Drawn into the unimaginable
Stories are powerful. Knowing the stories that have shaped us helps us to know not only where
we have been, but who we are and whose we are. Sharing these stories can help us find our
way in times when the path forward isn’t clear.
Today we’re going to remember a powerful story about how God communicated God’s dream
to two faithful, God-loving people, drew them into doing something they never would have
dreamed of doing without that communication, and thereby changed not only their lives, but
the course of the world. And their story is also our story… because without this story, our
beloved Nashville UCC might not have come into being, and we would not be gathered here
today as faithful, God-loving people listening for God to speak into our lives.
To share that story, today we’re going to mix things up a bit. Some of you have agreed to help
me tell the story and we’ll try to understand it and see how it might point the way for us as we
continue our own process of discernment about what God would have us do in our future.
Let me set the stage a bit so we can understand the story. The story is in the book of Acts,
chapter 10. The two key players are Peter, a devout Jew and disciple of Jesus, and Cornelius, a
Gentile who was an officer in the Roman army that occupied Israel in the 1st century. Neither of
them could have imagined that morning, before their separate encounters with God, that God
would bring them together.
Jewish culture was designed to isolate and separate Jews from Gentiles. That culture was based
on two kinds of rules: the laws of God set out in the Torah, the first five books of the Jewish
scriptures; and the codes developed by religious leaders, the Pharisees, to help people comply
with God’s laws in their day-to-day lives. Torah told people what God saw as clean and unclean.
They were to choose what was clean and avoid what was unclean. The codes developed by
religious leaders established two similar categories…what we’ll call pure and impure. In daily
life, Jews who observed both God’s law and the Pharisaic purity codes tried to remain both
clean and pure. Contact with what was impure was like being contaminated. It required effort
to re-establish purity. The purity codes forbid almost all contact between Jews and Gentiles.
And so it was VERY unlikely that Peter and Cornelius would ever get together in a friendly way.
But God had other ideas.
Now we are ready for the story…which takes place in two cities on the Mediterranean sea,
Joppa (where Peter was) and Caesarea, 30 miles away (where
Let’s begin… (Note: the roles of people in this scripture were taken by different members of the
congregation to enact this scripture. Here is the scripture we enacted).
Acts 10 Common English Bible (CEB)
There was a man in Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion in the Italian Company.[a] 2 He and
his whole household were pious, Gentile God-worshippers. He gave generously to those in need
among the Jewish people and prayed to God constantly. 3 One day at nearly three o’clock in the
afternoon, he clearly saw an angel from God in a vision. The angel came to him and said,
4 Startled, he stared at the angel and replied, “What is it, Lord?”
The angel said, “Your prayers and your compassionate acts are like a memorial offering to
God. 5 Send messengers to Joppa at once and summon a certain Simon, the one known as
Peter. 6 He is a guest of Simon the tanner, whose house is near the seacoast.” 7 When the angel
who was speaking to him had gone, Cornelius summoned two of his household servants along
with a pious soldier from his personal staff. 8 He explained everything to them, then sent them
9 At noon on the following day, as their journey brought them close to the city, Peter went up
on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted to eat. While others were preparing the
meal, he had a visionary experience. 11 He saw heaven opened up and something like a large
linen sheet being lowered to the earth by its four corners. 12 Inside the sheet were all kinds of
four-legged animals, reptiles, and wild birds.[b] 13 A voice told him, “Get up, Peter! Kill and eat!”
14 Peter exclaimed, “Absolutely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
15 The voice spoke a second time, “Never consider impure what God has made clean.” 16 This
happened three times, then the object was suddenly pulled back into heaven.
17 Peter was bewildered about the meaning of the vision. Just then, the messengers sent by
Cornelius discovered the whereabouts of Simon’s house and arrived at the gate. 18 Calling out,
they inquired whether the Simon known as Peter was a guest there.
