Biblical scholars argue that the Book of Acts is one long committee meeting. First on the agenda for the early Church is who should be welcome. The majority opinion must have been: let’s stay in Jerusalem and maintain our members only club, a small collection of men who believe like us, who act like us, who are just like us. But refusing to follow Roberts’s Rules of Order, the Holy Spirit interrupts the proceeding and blows the agenda away.
Today’s text comes in the middle of this administrative gathering and what happens in these four verses forever changes the expansion of Christianity. What is it that’s so astounding for the believers?
Acts 10:44-48 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.
They didn’t have to do anything to receive the Holy Spirit.
The baptism of Jesus also included foreigners and strangers.
That God would do something contrary to God’s word.
After the declaration of war by President Bush in what we called the Gulf War, some of us Christians in Atlanta had gathered for prayer, tells Fred Craddock. We had songs, we had scripture, we had prayer, and then songs, and scripture, and prayer. For a long time. There was seated next to me a young man, I think about seventeen or eighteen, might have been a freshman at the university, I don’t know. In the course of the sentence prayers, he asked that God be with the women and the children in Iraq who would be hurt and killed in the war. When it was over, a man in his mid-fifties came over to that young man and said, “Are you on Saddam’s side?” He said, “Uh, no sir.” “Well, you’re praying for the wrong people.”
In ancient Palestine, Gentile was often used as a derogatory term, a slur hurled in the direction of someone who voted for the other party, wrong politics; who is not from around here, wrong hometown; whose background is suspect, wrong ethnicity; who worships false gods, wrong religion. Gentiles were so wrong that conducting business with them was banned, intermarrying was forbidden and if one wandered into the sanctuary, execution was expected.
The believers must have been dumbstruck astounded by God refusing to play favorites, by God destroying the boundaries of us and them, by God redefining faith as welcoming the very person most unlike you.
Should we let in the Roman centurion, a commander of soldiers occupying our holy land? Yes, in the name of Jesus Christ, baptize and welcome Cornelius. What about the castrated Ethiopian, an asexual person unable to be circumcised? Yes, in the name of Jesus Christ, baptize and welcome the Eunuch. What about the woman from Joppa that’s ministering to the widows but isn’t a man? Yes, in the name of Jesus Christ, baptize and welcome Tabatha.
Today’s text is called the Gentile Pentecost, a reminder that the Holy Spirit shows up most on the margins of society, pours out her acceptance wherever someone is left behind, interrupts with a mighty wind the institution’s deliberations about membership until all are finally included in the family of God.
From Acts to Asheville, the inspired Church’s primary mission has always been to welcome all the wrong people.