Readings begin at 14:00
The Holy Gospel according to…
Narrator: 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,
Narrator: He stared at him in terror and said,
Cornelius: “What is it, Lord?”
Narrator: He answered,
Angel: “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.”
Narrator: 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. About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying,
Angel: “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.”
Narrator: But Peter said,
Peter: “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.”
Narrator: The voice said to him again, a second time,
Angel: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”
Jesus: This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven. Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate. Then Peter began to speak to them:
Peter: “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.”
Narrator: 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,
Peter: “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”
Narrator: So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.
The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you…
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
“He ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”
I am honored, I am blessed, I am astounded to be here today, proclaiming to you the great news of Jesus Christ. I am Peter, the rock of the church, whom God has sent to bring you into it. The church doesn’t know it yet, but it has been waiting for you! You people, Cornelius’ people, who are gentiles, who have never been Jews, but now, I can see, are invited into the salvation history that God has offered to Israel, God now offers to you, through Jesus Christ.
Jesus was a man, anointed by God, given great power over evil. He came as our savior to die, that the evil of the world, the evil that displays itself in disease and addiction, the evil that pretends to rule our lives, that feels as if it wins in the world by forces that defy God and create the illusion, the façade, of life abundant (that is truly life in opulence). It is evil that corrupts the powers of this world that they might rebel against God, by drawing you, ever more slowly away from the God who loves you. This evil is that which God came in Jesus to destroy. This is the evil that Jesus upended when he subverted death.
[go to font]
This is the evil that is underneath this water. This is the drowning that takes our breath away here in this font.
I come here to ask you to profess your faith in Christ Jesus, reject sin, and confess the faith of the church.
Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?
I renounce them.
Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God?
I renounce them.
Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God?
I renounce them.
Who can withhold the waters of baptism!
So often we want to judge for ourselves who is deserved. So often we forget that the only judge we have is Christ, he who has defeated the one great separation, the great illusion of separation, he who has defeated death!
There are many people in our world who are in need of a good drowning. There are those we think we are better than, there are those we would prefer to disappear into the abyss of death, there are those we would cast out into the outer darkness… and yet, it seems, God does not! God does not cast them away, God pulls them under. Under the water to cleanse away the evil, the sin, and to bring them out into new life! To make All Things New! Even you!
I had a vision just now – before you got here. A sheet came down with unclean animals on it. Animals I should never touch as an observant Jew. And God spoke to me, God’s messenger told me, clearly, that which is unclean has been made clean. That which I have been taught not to touch has been redeemed. That which has prevented me from sharing table fellowship with you has been wiped clean. We are the same, you and me! God has made it so in these very waters of baptism. These very waters that birthed us into a new life. A new life that together we live – for God has made all things new! Giving us growth in community.
Will you live it with me? Will you together, as God calls you, to proclaim the good gift that God has given you in Jesus Christ? Will you care for others and the world God made? Will you work for justice and peace? Yes? Yes! How will you?
Will you proclaim God’s salvation by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and sheltering people who need a community of faith? Will you find a way to give out clothing again? What if it is via a mobile store? A truck that we open up in our neighborhoods and invite folks to shop? Even for free? Will you build relationships with one another here so that Bethlehem itself, the community, not just the building, becomes a place of safety for all God’s children? No matter their race, gender, or sexual orientation…
Will you find ways to care for others and God’s world at the garden in our yard or in our faith formation, both of which came together today during our Children’s Word time? Will you participate in nurturing faith in others by going to a Bible study or a pub theology, by learning more about what God’s Word promises and expects of us? Will you give of your time to help make faith formation happen for our small people?
How will you see justice? Will you participate in your democracy? Call your sentators and representatives about issues that concern you, where you see that justice is not being done? Will you consider how your vote will impact the election of officials in your town, state and country?
For all this, these are not just tasks to add to your list. These are our particular ways at Bethlehem to live out God’s kingdom! And if you see other ways to do that, share with the leadership what God is speaking to you in your dreams. For we are God’s people, named and claimed as GOD’s. We are in this family of faith so that we might be surrounded and loved and SENT to share the good news… God makes All Things New!
Christ is Risen! Alleluia!
He is risen, Alleluia!