I want you to listen again to the description of Cornelius. In addition to being Roman military, which means a foreigner and a Gentile, Cornelius was “a devout man who feared God . . . Gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God.”
Do you know anyone like that? Anyone that you’d describe as devout, generous, and a constant pray-er?
And yet, when this devout, prayerful, and generous man of God sees a messenger from God, he is terrified. That makes me think it didn’t happen to him very often. I guess angels appearing to him wasn’t an everyday occurrence and hearing the voice of God wasn’t really common in his life.
Now here’s where it gets pretty funky. Cornelius actually answers. Terrified, worried, and uncertain, he still answers what he believes is the voice of God, saying, “What is it, Lord?” And he does this with an apparent willingness to follow through, since he actually does what God asks of him.
What’s your first reaction to someone who’s claimed to hear the voice of God telling them to do something? Especially something that makes no sense, like, “Go into the next town and knock on a door asking for a guy names Simon”? More of us have had some kind of experience like this than we will admit, so it still seems pretty bizarre.
So here’s my question for us: How did Cornelius know this was the voice of God; that this angel was a messenger of God? How did he recognize it?
The answer lies in the description of who Cornelius is. He is devout, he is generous, he is prayerful. Because he’s been listening for God’s voice for years, because he knew God well through his religious practices, he was able to recognize God’s voice and God’s presence when it came specificially to him.
And do you know what happened as a result? This was the first step toward Gentiles being recognizec, included, and baptized as people God loves. Cornelius, because he recognized God’s voice, was able to accept an invitation by God to be part of God’s work of including all people in love and forgiveness.
Because of his spiritual life, his devotional habits, his religious practices, Cornelius could serve the world with God. He was part of God’s vision taking shape in the world. So now, when we talk about the story of Cornelius, we are also talking about the story of God.
It seems that a spiritual life is important if we are going to be part of God’s vision becoming real in the world. It seems that devotional habits canbe developed. Religious practices actually are helpful if we are to be about God’s work in the world! Even the Greek Stoics and Epicurians from Acts 17 (our first reading), because of their religious practices, recognize something worth hearing in Paul’s message.
So here, in the safety of this place and this community of faith, we are going to practice a spiritual discipline, a devotional practice to help us be able to recognize God’s voice when it comes to us.
We’ll do this in several steps. First, I’m going to read the first four verses of Acts 10 again, somewhat slowly, and I want you to just listen. See if there is a word or a phrase that sticks out or stays with you or confuses you or moves you. Don’t force this, just listen and see what word or phrase seems to stick with you. Whatever pops up for you is right . . .
Next, ponder that word or phrase. Consider this to be from God, spoken just for you at this point in your life. Take a minute and get used to that idea, that the word you’re pondering is actually from God to you. . .
Now, spend a couple of minutes asking God why this word or phrase is God’s word to you today. What is God getting at? What’s going on in your life that may be related? Where is there pain or joy, anxiety or celebration? Consider how this word from God connects to your life. . .
Finally, rest. You don’t have to do anything or make goals or plan anything out. Just take this minute to be in God’s presence. Relax, knowing that whatever is happening in your life, God is delighted to there with you in deep love. Rest with God for a time now . . .
Well done! If this was helpful for you, I encourage you to practice with any passage of scripture. It’s officially called “Lectio Divina,” or divine reading. The name doesn’t matter, but the time with God does.
We’ll learn more of these kinds of things during Lent. Not for our personal piety, but so that when God invites us to be part of God’s vision in the world, we can — with Cornelius — answer, “What is it, Lord?”
A Version of Lectio Divina
1. Read a small passage of scripture slowly, listening deeply. What word or phrase stands out for you?
2. Consider this word or phrase to be God’s word for you today. Be ready for God to speak to you.
3. Ponder what’s happening in your life, and what God is saying through this word or phrase. Why would God call your attention to this word at this time?
4. Rest in the loving presence of God. Relax, enfolded in the loving arms of God in this time.