Peter and Cornelius
When we first moved into our present house there on one of the downstairs walls was a box- a call box for servants. It looked quite ugly and we took it down straight away.
I suppose in former days when servants lived in the house, this box was an indicator of which bell and which room they were being summoned to by their master or mistress.
The idea of servant /master is quite alien to us now, but in pre World War 1 Britain, in days when young men and women were in service, it was very common. I dare there are still those in the congregation who remember stories told by parents or grandparents who were in service of a master or mistress. I know my own grandmother spent some years in service, and often told tale of the kind of jobs she would have to do.
It can't have been very easy to rise really early to light fires and make breakfast, and have the house spick and span before the occupants even stirred from their sleep.
It can't have been easy, being at the beck and call of someone else the whole of a working day; to be doing work, yet always keeping an ear open for that bell or a voice commanding you to do something else at a whim or a flick of the finger, with very little thanks or praise for your efforts, and for very little pay.
But such servants would have had the trust of the master, the run of the house, and access by key to the rooms they were required to enter.
Should they at any time betray that trust, then they were no longer required and would be sent away without any reference or recommendations for alternative employment.
In our New Testament reading today. Peter is such a servant.
We hear him recalling a recent incident which led to the baptizing of a Gentile family, and he is being called to give account of why he should even go to uncircumcised men and eat with them.
And so we hear of Peter in the role of God's servant.
He was in Joppa, having been given the Keys of the Kingdom to open doors there and everywhere, doing the Lord's work
First key: opened the door to Jews receiving the infilling of Holy Sprit in Jerusalem at Pentecost, and many in Judea.
Second key : he was called to witness in Samaria. Persecution had broken out in Jerusalem scattering the disciples, and now in Samaria some people had believed the word and been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, but had not received the Holy Spirit. There another Pentecost occurred as they too received the Spirit, as Peter and John laid hands upon them.
Third key : now the door of the kingdom to the Gentile world was about to open, in the form of the centurion Cornelius and his family.
All these fulfilling Jesus command to them before he ascended into heaven:-…
'…and you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'
Not only this but the set of keys which Jesus had given him, were opening areas of his OWN life and converting him from within, and presenting new challenges to him.
There was now an ability to heal and carry on the Lord's work of making people whole, independent of a physical Jesus. Peter had been moved to perform miraculous healings i.e. the cripple at the Beautiful Gate, and a paralytic called Aeneas.
He had been given a new boldness to confront the authorities who were trying to frighten the witnessing disciples into silence.
He now had confidence to raise the dead in the Lord's power… (Dorcas) a God-fearing woman in Joppa.
But now, his mind was to be open to the challenge of racial and religious discrimination. Indeed this story of Cornelius' conversion could also be classed as Peter's conversion, because he was also being changed, in his thinking, ( even though later on in the NT Paul called him to account for distancing himself from the uncircumcised when he was eating with them at someone's home.)
As a servant of God, Peter was on the roof-top praying, from noon until three when he had the vision. He was in God's presence, attentive to his voice.
Already God was preparing him for what was to come by placing him in the home of Simon the tanner, a man who presumably worked with dead animals…who would be classed as unclean!
In this vision a cloth is lowered and on it, Peter saw all kinds of unclean animals, and a voice is heard, 'Get up Peter, Kill and eat!'
Peter like a disobedient servant expresses his reservations:
'Surely not Lord. I have never eaten anything impure or unclean'
The vision and the commands happen three times.
And while he is pondering over the vision and his instructions, a knock at the door reveals, three Gentiles requesting that Peter goes with them to speak to their master Cornelius,a centurion.
Not long after when Peter preaches to Cornelius' household, in Caesarea, the Holy Spirit falls upon them all and they begin to speak in tongues and praise God.
How could Peter not baptize them, he argues to the Jews, when it was made clear to him that God has no favourites.
This story has many implications for us as Christians and as servants today:
*How surrounded by noise and distractions are we today, which keep us from prayer, and from hearing God's instructions to us.
*How many are not being won for him, because we are simply not attuned or we're not listening?
*How much of what we want, rules over what God wants because we have a different set of priorities?
*How many doors are we opening so that God's kingdom can grow?
*Are we quite happy to leave outreach and evangelism to someone else, because we have other things to do?
*How many areas would we feel are impossible no-go areas for us to enter?
*Have lost our sense of expectancy that God will manifest in us gifts like healing or prophecy or tongues today? Do we overlook or underplay the work of the Holy Spirit today?
*In verse 31 and in verse 34, we see that God accepts those from every nation who fear him and do what is right; God accepted Cornelius' prayers, and saw his gifts to the poor, long before Peter even got to him to bring him to faith; what does this say to us about godly people of other faiths, and our response to them?
*Do we ever discriminate, do we have any prejudices, could we ever be accused of snobbery or pride? Do we have our favourites?
*Have we been such irresponsible and disobedient servants that the keys that open the doors to areas of God's concern, have been taken away from us; and dare we ask for them to be returned into our keeping?
*Are we willing to listen and react and obey even today, when that bell to that particular room opens to us, because the Master is calling?
Are we responding with, 'Surely not Lord, I can't possibly do that job?
IT IS TOO DANGEROUS… BENEATH ME… TOO CHALLENGING…TOO EMBARRASSING?
Or are we able to say in all humility, like that of a true servant:-'
'Speak Lord, for your servant is listening to you!'