Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Beyond Baptism's Waters

I don't think that Acts 10: 34-43 can be fully understood outside of its greater context...including the verses that precede it (Acts 10: 1-33) and the verses that proceed it (Acts 10: 44-48). The whole of the story is about a man named Cornelius--a God fearer--who finds acceptance and belonging.

As a God fearer, Corenlius was devout and faithful. But Cornelius was also a Gentile, which meant that in spite of his devotion, he was not fully accepted into the Jewish community. But that all changed when God intervened.

God sent visions and dreams to Cornelius and to Peter. The text for today is what Peter says to Cornelius and those gathered in his home after Peter is summoned to go there. What is very interesting to me is that as they listened to Peter, "the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word."

On the Sunday when we will be thinking about Jesus' baptism and the Holy Spirit descending like a dove, I am wondering what baptism means for us? The question is partly rhetorical--I understand that baptism is "an outward sign of an inward, invisible grace"...baptism is a ritual act in which we say "yes" to God's working in our lives...baptism is a washing, a cleansing moment when we start over and accept Jesus into our hearts and lives to be forever changed...baptism is the moment in which we receive the Holy Spirit on our journey of faith...

But Acts raises important thoughts. If Cornelius and the others receive the gift of the Holy Spirit without baptism (by "hearing the word") is the same possible for us?

I'm not saying do away baptism...baptism is a central and important part of our Christian walk. But perhaps the story from Acts shows us, once again, the ways in which God works outside of the box...the ways in which God works, unexpectedly and graciously.

So if you think you have it all figured out, be careful. God may just be waiting to surprise you in some very unexpected way.

Journey On...

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