Prayfaithfully: The Resurrection and the Outcasts – Part 6

It takes Peter and the other apostles a while to truly understand the breadth and scope of God’s saving grace.

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“Prayfaithfully” is the prayer ministry website of the Northern Great Lakes Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I wrote the Daily Devotions for this week.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Text: Acts 10: 34-48

“Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘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. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”’

“While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that 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 said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.”

Again we return to Peter, that lovable/hate-able, bumbling fool who experiences the power of the Holy Spirit and becomes one of the most influential leaders of the church.

Here, he has been sent to the family of a man named Cornelius, a Roman centurion, who is said to be “a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God.” Cornelius, being a Roman, is obviously not a Judean. He’s a Gentile, specifically not of God’s chosen people. After receiving a vision from God, he sends for Peter to come and visit him.

Peter, meanwhile, has his own vision, a vision of ritually unclean animals he’s commanded to eat. Peter, acting as a proper Judean for maybe the only time in the Bible, politely refuses. The Law says hes’ not allowed to eat those, so he won’t. In response, a voice from heaven commands, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” After visiting with Cornelius, hearing about him and his family and their visions, Peter launches into this speech, when he finally realizes that the good news of the risen Christ is indeed also for the Gentiles, the “unclean”, the outsiders. And just like with Philip in the Ethiopian eunuch, he finds nothing preventing them from being baptized and receiving the full grace of God. In fact, God seems so in a rush to get Peter to welcome these outsiders, they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit before they’re baptized! God is impatient when it comes to dolling out grace…

It takes Peter and the other apostles a while to truly understand the breadth and scope of God’s saving grace. Poor Peter has to be lit on fire, give speeches, and have visions before he gets it. Accepting those on the outside doesn’t come easily when one spends their entire life reinforcing the separation between the in-group and the out-group. But the way I see it, if even Peter can come to this realization, then with God, nothing is impossible!

Let us pray: Impatient God, you delighted in revealing to Peter your intentions for all people, Judean and Gentile, in-crowd and out-crowd. Delight in us as well, revealing to us the breaking down of the barriers that separate us. Come quickly Lord Jesus! In the name of your Son we pray. Amen.

Featured Image: “Evelyn’s Baptism” by Robert Bejil is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Prayfaithfully: The Resurrection and the Outcasts – Part 2

You never know how the Holy Spirit is going to shake things up.

“Prayfaithfully” is the prayer ministry website of the Northern Great Lakes Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I wrote the Daily Devotions for this week.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Text: Acts 2:17-18

“‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.’”

I confess to having a love/hate relationship with Peter. On the one hand, I can’t stand his pompousness, his smugness, his need to be right, his brashness, his betrayal, his denial, and his utter inability to understand a word Jesus says. Even when he accidentally stumbles on the right answer, such as declaring that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, he immediately blows it and gets chastised by Jesus right back. He’s probably the worst disciple of the lot—none of them really know what’s going on, but Peter always thinks he knows, especially when he doesn’t. Some days, I think it would be better to just put Peter in a room somewhere with a bunch of kiddie toys and not let him out until dinner.

But then you have days like Pentecost. On that day, around fifty days after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit fills this misfit band of losers and dunces, manifested in the appearance of fire, and they go out into the streets. And Peter, the worst of the lot, the dunciest of dunces, gives a speech that includes the above text, itself taken from the prophet Joel. Peter is on fire; Peter is alive; Peter gets it; Peter is woke (well, mostly).

You never know how the Holy Spirit is going to shake things up. It’s easy for the church to do just what I did: to look down on people who aren’t totally “in line” with what our mental image of the church should be, to believe that people like “them” could never amount to anything. What an amazing surprise it is, then, when the Holy Spirit completely and totally upends our expectations, does something new and radical, and does it through the most unlikely people!

Let us pray: God of surprises, you took someone like Peter and made him a powerful preacher, teacher, leader, and evangelist for your Gospel. Mold us, imperfect as we are, as you see fit, to see visions, dream dreams, prophesy, and work for justice in a world just as imperfect as we are. In the name of your Son we pray. Amen.

Featured Image: “Jester Hat” by Ed Schipul is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.