19 While Peter was brooding over the vision, the Spirit interrupted him, “Look! Three people are
looking for you. 20 Go downstairs. Don’t ask questions; just go with them because I have sent
21 So Peter went downstairs and told them, “I’m the one you are looking for. Why have you
22 They replied, “We’ve come on behalf of Cornelius, a centurion and righteous man, a Godworshipper
who is well-respected by all Jewish people. A holy angel directed him to summon
you to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23 Peter invited them into the house as his
The next day he got up and went with them, together with some of the believers from
Joppa. 24 They arrived in Caesarea the following day. Anticipating their arrival, Cornelius had
gathered his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and
fell at his feet in order to honor him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Get up! Like you, I’m
just a human.” 27 As they continued to talk, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of
people. 28 He said to them, “You all realize that it is forbidden for a Jew to associate or visi t with
outsiders. However, God has shown me that I should never call a person impure or 3
unclean. 29 For this reason, when you sent for me, I came without objection. I want to know,
then, why you sent for me.”
30 Cornelius answered, “Four days ago at this same time, three o’clock in the afternoon, I was
praying at home. Suddenly a man in radiant clothing stood before me. 31 He said, ‘Cornelius,
God has heard your prayers, and your compassionate acts are like a memorial offering to
him. 32 Therefore, send someone to Joppa and summon Simon, who is known as Peter. He is a
guest in the home of Simon the tanner, located near the seacoast.’ 33 I sent for you right away,
and you were kind enough to come. Now, here we are, gathered in the presence of God to
listen to everything the Lord has directed you to say.”
34 Peter said, “I really am learning that God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over
another. 35 Rather, in every nation, whoever worships him and does what is right is acceptable
This isn’t really the end of the story. After Peter’s realization that God doesn’t show partiality
to one group of people over another, he went on to share the Good News of God through Jesus
Christ. As he spoke, the Holy Spirit came upon those gathered, and they began speaking in
tongues and praising God. Peter saw in this the confirmation of what God had spoken to him.
The day continued with worship and baptisms and God joining together people who had been
separated by human created traditions. God had imagined what had been unimaginable to
Peter and Cornelius and those around them. God had dreamed a different dream, and had
drawn them into that dream. What was unimaginable to them before became their reality.
Through Peter and Cornelius God began the spread of the Good News to all the nations
throughout the world. And so here we are today, beneficiaries of God’s work in these two
faithful people and so many others through the generations since that day.
What can we take from this story today to guide us on our own journeys with God and each
I would like to suggest these take-aways (you might add to this list):
1) What we think is true or right or good might be limiting us from living into the truth as
God knows it. Just as the purity codes in Peter’s day limited the spread of the Good
News, we also might be limited by our own culture and what it has taught us. Our
thoughts and rules can keep us from hearing and following God’s ways.
2) God isn’t limited in the ways that we are. God can free us from our cultural limitations
and misunderstandings just as God freed Peter. We just have to be open and receptive
to God’s redirection, and then follow through.
3) God can use us, even as God used Peter, to do something important, maybe even
something new in the world…something we aren’t yet able to imagine, but God can.
4) It’s important to create space in our lives for us to commune with God. Peter and
Cornelius were both devout people who made time in their lives to listen to God. God’s
vision came to each of them in this set-aside time when they were not distracted or 4
preoccupied. May we, too, create time and space for listening to God, that God’s vision
might become our vision.
5) God doesn’t force us. God invites us. The choice is ours. Peter and Cornelius had the
courage to say “yes” to God that day even though they didn’t know where that “yes”
would take them. May we hear God’s invitations to us now, and have the courage to say
“yes,” taking the steps God invites us to take today, even when we don’t see where they
will take us tomorrow.
I don’t know how you receive this story, but I just love it. It encourages me and gives me
hope…hope in God. Hope for you and me. Hope for our future and the future of the world.
May the power of this story encourage us all to share our stories…to listen to the stories
others share…to find God in the stories…and to trust that God wants to be part of our
future story, leading and guiding us, step by step, as we faithfully live into God’s dream for
us and the world.
Thanks be to God!
Rev. Janice C. Kemp
October 13, 2019