Our reading today from Acts is about coming to faith. It’s the ending part of the story of Peter and Cornelius – the Roman Centurion. Cornelius was stationed in Caesarea, a port in the north of Palestine which was the headquarters of the Roman forces. Although he wasn’t a Jew he is described as a righteous and God-fearing man. He had a vision of an angel who told him to send for Peter. So Peter responding to the summons, comes to Cornelius’ house; perhaps with some apprehension, because he took six colleagues with him for support. Peter tells Cornelius and his household all about Jesus.
What we have heard this morning is the result of that. We are told that the Holy Spirit came upon all who had heard the message. Peter, and more especially his companions, were astonished at this. There had been a mind-set that Jesus and the Holy Spirit was only meant for Jews not Gentiles (non-Jews). Yet here were non-Jews receiving the good news of Jesus and immediately being filled with the Holy Spirit. To put it bluntly they were gob-smacked! Peter quickly recovered and promptly baptised them into the faith. Previously Peter may have had doubts about non-Jews coming to faith in Jesus but this had put those doubts to rest. Clearly Jesus was for everyone!
In different ways
We all come to faith in Jesus in different ways. For some it is a gentle, gradual process which may happen over many years. It may be a process which results from years of Sunday School followed by coming to church, perhaps as much as a habit or routine more than anything else. In that situation when realisation of just what Jesus means, how much he is part of our life, comes upon us there is often no great show, no great overt outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Acceptance of Jesus and the Holy Spirit comes gently because it has always been there, part of the psyche, whether we had realised it or not.
For others coming to faith in Jesus can be more spectacular, more sudden, more of an amazing burst of Holy Spirit energy. This can be a bit unsettling for those of the more gradual, gentle acquisition of faith. It can be somewhat disturbing and give rise to negative reactions – well look at them/what are they doing now, behaving like that/ and lots of tutting!! I think there may well have been a bit of that sort of reaction from Peter and his colleagues, but as we heard Peter realised and accepted that however we come – we come. We can all come to Jesus. Jesus calls all – no one is excluded.
Gently – or with a burst
Whichever way we have come to faith in our days – be it gently or with a burst of energy – we must be ready to accept all that come. God does move in mysterious ways; God does what God does. Sometimes things happen, quietly and unassumingly; at other times it’s in a blaze of fireworks. There’s no predicting it! Peter found that out and accepted it – we need to able to do the same. Amen