In 1861, revivalist William Booth started the Hallelujah Band: a group of believers who had a questionable reputation in society’s eyes. He had invited a converted poacher, a couple of prizefighters and a jailbird. This formed the basis for the eventual founding of the Salvation Army, famed worldwide as an organization dedicated to reaching the poor in practical ways.
Working mostly in London, William and his wife, Catherine, preached the gospel and campaigned for social reform. Their military uniforms and radical philosophy attracted both ridicule and admiration. The Booths reached out to those regarded as “impure and unclean” by society, but they knew that God sees with different eyes, a truth reinforced in today’s reading of Acts 10:23b-11:18.
Cornelius is a Gentile, not a Jew. But he feared God as best he knew him, he prayed, he gave alms and walked in an upright way (v. 2, 22). God sent an angel to him and told him to send for Peter to hear what he has to say.
Now Peter, the good Jew that he was, wouldn’t have thought twice about entering a Gentile’s home, not even that of a godly Gentile, which leads to the purpose of Peter’s vision – to change his mind and heart (v. 15, 28, 34-35). In the middle of this story about crossing Jewish and Gentile boundaries, Peter gets it, as do those watching and listening. They had learned an important truth about God’s extravagantly generous grace – it knows no boundaries; it plays no favourites.
God receives anyone, anywhere, from any background, race, ethnicity, social class and place in life. He is impartial. Anyone, in any circumstance, who comes to God with a repentant heart, will find an open door to the truth about Jesus Christ. He is God, reaching out to us in our weakness, failure, and sinfulness to restore us and to draw us unto himself.
Amidst this gathering, the Holy Spirit breaks down barriers and draws these two groups together. The Holy Spirit is poured out on the Gentiles, and the circumcised believers are in awe. They did not expect this! (v. 44-46). God breaks through stereotypes and separation, and—by the waters of baptism—everyone is sealed as children of God and as brothers and sisters in faith together. No favourites here! Life for all!
God, forgive us for putting up walls to divide ourselves from others. Wash our minds, our hearts and our mouths of all racial slurs and ethnic put-downs and put to death all alienating behaviours. May we be the Good Samaritan for the outcast, the hands of Jesus for those considered untouchable and the Peter for some waiting Cornelius. May your Spirit pour out afresh on all who call on the name of Jesus. Amen.
Jesus Follower, husband to Danae, father of Kaia & Hadley. Community Life Pastor and worship drummer!