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Friday, July 17, 2015

Today’s Reading | 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. (NRSV)

The personal and social settings in which we read and ponder the scriptures shape how we glimpse God’s word. As I sat down to prepare this devotion, my thoughts were shadowed by the news of the tragic hate crime at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, which took the lives of nine people, including the lead pastor. Those who were killed were members and staff in this historic African American congregation. The deeply disturbed young man, who had joined them for Bible study before opening fire, was white.

Racial divisions and racial hatred continue to fuel deadly violence in our nation. What word of grace can we lean on and share? In the powerful story of Peter’s sermon welcoming Gentile (non-Jewish) believers to the church, we find a hopeful clue.

During the earliest years of the Christian movement, conservative Jewish-Christian voices held sway. One had to embrace the practice of Judaism before becoming a Christian. Peter had been a Jewish-Christian leader until his vision and his encounter with Cornelius transformed his perspective.

Peter’s sermon begins, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality. . .” No human difference can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Neither race, nor national origin, nor religious practice, nor gender, nor sexual orientation, nor any other distinction can set one group of people over another.

The Holy Spirit confirms Peter’s convictions, descending on the new Gentile believers in a second Pentecost, leading to their baptism. I was drawn back to the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Brief Statement of Faith: “In a broken and fearful world, the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing, to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior, to unmask idolatries in church and culture, to hear the voices of people silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom and peace.” May it be so.

Holy One, comfort us, convict us, empower us, lead us on through the shadows toward the bright light of your love and grace in Christ our Lord. Amen.

Written by Jeffrey Doane, Parish Associate for Older Adults

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