Writing Our Stories of Transformation: May 5, 2024

May 6, 2024

Year B, Easter 6                                    Acts 10:44-48                                                            

I was contacted a by radio station that wanted to talk about the history of
Christ Church.
  Of course, I know many of
the highlights and I got a tour of the church when I interviewed here, but I
wanted to hear what stories our educators were regularly telling.
  I contacted one of our educators and asked
him what the go-to stories were. They were all from the 1700s.
  I said, “Don’t you have any from the 1800s or
  And he said, “Well, there are
some, but we mostly stick to the 1700s.”
I understand that.  People come to
Philadelphia because they want to hear about the start of our nation…which was
in the 1700s.

some ways, we do the same thing when we tell the story of Christianity. The New
Testament basically covers 100 years. In the Easter season, we emphasize this
even more by replacing the Old Testament reading with readings from the Book of
Acts.  We do this is partly to
distinguish the Easter season from other seasons.  Something big happened on Easter, something
that changed the world for everyone (whether they know it or not).  For these 50 days after Easter, we look ahead
instead of behind.  The Book of Acts
tells the story of the beginning of the Christian Church.  In doing so, it tells of transformation of
individuals and groups.  It doesn’t just
tell the story of what happened before, it gives us a template for our future

            The Acts reading we have for today
seems rather innocuous.  The Holy Spirit
fell on some people and Peter decided to baptize them.  This is chapter 10 of Acts.  In just a few weeks we will hear the
Pentecost story from the 2nd chapter of Acts where the Holy Spirit
fell on people in the form of fire. 
People who did not even know the language that the disciples were
speaking, could suddenly understand the disciples as if they were speaking
their own language.  It was quite a
scene.  Therefore the scene this week is
well…boring in comparison.

            The problem is that we missed a few
critical chapters between last week’s story of the baptism and conversion of
the Ethiopian eunuch and this week’s story.  Therefore, to fully
appreciate the drama of what happens in this text, let me share a little about
what happened in the previous chapters, particularly with Peter.  As most
of us know, Peter had some rough moments in the Gospels.  He did not come
out looking like a star disciple. However, after the resurrection, Peter truly
shined.  In chapter 9, we hear a story of Peter healing a paralyzed man,
and then, as if that was not impressive enough, he brought someone back from
the dead.   This undoubtedly
gave Peter some confidence in his abilities, as well as his connection to God.

After Peter raised someone from the dead we hear stories of two visions from
God.  One is for Cornelius, a Roman officer, and one is for Peter. 
Cornelius’s vision was simply a command to find Peter.  Peter’s vision was
a little more complicated.  It involved a command from God to eat animals
that were considered unclean by the Jews.  Peter initially insisted that
he could not eat these animals because he would never eat anything considered
profane or unclean by Jewish law.  Finally God responded, “What God has
made clean, you must not call profane.” The God who raised Jesus from the dead
had changed things.  God was telling
Peter that it was time for him to change as well. 

Shortly after this vision, Peter was called to the home of Cornelius, a Gentile
and a Roman soldier.  Just the fact that Peter agreed to go to the home of
a Gentile is remarkable.  There was something from that vision of the unclean
animals—and perhaps even before that vision—that opened him up to this
possibility. He met Cornelius, as well as Cornelius’ family and friends and heard
the story of Cornelius’ vision from God.  Peter came to know Cornelius and
his family as more than just Gentiles, but as people who God had called.

proceeded to share this sermon: “I truly understand that God shows no
partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is
acceptable to him.”  This is a complete 180 from what Peter previously had
thought.  Up until now, he had only preached to the Jews.  He had
believed that only Jews could hear and receive the message of Jesus Christ.

This turn around was partially due to the vision that God had sent, where he
proclaimed that what God had made clean, no one could call profane.  But
it also came from his interactions with Gentiles, the time he spent talking to
them and eating with them. It was probably a more gradual change than it
appears in these few chapters. It was no doubt a difficult change.  He didn’t just have a vision and
fundamentally change his world view. He opened himself up to the movement of
the Spirit.  He let down his guard enough
to see that maybe things were not as clear as he once thought.

of the Holy Spirit had slowly whittled away at those beliefs that had been so
sacred to him, so foundational to his faith.  It was not an easy
transformation, as transformations rarely are. 
But the transformation he made altered the course of history.  Without his willingness to be open to the
Holy Spirit, we might not have a Christian faith today.

That is what brings us to today’s reading.   He was at Cornelius’ house and a crowd
formed.  It was a crowd of Gentiles.  Peter told the crowd the story of his vision
and experience with Cornelius.  While
Peter was speaking to these Gentiles, proclaiming the good news, the Holy
Spirit fell upon every person who was listening to this good news. I love
that the text says, “While Peter was still speaking…” The Holy Spirit
interrupted Peter. It’s like it could not wait any longer. The Holy Spirit
swept in and fell upon these Gentiles. 
Surely Peter’s words had something to do with their transformation, but the
text proves that there is something unpredictable about the Spirit, even to
super apostles like Peter.  

the Holy Spirit surprised Peter a little, it shocked the Jews who were the
companions of Peter. They could not believe that the Holy Spirit would be
poured onto these unbelievers, these Gentiles.  It is understandable that
they were shocked.  After all, the Holy
Spirit had been working on Peter for a while now.  He had seen visions. He had gotten to know
faithful Gentiles.  But for Peter’s
companions, this was new and shocking. 

could have said, well, let’s prayerfully discern this. We can have some
listening sessions, form a task force—then in a year or so we can decide
whether we should start baptizing Gentiles. Nope, he simply asked the Jews in
his midst, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have
received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”  No one could.  They could
have said no. They could have grumbled and said things under their breath
(which they probably did).  But no one
was willing to withhold water from people who had already received the Holy

            The Book of Acts does not merely
tell us the history of the beginning of the church.  It tells us our purpose.  It tells us our potential as people of the
risen Christ. Sometimes in the church, we focus far too much on what has
happened as opposed to what can happen. We focus on stories that have already
been told.  That is understandable as we
have a lot of great stories. But we cheat ourselves when we act like our faith
is one of history and not a story of how we live today and tomorrow. 

only way that we can move forward as people of faith and as a congregation is
if we ask ourselves where the Holy Spirit is moving us now…what change might be
on the horizon? What walls can we break down? Who are the Gentiles today?
Sometimes it seems like it’s anyone we don’t agree with because we have gotten
so bad at seeing the humanity in the people who we perceive as wrong or not as
enlightened as we are. There are so many opportunities for connection and

if there were no stories of transformation in the Bible.  It is impossible to imagine because it would
be mind numbingly boring.  So why is it that
we do think we can live on the transformation of people who have come before us?  We can’t. 
The stories of the Acts of the Apostles are 2000 years old. We need new
stories.  That’s up to us.  Let’s make sure that when an educator gives a
tour in 100 years, they are talking about not just the 1700s (or even the
1800s), but the 21st century. 
We can build those stories of transformation now.