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Monday in Whitsun Week
Cornelius the Centurion

SEND, we beseech thee, Almighty God, thy Holy Spirit into our hearts, that he may direct and rule us according to thy will, comfort us in all our afflictions, defend us from all error, and lead us into all truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the same Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, world without end. Amen.

Readings see below: Acts x. 34 & St. John iii. 16

Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:
but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.

Today's reading from Acts begins with the scripture from which the motto of the order, Fear God and do what is right is derived. The entire 10th Chapter of Acts tells this amazing story. St. Peter, leader of the disciples, and Cornelius, a Centurion of the Italian Cohort located at Caesarea, have a rendezvous with destiny that begins the process of building a Universal Church. It is a process that is not the work of Peter or Cornelius, but of God through the inspiration and intercession of the Holy Spirit.

First God visited Cornelius and told him he was favored because of his devout actions. Cornelius was a God-fearing righteous man who supported the worship of the local Jews and made contributions to the needy. God had admired his righteousness, and had called him out to be the first Gentile to become a member of Christ's Church. But there was a problem here. Cornelius was not a Jew, not even a proselyte. He probably ate "unclean" foods and did not observe any of the Mosaic Code concerning purity. He, therefore, was himself "unclean" to any Jew. No matter, God instructed him to send for Peter who was in Jappa. Cornelius obeyed and sent two of his servants and a devout soldier to get Peter.

The next day while these servants traveled to Jappa, God visited Peter who was in prayer on his rooftop at noon. God caused him to become hungry, and then placed him in a trance. He showed him a vision of "unclean" animals, which were proscribed to the Jews by the Mosaic Code. He told Peter to kill and eat the animals. Peter responded that he had never eaten anything common or unclean. God admonished him saying, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common." Three times God spoke to Peter and then the sheet was lifted back up into heaven. After this Peter was full of doubt. God had shocked and confused Peter to the core of his beliefs. He had challenged his sense of what was "right". He had established a new Law that superceded the Mosaic Code. It reflected the lesson that Jesus taught in Gospels, that it is not what you put in your mouth that makes you unclean, but rather what comes out of your heart.

Just at that moment, Cornelius' party arrives at Simon the Tanner's gate and calls out seeking whether Peter was there. God intervenes again, and interrupts Peter's thoughts about the sheet and "unclean" animals. He tells Peter that three men seek him and they come from Cornelius, and that he must go with them fearing nothing, for God himself has called them. They confirm what God has told Peter, and tell him that Cornelius has been visited by angel of God who told him to get Peter. Now Peter, no doubt amazed at these occurrences, invites these Gentiles into his home to spend the night, and rest for the journey they will take tomorrow. He is beginning to understand the vision. These men are not "unclean"; God himself has called them. No doubt he learned much that evening of Cornelius' reputation and actions in Caesarea.

The next day Peter with some of his fellow believers, and the visitors, return to Caesarea, and when they arrive at the house, Cornelius greets them and falls to his knees to worship Peter. Peter pulls him up (therefore touching a Gentile); he tells Cornelius that he is a man just like the Centurion, and should not be worshipped. As they entered the house chatting, Peter noted the large number of friends and family that Cornelius had gathered to meet this stranger. Now there are more, not only Cornelius and his three servants, but his entire household and more - all Gentiles. Cornelius tells of his angelic experience, and that he has assembled his household to hear the message the angel said would come.

Peter, with the power of the Holy Spirit, preaches one of the most powerful sermons of the New Testament. A sermon that sets the new order for the new Church. He explains that he, as a Jew, was not to associate with Gentiles. However, God had shown him that he should call NO MAN common or unclean. God, recognizes the Good man of any nation, and accepts him. Peter then preached the Gospel Jesus had commanded him to preach, and at the end the Holy Ghost fell upon all the Gentiles that heard the sermon. Cornelius and his household began to speak in tongues and prophesy and praise God. Peter and his friends were amazed that these Gentiles had received the gift of the Holy Spirit and immediately ordered that they be baptized and made members of the Church.

Our Gospel message today begins with one of the most popular verses in the entire Bible: John 3:16. It is the message that has reassured Christians all through the ages, God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. God loved the whole world and all that are in it. His blessing are for all, not just the Jews. His Gospel is to be preached throughout the world, and it started on that long ago day in the city of Caesarea with an officer of the Roman army and his household, a simple fisherman turned Evangelist, and the Holy Spirit in the midst of them.

Peter and his friends remained in Caesarea for a little while, no doubt instructing Cornelius and his friends in the Gospel and how Jesus had fulfilled the Scriptures. By tradition Cornelius became the leader of the Church in Caesarea and continued his devout work in the community and in building the new Church.



Acts x. 34

THEN Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:) that word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly; not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead. To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins. While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.

St. John iii. 16

GOD so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

Scripture from 1928 Book of Common Prayer

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