Sermon: Cornelius the Centurion

peter vision food bw

There is a rather curious event discussed in the first half of Chapter 10 in the Acts of the Apostles. The Apostle Peter was praying and he fell into something like a trance. While in the trance he had a vision. He saw something like a sheet descending from heaven and on it were all the creatures of the earth. Both clean and unclean animals. Animals the Jewish people were allowed to eat and those they were not. Peter heard a voice, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” When he awoke, Peter tried to make sense of this dream, but couldn’t. Then, three servants of a Cornelius the Centurion came looking for him.

Cornelius was a very devout man and follower of God, but he was “unclean,” because he was a gentile. However, an angel of the Lord had appeared to him and told him to have a man named Peter brought to him. So he sent for this Peter. A few days later Peter arrived with the servants that Cornelius had sent. Upon seeing Peter, Cornelius rushed forward and fell at Peter’s feet, but Peter had come to understand his strange dream of the animals and the sheet and so, lifting Cornelius to his feet, said to him, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?” Cornelius wanted to know more of God, so Peter did the most extraordinary thing, he proclaimed the Gospel to one who was unclean, to a gentile. Did Cornelius burst into flames by hearing the words that were reserved only for the clean, only for the Jews? No. Instead, as Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit descended upon Cornelius and all those that were listening. Those with Peter were astounded, but all understood. God was no longer just the God of a small tribe who lived on the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea. God was the God of all! Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” Cornelius and all those with him were baptized. Why is that significant? They were the first and as we prayed in the opening collect, Cornelius was the first Christian – among the “unclean” – the gentiles.

In our Gospel reading Jesus said, “people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God.” Through Christ, no one has been excluded from the Kingdom of God. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote, “in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” To the Romans he said, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Cornelius was the first to realize that there are no barriers to Christ. We are brothers and sisters in Christ with him. Let this also serve as a reminder that we are never to set up barriers to others who desire to come into a saving relationship with Jesus.

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