Narrative Lectionary Reflection
May 5, 2019
What is the Spirit up to?
If the above sentence made you scratch your head, you aren’t alone. Among mainline Protestant Christians, there is a lot of questions about the Holy Spirit. We might understand God and Jesus, but the Spirit? We just don’t get it and if we are aware of Pentecostals, it might just freak us out.
But the book of Acts is really about the work of the Spirit. Yes, it is about the beginnings of the church, but you would not have the church if it wasn’t because of the third person in the Trinity. In Acts 8, we see Phillip moved and guided by the Spirit to witness to the Ethiopian eunuch. In today’s text, we see the Spirit moving in two people; Cornelius and Peter.
Cornelius is a Roman and a God-fearer. He is generous towards the Jews and prays to God. He is visited by an angel that tells him that God has heard his prayers and that he is to send for Peter. Cornelius obeys and has some men make the journey to where Peter is.
At the same time, Peter is up on the roof of a home and has a vision. He sees a sheet full of unclean animals and was told to kill and eat. Peter was an observant Jew and knew that he couldn’t eat the animals. The voice tells Peter what was God made clean is not unclean. God had transformed animals that he couldn’t eat into animals he could eat.
Peter hears that he is being called by Cornelius’ men and goes with them to preach the Gospel to Cornelius and those gathered in his home. Peter ends by professing that God shows no partiality.
God in the Spirit was at work in Peter and in Cornelius. Throughout the book of Acts, the Spirit sends people hither and yon to preach the Gospel. The good news goes from Jerusalem to the far-flung places in the Roman Empire and that happened all because of the Spirit.
As many churches struggle to figure out their future in a changing environment, it is always important to figure out what and where the Spirit is at work. Too often, congregations think it’s all on them to be a witness in our communities. But notice that the Spirit was already at work in Cornelius when Peter is asked to go visit him. Phillip was told by the Spirit to visit the eunuch. As congregations, we need to discern where the Spirit is moving and then follow. It’s not about having a great worship service, but it is about the willingness to be led by the Holy Spirit. But be warned, when Peter says God shows no partiality, we should prepare ourselves to be led to places we never expected to go, to meet people we never expected to meet.
What is the Spirit up to in your church? In your community? In your world?
What did it mean that God didn’t make anything that is unclean? What have you thought was unclean?
Who was converted in this story? Peter? Cornelius? Or both?
How would you describe the Holy Spirit?
Read the story of Phillip and the Eunuch in Acts 8:26-40. How is this story similar to Peter and Cornelius? How is it different?
What does it mean to see what the Spirit is up to? How is that lived out in your life? In your church?
Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century.