Peter and Cornelius

Cuantos entienden lo que yo digo? Some of you perhaps speak Spanish and for you, hearing the Gospel read in that language was a welcome relief. Perhaps it is your native language and the one in which you do your primary thinking. For others like me, I used to be on the brink of being able to automatically think in Spanish, but there's still plenty of grammar rules that I break and vocabulary that has to be translated. But placed in Spain or Mexico, it would eventually come back to me. Others know the slang words or barely enough to get by if you need to purchase something or find the bathroom.

But whether you speak Spanish or not, I just proclaimed the Gospel and gave a very important commandment that Jesus told his disciples to follow, in fact everyone should follow. For by doing this, everyone would know you are a Christian, and therefore everyone would come to know God. So, without looking at your cheat sheets can anyone tell me what that might be?

Right, love one another. Yet, if you did not already know this commandment because someone had taught it to you by some method other than language, I could say those words over and over again and you wouldn't understand.

And, that is why the Peter and Cornelius story is so very significant. For many of us, we can hear that story and say how wonderful it is that God's love was not restricted to the Hebrew nation and that all of us who are not descended from Jewish ancestors can be accepted into God's loving embrace and God's family. I'm going to venture to say - faith wise, it is the best news we can ever imagine for just about all of us sitting in this room.

But just as significant is the patience of God and Peter and all the other apostles who ventured into gentile territory to speak a word for the Lord. For what they did was so much more than just saying, "Oh, well now you can worship with us, God said it was okay." Because, how many gentiles do you think were just waiting or even interested in hearing the news? Think too of all the many differences between a Roman or any other nationality and an Israelite and how difficult everyday conversations were at that time.

Try right now to imagine when you were in a setting where you didn't feel you belonged. For example, I am totally lost among a bunch of folks who like to watch football. They will sit around talking about the players and the plays and the scores of the last important game. I might as well not be there in the room, because I don't understand the game or what all the excitement is about. AND to make matters worse, I don't even have an interest to learn. What little I know of football is - for me - boring. Now, just by saying that I have totally alienated myself from many people in this room and will no doubt never receive any invitations to Super Bowl Sunday parties. I will miss out on an important American cultural ritual and a community affair.

For many of you men, you don't want to wander around in the women's clothing department, go to a Mary Kay cosmetic party or have your nails done. That's a part of the women's world that you would just as soon not be in. You may want your wives and girlfriends to look beautiful, but just would rather not be included in the preparation process.

That's the kind of emotions that would have existed in Israel's multi-cultural world. Imagine yourself being an American tourist in Russia in the 60's or in China before their borders opened to the outside world. Or place yourself 150 years ago among one the early American Indian tribes. A difficult situation to say the least. You would either have stayed on the fringes and observed with great curiosity and fear or you would have done the hard work of preparing yourself to appreciate and engage in a very different and difficult cultural interaction.

So, back to the differences in Israel, clothing and hairstyles were very different. The kind of foods they ate and even the way they cooked their food. Music and entertainment. How they dated. The stories they told their children of how the world came to be and why there were animals and trees, insects. Why the sun came up in the east and set in the west. Why people died, and where babies came from. These may seem insignificant but they aren't. When completely different worlds meet as happens on a trade crossroads or in occupied nations - both of which applied to Israel, communication - real communication that would allow someone to authentically accept another person - much less their religion required effort, imagination, caring and patience and love.

I declared the Gospel to you earlier in Spanish to try to help you see how challenging it is to receive a witness of someone else's faith. While maybe you might have understood some of the words that I read, you would not necessarily understand all the nuances and beauty of the communication.

We could take a dictionary and go word by word and translate, but still you would not get the same sense and depth as one who was brought up in that language. This my friends brings us to the gift that God gave the world - the virtue of motherhood.

When I think of Peter trying to explain to a gentile - a Roman centurian what the event of Jesus Christ was all about, I cannot get away from the image of a mother of an infant trying to teach the child to talk. Not only did Peter and Cornelius understand the world through different native languages, but their whole concept of the world came from different stories. Their whole way of understanding God or a pantheon of gods - plural, was different.

I remember how fun and challenging it was to create experiences for my babies - that would communicate what the meaning was behind the sounds I was uttering. I now watch with envy sometimes, the joy of mothers in the grocery stores wheeling the carts down the aisle showing and saying. I think of the mistakes little children make and the patience of a mother correcting them. I remember the incessant questions, "what's this?" "why that?" I think of sitting and reading when a toddler comes with a favorite book and says, "read me a story."

The Holy Spirit inspired Cornelius to come to Peter and hear the story of Jesus. And Peter rose to the challenge of crossing language barriers, cultural barriers, and even old religious taboos that said, Gentiles were unclean and unworthy. When Cornelius asked, what's this and why that, Peter taught him the vocabulary that brought him to a new way of life.

Moms, our task is no different. God sends the little ones into our world for us to bring them to life not to get them to breathe. Our task is not just to feed, diaper, and clothe. But to bring them to joy in their creator. It does not end with English, math, and good behavior but a knowledge of Jesus Christ that can sustain them throughout the challenges of this world.

As I look out into this congregation, I see many moms and many more that have had moms. What an honor and a privilege to enter into this kind of relationship that nurtures a person to maturity. The virtue of motherhood embodies the love that teaches the foundational stories that can center and focus a child's life. Motherhood has the opportunity to show by your way of life, the life that is to be desired and sought after when the child leaves the nest.

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we have those same opportunities and those same possibilities for joy. Every encounter with a stranger brings us an encounter with a child of God to be nurtured.

Read other sermons by Pastor Joan