This is an experiment: I’m posting some notes toward the sermon on Sunday and inviting your response. Let me know if this is useful, interesting, or if it’s better to simply post the final sermon.
Fifth Sunday in Easter – Year C – Click for texts
I’m focusing on the Acts text in which the church begins to move beyond it’s beginning.
One of the questions Acts seeks to answer is how the few followers of Jesus moved beyond their origins to become vital, thriving church congregations. There are a number of conversion stories in Acts.
- Acts 8:4-40 An Ethiopian eunuch and is baptized by Philip
- Acts 9:1-19 Saul sets out to persecute Christians at Damascus but is struck blind by a vision of the resurrected Lord, taken to the city where he heals and converts
- Acts 10:1-48 Peter with Cornelius
These can easily be found by copying and pasting the citations here.
These stories have in common that the person converted is unlikely and in two cases outside boundary. Torah clearly prohibits eunuchs from worship; Cornelius is a Gentile. Saul is an observant Jew but is marked as one of these unlikely convert by the fact that his intention is to persecute the church at Damascus.
The stories also are marked by repeated instances of divine intervention.
The Ethiopian’s conversion is initiated by an action of the Holy Spirit pushing Philip and Philip is also snatched away at the end of the story.Paul’s conversion is accompanied by an appearance of the Risen Lord, which Paul will make a foundation of his claim to apostleship. It also involves a repeated command to Ananias who is the agent of Paul’s conversion.
A second factor that unites these stories: all of three include a reluctance by the Christian to undertake the conversion. This isn’t as clear in the Philip story; there we have a trace in the Ethiopian’s question, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” Ananias has a vision of the Lord to which he initially replies in effect here am I, send me but when the mission is explained, he says no and it requires a further word from the Lord to move Ananias along.
Peter’s conversion of Cornelius, which is the occasion for the Acts reading, will be the subject of tomorrow’s post. Share your comments below. Think off this as a weekly Bible study.
So much of American cultural religion seems to expect a generic conversion but the Biblical model is surprise, unlikely circumstances and persons.
– Not everyone called by Jesus responds (the Rich Young Ruler)
– The first convert is an Ethiopian eunuch
– the opening to God fearers like Cornelius and Lydia
– the call to Paul to “come over” to Greece
I am intrigued by the “unlikely conversion” perspective of each story. It made me think of my own unlikely conversion my senior year at Andover.