The following is the script from Bishop Alex Cameron's sermon at the Convention Eucharist on November 5, 2022. The service was also live-streamed and can be viewed below.
One Church of missionary grace and miraculous expectation.
In the past number of months, I have been asked MANY questions: “Bishop, what would you like to do about this, or that?” Generally speaking, my response has been, “What has been done traditionally or to date about this or that?” This is because I am a respecter of tradition (but not, I think, a slave to it) and because I believe it is always best to begin where we are, not where we imagine we are, or where we think we should be.
In that vein, if you ever take a moment to glance at the website of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, you will note in the banner these words: “One church of missionary grace and miraculous expectation.” This mission statement came to us from the Lord via Archbishop Emeritus Bob.
“What is the mission of our diocese, Bishop?”
“Well, what has it been?”
“To be one Church of missionary grace and miraculous expectation.”
I would suggest to you that in the text read from the book of Acts, Chapter 10, this morning recounts both the missionary grace and the miraculous expectation of the early church. Indeed, the entire book of Acts is a recounting of "one Church of missionary grace and miraculous expectation”. And it’s helpful reading for us Anglicans in the 21st century.
If we think of Acts Chapter 10 as a play—the recounting of a miraculous missionary encounter between Peter and Cornelius—we see at least four acts (no pun intended).
- The Call
- The Controversy
- The Content
- The Confirmation
And in these we see both the miraculous movement of God and some practical direction for each of us as we live out our own Gospel witness.
The call here is really a prologue that we did not read today, but part of which is summarized when Cornelius says this:
Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing and said, ”Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.” So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come.
In reading the first half of chapter 10, we hear also that Peter had gone up on the roof to pray, and there, in a trance, he had a vision:
[He] saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.
What follows next is that messengers from Cornelius come to the door inviting Peter to come. Still pondering his vision, Peter hears from the Lord, “Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.”
Several years ago, while I was church planting in Vermont, I was saying morning prayer on my own in my office, and when I came to the time when I add my own personal intercessions, the name of a fellow church planter in town came to mind. This was a guy who kind of pushed my buttons. We were not close. But his name occurring to me in prayer, I took as a prompting of the Holy Spirit to pray for him—which I dutifully, if not joyfully, did. Prayer or not, he still pushed my buttons.
Great. Now on with my day. But no, there remained an inclination to contact him to let him know that I had been praying. I wish I could say that with grace and joy I rushed off to see him. I didn’t. But I did send him an email to let him know that I had been praying for him. That was a Monday morning.
On Thursday I got an email back from him, that he had not answered for three days because he had been—in his words—“freaked out.” Apparently, that same Monday morning, in his prayers, the Lord very clearly said to him, “Call Alex Cameron.” What followed was a season in which I was able to help him in a challenging circumstance in his life, and he was able to help me get over my buttons being pushed.
What Luke relates to us in Acts about Cornelius and Peter eclipses my little tale in import, impact, and, frankly, in missionary grace and miraculous expectation, but I tell it to remind us all of a couple of things.
Reminder One: The call of God to approach, to reach out to others, and often others that might not be our cup of tea, continues today. The Lord continues to prompt us to unlikely conversations that end up yielding fruit we could never have imagined. We still, today, serve a God of missionary grace and need to be a people of miraculous expectations. He is an interventionist, our Lord. He intervened with Peter and Cornelius; he intervened with me and my beloved button-pusher. Expect it.
Reminder Two: Peter AND Cornelius heard from the Lord when they were at their regular times of prayer. My friend and I heard from the Lord when we were at prayer. That is not to say that God can’t intervene when we are not at prayer—note his intervention with Saul of Tarsus, just one chapter previously in Acts. However, the point remains. When we attend to our regular prayers, we create space in our lives and days for God to speak.
So, my brothers and sisters, say your prayers. Make space for God to speak.
That is the Call.
This conversation between Peter and Cornelius is remarkable enough because of the Lord’s orchestration of it. But beyond being remarkable, it is controversial. When Peter arrives, after needing to correct Cornelius’s impulse to worship him as a god, he says quite directly, “You yourselves know how UNLAWFUL it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation.”
