Opening Up to the Outsiders
The Season of Easter is the season of Acts, so I'm going to return to our
devotions from the Book of Acts.
In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.” When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him, and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa. ~ Acts 10:1-8
Acts 10 is important.
It's important because, although Cornelius isn't the first Gentile to become part of the people of the Way (as early Christians were called), he is the one that will lead Peter to a new way of seeing Jesus' followers.
Because up until now Peter has been fairly traditional in how he thinks Jesus' followers should be brought into the fold.
Up until now, Peter's been all about the insiders.
And quite suspicious of the outsiders.
But we already know that the time for the outsiders is coming. We know because right before these little vignettes about Peter - and coming again soon - is the story of Paul.
Who was the apostles to the outsiders.
We've been pitting outsiders against insiders from the very beginning. And even one of the biggest names in the church was guilty of wanting to keep things "as we've always done them," by keeping the Christian movement as a Jewish movement.
But revolution was coming then. Coming from an ultimate outsider: a Roman centurion. One who was part of a legion from Italy itself.
Not a nice Jewish boy from Jerusalem.
And even before we learn anything about Peter's feelings about this Gentile, we learn about the Gentile himself. That he is devout and generous. He is a worshiper of God.
How did that happen?
That's the question maybe that we get stuck on when it comes to insiders and outsiders. How is it, we often wonder, that people who are outside our tribe are actually an awful lot like us?
There are a lot of outsiders today who are devout and generous just like Cornelius, and yet not part of our tribe. And I think that just maybe we are again being called to revolutionary way of seeing them.
And opening our doors and our hearts to them.
Who might they be?
Lord, let me see no longer insiders and outsiders, but instead simply your children. And help me to recognize the mercy that is needed by us all. Amen.