"Cornelius Moments ....."
Cornelius, a foreigner, is praying and is prompted by the Spirit to send to Joppa for Peter. He too is praying and has a vision that challenges Jewish ideas about what is clean and unclean – God makes it clear that what he decides is what goes. Arriving at Cornelius’ house, as Peter tells him and his family about Jesus, God pours out his Spirit just as he did at Pentecost. Peter goes on to baptise them and welcome them into the Church.
At that time, to be a Christian you first had to be a Jew – or so the early Church thought until God intervened. When Peter returned to Jerusalem he was challenged about letting foreigners into the Church. Peter’s reaction is wonderful, ‘Who am I to stand in the way of God?’
Throughout history there have been many Cornelius moments when God has clearly been doing a new thing – think of the issues underlying the Reformation, or when John Wesley reached out to the masses, or in the various revivals in this country and elsewhere. Sadly, and all too often, these were resisted by the mainstream Church and resulted in divisions
– but God was doing a new thing, the Church just forgot to join in.
Added to these are Wilberforce moments, when we have to go back to the Scriptures to re-read them from first principles – that’s what he had to get Christians to do to support his anti-slavery legislation – recognising that if people are made in God’s image we can’t treat them inhumanely.
We live in an age when all kinds of traditional understandings of what it is to be made in God’s image, a child of God, are being questioned and even redefined. We are discovering that many aspects of human nature which were considered fixed and discrete are actually sliding scales of identity. Some are obvious – gender and sexuality; others are more socially constructed – race and religion; while others are complex interactions of a number of spectra – able-bodied/differently-able; as examples. How we respond can significantly influence others’ human flourishing. Cornelius, Peter and Wilberforce give us insight about how to respond well.
God Bless,Revd Stephen Cooper