01
May

even astonished – a reflection on Acts 10:44-48

The following is a reflection on Acts 10:44-48, the second lesson properly appointed for Easter 6B, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.

St. Peter's by the Sea

St. Peter's by the Sea Episcopal Church, in Gulfport Mississippi, following Hurricane Katrina. Photo by Rick Morley, in 2005.

…While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles…

The two words above, which to me stick out as if they have neon lights attached to them, are “astounded” and “even.” Gentiles in Caesarea Maritima are coming to faith in God in Christ, and the Christians of Jewish descent are “astounded” that the Holy Spirit of God is being given to “even” the Gentiles.

In other words, they have no clue. They have no idea what God is doing, what God is capable of, or who God is able to reach. Instead of being open to the infinite possibilities of God they are closed-minded, thinking that the only way to God is a way that looks like the way that they came to God.

As if God can’t be reached by other routes. As if their understanding of God is the only right way. The only possible way.

Of course, this is the quintessential struggle in the New Testament Church between Jewish and Gentile Christianity. The question, “Can one follow Jesus without also being Jewish,” sat over the nascent church like a wet blanket.

But, of course, this is also the quintessential struggle of the church today.

Most of us can’t imagine a church, or “doing church,” differently than what we have already. As our rolls and pews slowly empty out, we talk about “tweaking this” and “tweaking that.” We’ll add a few drums and post what we’re doing to Facebook.

Because that’ll draw them in.

And so, what we have in the Book of Acts is a glimpse into a mirror. Just like the first Church couldn’t see the reign of God past their own paltry view of the possibilities, neither can we.

Towards the end of the third chapter of Paul’s Letter to Ephesians, we see a glimmer of someone who “gets it”:

Glory to God, whose power working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:28)

It’s like when we look out into the world around us, we see just a sliver—just the tiniest wedge of possibilities. But, God sees the whole sky. The whole infinite expanse of the universe brimming with possibilities.

New things to be done. New people to be reached with His love. New ways to crash the reign of God into creation.

What gives me the slightest glimmer of hope is that the church in Acts was “astounded.” At least they weren’t “disgusted,” or “dismayed.”

Sometimes when I hear prophets and dreamers in our own day spin visions of what the church can become, the reaction I see is…disgust and dismay.

I think we need to summon the ability to see the world, the church, and our lives from God’s perspective. We need to pray for that. And then work to make it happen.

But, if we’re unable to do that—and I admit that it’s a large task—then at least we need to recapture the ability to be “astounded” when God begins to do something new in our midst, and breathes life into these dry bones we’re always rattling.