The Fourth Sunday of Easter; Year C (4/25/2010)

Forgiveness of Sins Through His Name

Lessons: Acts 9:36-43 or Acts 10:23-24, 34-43 Psalm 23 (1) Revelation 7:9-17 St. John 10:22-30

Prayer of the Day O God of peace, you brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great shepherd of the sheep.  By the blood of your eternal covenant, make us complete in everything good that we may do your will, and work among us all that is well-pleasing in your sight, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

10:23 So Peter invited them in and gave them lodging. The next day he got up and went with them, and some of the believers from Joppa accompanied him. 24 The following day they came to Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends.

34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 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. 39 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; 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41 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. 42 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. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”


Acts 10:23-24, 34-43 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Caesarea is a costal town just a short distance north of Jerusalem. It plays a rather large role in the New Testament. It is where Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (in Matthew 16 and Mark 8). It is where Philip ends up after converting the Ethiopian Eunuch (in Acts 8). Paul is said to have visited there on at least three separate occasions. And in this week’s text from Acts 10, it is where Peter meets with a Centurion named Cornelius.

This story takes place in the context of a dual vision given to Peter and Cornelius. Cornelius is instructed to invite Peter into his home and listen to what he has to say. Peter is informed that God is calling him to think very differently about what is ritually clean and what is ritually unclean. This meeting between Peter and Cornelius marks a sea change in how God’s people understand themselves. Their primary objective will no longer be ritual purity, but now will become relational forgiveness.

For years, Israelites have worked hard to distinguish themselves from their neighbors. They have particular rules, regulations and rituals about what, when, where and (most importantly) with whom to eat, how to conduct ceremonial washing of foods and kitchen supplies, what homes to enter and whom to greet (and whom to ignore) in public... It is what some people call a “purity system.” By refraining from impure foods, by careful preparation of everything they ate, by thoughtful attention to behavior, and by preventing contact with certain groups of people, Israelites have come to believe they can avoid being contaminated; can stay in God’s good graces and be worthy of God’s touch in their lives.

From this perspective Simon Peter, who by most accounts is an observant Jew, would have been inclined to stay as far away from Cornelius and his household as was humanly possible. But in this vision, God convinces Peter that something absolutely new is being accomplished now. And so throwing caution to the wind, Peter leaves his home in Joppa, travels to Caesarea with the friends of Cornelius, and welcomes them into the family of faith. Peter’s final words in this week’s lesson would have shocked most of his contemporaries: “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Everyone who believes will receive forgiveness. Everyone. This is a radical departure from the purity cult Peter and the others have been living in for so many years. God’s people will now have at the center of their life together the gift of God’s forgiveness. A gift that they receive. A gift that transforms their lives. A gift that they are commissioned to share with all the world.

Peter will soon have to make that case before the rest of the apostles in Jerusalem, and it won’t be an easy sell. Yet once he does, the trajectory of the Christian movement will be in place. God is indeed working something new. And that something new is forgiveness. A radical, far-reaching forgiveness that is for every person in the entire world. A limitless and extravagant forgiveness that has the power to turn lives in new directions — to help people experience the “repentance” that Jesus taught about during his ministry.

There are people today who see Christians as hypocritical and judgmental. That may be what they see, but that is not what we are. We are a people so radically transformed by God’s forgiveness, that we seek to share that forgiveness in every situation and every relationship. Forgiveness is the DNA that runs through our blood stream. It is a reality so powerful, that it causes us to be completely different — completely new — people.

We give thanks for the change in direction God’s people experienced during the lifetime of Simon Peter. And we pray that we might continue in the direction they began, determined to see that this gift which has so wonderfully shaped our lives is experienced by those who get to know us. We too, like them, are witnesses to all that Jesus did (verse 39). May our witness help others the deep and powerful peace that comes from the forgiveness God delights in sharing with us — a forgiveness that we are now called to share with one another, and with the world.

Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel

  1. What moved Peter to change his mind about associating with Gentiles?
  2. What good news did he share with Cornelius and his household?
  3. Why was it important for Peter to fully accept these Gentile believers?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. To what does Peter believe he is being called to serve as a witness?
  2. What witness am I called to offer to the world today?
  3. What does the gift of forgiveness mean to me?