It is because of how unlawful it is that it was preceded by the spectacular and repeated vision that Peter had. Peter, being steeped in Jewish law, would not have had this meeting. His culture and convictions militated against it. “But,” he says, “God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection.”
There were good reasons for Peter to have said no to the envoy that came to him. Indeed, the full weight of the Jewish law made a case to avoid the meeting at all costs. It was, for Peter, a controversial encounter. The ongoing controversy about the place of the Gentiles in the household of God bears witness to this.
In responding to the call, the prompting of God, we, like Peter will encounter controversies, resistance without and within. The resistance that Peter had to the vision of God, and the UNLAWFULNESS (a strong word) of this meeting at least had the objective weight of the Law. My controversy with my fellow church planter was just that I didn’t like the guy.
The point here is that when we are called by God to anything, be it a conversation or holy orders, there will be controversies, resistances within and without. Again, expect it.
And please notice with me Peter’s response: “So when I was sent for, I came without objection.”
When God calls, may we, like Peter, respond, go without objection. The old and unfashionable—but right—word for this is “obedience.”
OK. The call and the controversy. Now the content.
The stage is set here. God has softened Peter’s heart to these Gentiles. The said Gentiles themselves—and there were many of them gathered, we read—these Gentiles are ready. After relating how a man in bright clothing, earlier identified as an angel, gave Cornelius instructions to call for Peter, Cornelius says this: “Now therefore, we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”
“We are here to hear.” They are ready.
So Peter opened his mouth. And what follows is a concise and eloquent description of what God had done in Jesus Christ. It is the Gospel. The Gospel is always what God has done, is doing, and will do in Jesus Christ.
Some—or all—of what Peter says is already known to his hearers. “You yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, but hear afresh the Gospel here, the telling of the ACTION of God.” Because God is an interventionist—in Jesus.
- How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power.
- How HE went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
- They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead and made him to appear, not to all people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses.
- He is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.
- To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
That’s the Gospel. The Gospel is the action of God in Jesus Christ. And its impact is for us today, tomorrow, and for the rest of our lives.
I wonder what you or I might have done with Cornelius’s invitation, “We are here to hear.” The temptation might have been to speak to the uncomfortable controversy of separation of Jews from Gentiles.
In the controversies of the early centuries of the Church, when people were challenging the idea of Jesus being human, or Jesus being divine, the responses of the Church are found most enduringly in the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds. These collections of facts and events, while affirming both the divinity and humanity of Jesus, proclaim afresh the Gospel—what God has done, is doing, and will do in and through Jesus Christ.
Peter acknowledges the controversy, but when he speaks, he does not talk about it or make it the center of what he has to say. Instead he tells them of what God has done, is doing, and will do, in and through Jesus Christ. That was the Gospel then and it is the Gospel now. God is at work. Expect it.
The takeaway here is that we, like Peter, must always lead with the Gospel of Jesus. Jesus is what we have to offer. “Silver and gold have I none, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” He is our hope.
One other thing here. Cornelius and those assembled were ready to hear the Gospel. They had been prepared. Even Peter had to be prepared for this encounter. The fruit seen here comes because they are ready, prepared. And the one who prepared them was God. He is the agent of all of this, always acting in the world, with the Corneliuses around us. What he did then, he continues to do now.
While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.
As Peter proclaims the facts and events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, God himself, in the person of the Holy Spirit, bears witness to the truth of the Gospel.
God confirms and affirms the words of Peter in pouring out the Spirit on them. He confirms the testimony of Peter. Here, God remains active in this Gospel harvest.
A song first recorded in 1987 but made famous by Bette Midler—that paragon of truth and virtue—proclaims, presumably hopefully, that God is watching us from a distance. Peter here boldly proclaims that there is no mere watching and there is definitely no distance. Jesus came and dwelt among us. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. The Lord has poured out his spirit on all flesh. And God remains very present in this moment, in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
In this text—the call, the controversy, the content and the confirmation—if you remember nothing else, remember this. This text from Acts reminds us that God is neither inactive in nor indifferent to us, our neighbors, this lost world, or our own, at times, beleaguered souls. He has sent Jesus for us. He pours out his Spirit on us.
It comes back to miraculous expectation (God is among us) and missionary grace (we have a Gospel to proclaim).
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.