In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. 2 He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. 3 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.” 4 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. 5 Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; 6 he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.” 7 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, 8 and after telling them everything he sent them to Joppa.
9 About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while it was being prepared he fell into a trance. 11 He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” 15 The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.
17 Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate. Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every people anyone who fears him and practices righteousness is acceptable to him.
I’m struck by how clearly Cornelius saw his vision. That’s not really how it works most of the time for me, how about you? I spend a lot of time doing this: On the one hand….but on the other hand….it takes TIME to process any change that comes our way. Maybe Cornelius felt this too, he did stare at the angel in terror…yet we also know Cornelius follows the directions of this angel swiftly and with great confidence.
There’s a lot more to tell in this story too- we hear of yet another entirely different vision sent to Peter, a man of different ethnicity than Cornelius, different religious beliefs, different communities…but the same God made their lives intertwine. How did it work? Both men trusted the strange guidance at work in their lives by a mysterious and ever-faithful God.
You’ve heard me say I’ve wrestled a lot with my decision to resign as pastor of this church. I don’t think I can overstate that wrestling- my heart divided between this church and ministry I love and the vision of my family united rather than split into too many directions. The details of our life together on the ranch are not yet firm…yet I travel with confidence that God has something ahead I can’t see yet. My job is to follow the guidance my internal vision clarifies.
As I read this text from Acts, I very much connect with Cornelius. He’s not yet sure what God has in store for him in Joppa…but he takes this leap of faith anyway. Even when I don’t know what God has in store for me yet, I’m taking this leap of faith. And it’s scary. And it’s hard. And it’s good.
I know the grief of when a pastor ends a ministry within a church is strong- both for the community and for me, your pastor. Yet I keep coming back to the same promises of our faith that have guided us these wonderfully rich 6 years together. As much as you have become my people, my church, my faith family…you have always first belonged to God- and so have I. I hope against hope that the time we have spent together has been as faithful and fruitful and life-giving as it has been for me…even as we experience a season of transition…we affirm that God keeps sending us visions. God keeps expanding our imagination of what is possible. God is why we are the body of Christ, and God is why we’ll keep right on being the body of Christ no matter who takes the ministry lead.
You know what happens because both Peter & Cornelius were faithful in responding to strange visions in their lives? The church of Christ changed dramatically, opening its doors to all people (not only the Jews)…laying the groundwork for even you and I to be a part of God’s big love story. All because two faithful people had the courage to embrace something new.
There’s no way for me to say what the future holds for either myself or for this church…but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is somehow, ever so mysteriously at work even now…fashioning something new in your life and mine. Our best attempt at being open to it like Cornelius and Peter is to continue to be people who pray.
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Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.