and longed for something to eat. But while the meal was being prepared he fell into a trance and saw the heavens open and something like a great sheet descending upon the earth, let down by its four corners. In it were all kinds of animals, reptiles and birds. Then came a voice which said to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” “
In the Mosaic Law, recorded in the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, the Law code has definite restrictions on what any good, kosher-keeping Jew is and is not allowed to eat. A few well-known forbidden foods are no pigs—no pork. No shrimp or other shellfish. Also, no rabbits or snakes, and no owls or birds of prey. These are just a few of the kinds of animals, fish and birds that are forbidden, for various reasons. So, let’s see what happens next!
“14 Peter said, “Never, Lord! For not once in my life have I ever eaten anything common or unclean.” 15 Then the voice spoke to him a second time, “You must not call what God has cleansed common.” 16 This happened three times, and then the thing was gone, taken back into heaven.”
Wow! Amazing vision that Peter had! Talk about totally blowing Peter away. Peter had always—all of his life—kept kosher. Eaten only the things that the Mosaic Law code said he could eat. Now, out of a clear blue sky, this vision is telling him that God calls all things clean!
I want to take a little detour. Tell you a bit about my two chaplain internships, after graduating seminary. I dug right into learning about various faith traditions. I learned about widely different cultural traditions, too. This was a natural progression for me, learning more of how to accompany diverse people in crisis, critical care, trauma and end of life. It sounds rather odd, talking about my years of intensive learning and stressful internship in this way, but I very much appreciated every intense, multicultural experience I had: both in the classroom, as well as on the floors and units of the hospitals and care centers.
Let’s come back to Acts, chapter 10. “17-20 While Peter was still puzzling about the meaning of the vision which he had just seen, the men sent by Cornelius had arrived asking for the house of Simon. They were standing at the very doorway of the house calling out to enquire if Simon, surnamed Peter, were lodging there. Peter was still thinking deeply about the vision when the Spirit said to him, “Three men are here looking for you. Get up and go downstairs. Go with them without any misgivings, for I myself have sent them.”
“23b-26 On the next day Peter got up and set out with them, accompanied by some of the believers from Joppa, arriving at Caesarea on the day after that. Cornelius was expecting them and had invited together all his relations and intimate friends. As Peter entered the house Cornelius met him by falling on his knees before him and worshiping him. But Peter roused him with the words, “Stand up, I am a human being too!”
I need to interrupt, to let you know—Peter and his Jewish friends from Joppa, being good observant Jews, were forbidden by the Jewish Law code to enter the house of a Gentile. Yet—that is exactly what Peter intended to do! Let’s continue.
“27-29 Then Peter went right into the house in deep conversation with Cornelius and found that a large number of people had assembled. Then he spoke to them, “You all know that it is forbidden for a man who is a Jew to associate with, or even visit, a man of another nation. But God has shown me plainly that no man must be called ‘common’ or ‘unclean’. That is why I came here when I was sent for without raising any objection.”
As for me? All three of the hospitals where I served were in the middle of multicultural areas, a crossroad of the multicultural communities of Chicago and the surrounding area. One of these hospitals has the distinction of sitting in one of the most diverse ZIP codes in the country. (The U.S. Census Bureau says so.) I never knew who was going to be in that next room I entered, or what situation I was going to encounter next.
“34-43 Then Peter began to speak, “In solemn truth I can see now that God is no respecter of persons, but that in every nation the one who reverences Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him! God has sent His message to the children of Israel by giving us the good news of peace through Jesus Christ—He is the Lord of us all.” Ahh. We can see that slowly, very slowly, Peter is taking baby steps towards being open to more than just Jews.
When I served as a chaplain, I didn’t just serve Protestant Christians. I remember a Buddhist Asian family in critical care, as their loved one died just as I came in—complete silence and intense sadness greeted me as I joined them in the room. Another time, I entered the packed ICU cubicle—wall to wall with a Pentecostal Latino family, who wanted me to pray their brother (and uncle) across the River Jordan. (The crashing, palpable waves of grief struck me again and again…I vividly remember.) It wasn’t all end of life. I remember being asked to pray the Rosary with a Filipino family around their ill auntie, lying in the hospital bed. There was the situation with an older Muslim patient, and the 20-something relative wearing black hijab and very conservative dress, sitting next to the bed; she earnestly asked me to pray. Of course I did!
In fact, Peter goes on to say: “We are those witnesses, we who ate and drank with Him after he had risen from the dead! Moreover, we are the people whom He commanded to preach and bear fearless witness to the fact that He is the one appointed by God to be the judge of both the living and the dead.”
This sermon Peter preached—for it was a sermon!—had its effect. The Gentile audience heard Peter, and what happened? “44-46a While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to his message. The Jewish believers who had come with Peter were absolutely amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit was being poured out on Gentiles also; for they heard them speaking in foreign tongues and glorifying God.”
Did you hear what happened? Praise God! These Gentiles believed, and the same thing happened to them that had happened to the Jewish believers in Acts chapter 2! The gift of the Holy Spirit came upon the Gentiles, too.
Remember what Peter told his Jewish audience, at Pentecost? Acts chapter 2? Joel’s prophecy regarding the outpouring of the Holy Spirit had been fulfilled. All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Joel 2:32a). At first, Peter and the rest of Jesus’ followers thought that all only meant Jews. And then, Samaritans were added.
I have Good News for you. I have Good News for us all. Jesus is the Lord of all (10:36b). All Jews and all Gentiles who believe in Him receive forgiveness of sins through His name (10:43). As the commentator Richard Carlson said, the Apostle Paul had it exactly right, “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female” (Galatians 3:28). In Christ, there is neither Republican nor Democrat, citizen nor undocumented visitor, gay nor straight, for all are one in Christ Jesus.
In God’s salvation plan, all now really means all.