“[Peter said,] ‘If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?'” – Acts of the Apostles 11:17
Look at them, God. Look at them, Jesus.
Listen to their voices praising your names.
It does my heart good – well, mostly it does.
It’s also made my heart stop, you know?
For a time it all seemed so clear –
in retrospect, why should I have thought that? –
with the Holy Spirit giving me words
and gathering the people in.
We grew so fast! Not everyone
was ready for our size. Well, nobody
was ready for our size. Some thought
they’d hide their selfishness within the crowd.
Our sharing started to collapse. We tried
enlisting serving people then to serve.
Who knew that they, like we, would call
attention to themselves so fatally?
It seemed like such a good idea
to take this trip, to visit Lydda,
get the summons to relieve the grief
in Joppa over Tabitha.
But now… a nightmare in the house
of Simon. Scads of creatures I have pledged
I will not eat, and a voice declaring
these things clean three times, three times, three times.
I get it now. Whatever might be said
about a wider diet, it’s a wider church
that’s on the menu here in Caesarea,
with Latin tongues extolling God.
But… what a shambles this will be.
We’d barely started with our own,
and they have hardly come together yet.
We haven’t learned to truly love each other.
However deep Cornelius’ faith – I’m sure it’s deep –
how will he find acceptance in Jerusalem?
I find my heart is in my mouth right now
to share his table, eat the Gentile meal.
That’s bad enough, as I think most will come around.
This fellow Saul, the one who sees things differently,
I have a feeling he will be their advocate
as fiercely as he once denounced both them and us.
These Greeks and Romans will reshape this church,
and sometimes that will be just fine, a shedding of
the weight imposed by ancient custom we
no longer need and should not bear.
If only he were just a simple tradesman, this Cornelius,
or worker of the soil, or fisher of the sea.
Instead he is an agent of the Empire,
oppressor’s instrument against us.
Yes, that will change this church, this Way.
The day will come, I’m sure, when some will see
us as oppressors, not oppressed, and ask
if this is what our Savior taught, and how we love?
What will we tell them in that day?
In welcoming the ones the Holy Spirit called,
we welcomed also all the power we had feared,
and holding it, rejoiced, as the Spirit drained away.
A poem/prayer based on Acts 11:1-18, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year C, Fifth Sunday of Easter.
The image is Peter Baptizing the Centurion Cornelius (1709) by Francesco Trevisani – http://www.istrianet.org/istria/illustri/trevisani/works.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1804538.