Bending the Rules

Lesson 19 –

Acts 10:44-48 NRSV

44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45 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, 46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47 “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

Background
This chapter follows Peter and Cornelius in Caesarea. If you look at the word “Caesarea” and think it looks familiar, you’re right. “Caesar” is a title for the imperial rulers of the Roman Empire. This chapter takes place in occupied territory. The very rulers are the same people who conspired against Jesus Christ. In your own devotional period, read Acts 10 with this question in mind: What risks are present when you are spreading the good news? What happens when the enemy owns the roads and all major ports?

Today’s lesson will focus on bending the rules.

Read the scripture out loud together. Have you ever been made to feel like you couldn’t participate in something?

What’s happening during this passage?
As Peter is speaking to the community, the Holy Spirit descended. Those who were circumcised were part of Peter’s group. They could not believe that the Holy Spirit had also been experienced by the Gentiles. Peter asked the crowd, “Are you really going to withhold water when the people here have all received the Holy Spirit?” He then “ordered” those who received the Holy Spirit to be baptized in Jesus’ name. Then, the people asked Peter and his crew to stay for a few days.

Why would people want to withhold water for baptizing?
There are a number of structural and societal reasons for baptisms (and thus, community connection) being withheld. These reasons are still active today. Consider the ritual of the “Right Hand of Fellowship.” While there are some churches that will vote whether or not an individual should be a member, Concord takes a vote not to vote. We do not decide who can and cannot be baptized or be a member here. But in many churches, you can be excluded based on your marital status, your sexuality, your race, or even your documentation status and offering record.

At this time, there were structural barriers to being part of faith communities. Throughout the New Testament, you will see phrases like “the circumcised and the uncircumcised.” Later, we will read in Galatians 3:28, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” This community of believers had a major challenge in making their spaces more welcoming.

As we journey towards Pentecost (Acts 2), think about other structural barriers that exclude people from participating in church and other social institutions.

Why do you think they had to stay for “several days?”
Peter does not just “dunk and dip.” The text tells us that at the request of the People, he was invited to stay (to sleep, eat, and hang out) in this community for several days. Think back to major events in your own life. Weddings, funerals, graduations, babies being born, baptisms. These events can be overwhelming financially, emotionally, spiritually, and otherwise. You can’t just take one day off to experience them. They are best savored over time, with some room to debrief among beloved ones. Spending time in the community after the baptism likely offered some great moments for spiritual discussion and curiosity.

What questions do you still have of this scripture? How will you commit to journeying with this text this week?

Connection to Today’s World
For several months, the New York City vaccine program has been an experiment. While the project has been a Herculean effort in logistics and regular New Yorkers have stepped up to staff vaccine sites, there are still structural barriers to vaccines. At first, the city did not offer as many vaccines to communities of color because the rumor was that “we would not take them.” Then, upon outreach to local churches, people found that the appointments were being booked by people not intended for the spots. Longtime, Black residents of the community were scrambling for appointments while gentrifiers were easily snagging appointments. Community members found that booking an appointment was difficult and stressful.

At Concord, we have a dedicated hotline to supporting people who want vaccine slots! To aid in the access, there will be a friendly voice on the other end of the phone waiting to help. At present, every person over 16 is eligible for a shot. You can call the hotline during dedicated hours for support.
We have everything we need among us. The work of the church is about breaking down barriers.

Journal: Are there places in your life where people are being left out, either explicitly or implicitly? What’s going on and why?

Closing: Listen to “Oh I Want to See Him,” sung by Delores Williams.

As I journey through the land singing as I go,
Pointing souls to Calvary– to the crimson flow,
Many arrows pierce my soul from without, within;
But my Lord leads me on, through Him I must win.

Oh, I want to see Him, look upon His face,
There to sing forever of His saving grace;
On the streets of Glory let me lift my voice;
Cares all past, home at last, ever to rejoice.

Prayer:

Dear God,
You are the ever-flowing river of Grace. You are the source of our strength, our joy, our being.

We need these barriers to come down. To baptism, to vaccine appointments, to housing, to health, to happiness. We are worthy of every good thing coming our way. Help us to see and believe this.

When we are convinced that we are unworthy, whisper words of encouragement in our ears. Send a friend or an advocate to support us. We know the work of the Holy Spirit is full and free to all.

In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

 

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