This Easter season, we take time to explore the core foundations of the Christian faith. This series on The Apostles’ Creed explores the basic theological understandings of one of Christianity’s earliest statements of belief. The full set of sermons will be added each week to this page.
This week’s Worship service is the final part of our study of The Apostle’s Creed. As we conclude, we consider The Holy Spirit and celebrate Pentecost Sunday. The traditional text we have explored during Pentecost has been about the arrival of The Holy Spirit on the Disciples as they huddle in a locked room (check out Acts 2). To me, that is a text that highlights the ways we are gifted by The Holy Spirit.
But perhaps we should also remember the ways that those gifts show up in our lives and in our unique expressions of faith – assuming we’re willing to use the gifts we’ve been given. The text we’ll explore this Sunday is one of my favorites. We are reminded of that God’s grace and Spirit do not belong to us and are not constrained by our limited theologies. In this story, an excluded community is seen and finally included. Paul is able to see evidence of the presence of The Holy Spirit even in persons that his theology and dogma have told him aren’t the “right people.” But Paul chooses to trust God over theology and dogma.
Acts 11:1-18 (CEB)
1The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him 3and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
4Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: 5“I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. 6I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. 7Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’
8“I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’
9“The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ 10This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.
11“Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. 12The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. 13He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. 14He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’
15“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”
18When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Consider these questions:
- You may know that this text is a very similar repetition from Acts 10. Indeed, this is Paul’s re-telling of that story when he is put on church trial. Read both stories. What differences do you see? What stands out to you?
- Paul is speaking to Gentiles, persons who were generally excluded by the Jewish and early Christian communities. How do you think this exclusion felt? And how do you think it felt for these Gentiles to suddenly be included in the community of faith?
- Think about the journey that the church leaders went through in this story. In verse 2, they were bold enough to criticize Peter openly. But by verse 18, they had transitioned to praise! What do you think it took to be able to make this change?