What are you currently learning? (Part of) a sermon on Acts 10:1-23

Hi friends,

I recently got to preach at my church on Acts 10:1-23. Peter and Cornelius, what a story. I’d encourage you to take a look at the passage here. The church service is also recorded here (and the sermon starts here around 56:53).

The way I see it, there are three main thoughts that I wanted to explore and communicate in the sermon. I’m putting (a written version of) the first out there this week, the other two in weeks to come. Hope you enjoy!

Throughout the book of Acts, I see Peter as a person on a journey. It’s a journey of transformation. It’s a journey of conversion—not just one conversion, but again, and again, and again. It’s a journey of changing his mind about so many things.

Back in Acts 2, at Pentecost, there’s a vision that gets cast for Peter’s journey. Peter quotes the prophet Joel, saying that God’s Spirit is poured out on all flesh. All flesh, no exceptions. But what that actually means—and how it actually gets worked out in real life—is another thing entirely. And it takes some time to work out.

These are a few of the key moments in this transformative journey, as Peter figures out what it means that God’s Spirit is poured out on all flesh:

  • In the last few verses of Acts 2 and Acts 4, Peter is there as all the different people from all the different ethnic backgrounds gathered at Pentecost—but still within the Jewish religious context—first figure out how to be a community together. 
  • In Acts 6, the Hellenist widows—Greek converts to Judaism—weren’t getting their fair share of the communal food distribution. Peter is there, too, helping call the community together to discuss the issue and figure out how to share resources more equitably.
  • In Acts 8, a different leader, Philip, goes to Samaria and tells people about Jesus there, and the Samaritan people believe in Jesus and are baptized. Peter wasn’t there initially, but he gets called in to pray for them, and the Samaritan people receive the Holy Spirit. This is a whole other new step on Peter’s journey. God pours out God’s spirit on these people, too, these former enemies, and Peter gets to be a part of it. 

So now, in our passage today, we find Peter staying with this guy named Simon, who’s a tanner. Simon the tanner is Jewish, but he works in a job considered unclean by his own people. You may have noticed that the text says his house was by the sea; scholars think that this was probably not just because it had such a lovely view. It was because his work was stinky. 

This is the house Peter is staying in, as he has this vision of the sheet coming down from the sky. This is where we find Peter, here on his journey of transformation. 

I’m so curious about what this experience might have been like for Peter. To see that vision of the sheet and all the unclean animals. To be challenged on his lingering notions of what or who was clean or unclean. To continue to be transformed at this point on his journey.

What did it take, for him to be open to God continually expanding his view? What can we learn from that?

Peter wasn’t new to this faith thing. He walked around with Jesus, in the flesh, for three years. He learned so much during that time. And now Jesus isn’t with him in the same physical way. But Peter is still learning. Was it hard to be humble, after all that time? After all that learning? 

I was recently asked a question that I found striking: “What are you currently learning?” People don’t ask me that very often. But it’s such an amazing question. Not What do you know? Or, What have you learned already? (Although those can be good questions that we can ask one another, too.) But, instead, What are you currently learning? 

What are the current growth edges? Are there beliefs you embraced in the past that you’re questioning now? Are there things you thought you knew and now you’re wondering if you’re wrong? 

Peter has experienced and seen and learned so much. But there is more for him. God is still challenging him, still teaching him, still prompting him to change his mind. And he’s open to that. 

I think it’s worth saying, here, that Peter’s journey of transformation is in some sense a journey of a person of privilege. Even though he’s part of a people group who are oppressed under the Roman Empire, within the movement Jesus started, he’s kind of the ultimate insider. That is:

  • He’s ethnically Jewish. 
  • He’s one of the 12 apostles—and not just that, but he’s one of three apostles who were extra close to Jesus. 
  • As far as material comfort goes, he’s got people—probably women, I imagine—busy cooking a meal for him downstairs while he’s having his nice personal prayer time up on the roof. There’s some privilege there, for sure. 
  • He’s one of the key leaders of the early Christian movement. 
  • Jesus named him Peter, the rock he’s going to build his church on. 

If anyone has power in this early Christian movement, it’s Peter. If anyone is in—the inmost of the “in” crowd—it’s Peter. 

And so I think it makes sense that Peter’s journey is very much a journey of God expanding his vision. He’s in; he knows that. Everyone knows that. But God is continually challenging his sense of who else is also in. Equally in. 

That includes people who don’t share Peter’s language or culture. People who work in jobs he may have considered unclean. People he thought he wasn’t supposed to associate with. People he saw as unclean, unholy, profane. 

God has to show Peter that these people, too, are in. Fully in. They’re part of his community. He’s meant to share power with them, not hoard it. They’re his siblings, his equals. 

This is quite a journey. And those of us who experience life in our world today as people with privilege might especially relate to it. For me as a cisgender heterosexual person, for example—and as someone who was not always affirming of queer identities and relationships—it’s been a journey of God inviting me to include, to see, to affirm, to not call unclean what God has called clean.

And for me as a white person, it’s certainly been a journey of becoming aware of racial injustice, both historically and in the present day. Becoming aware of the ways racial injustice takes shape not just out there (like in the US South) but here in the Pacific Northwest where I grew up, too. 

It’s a long journey of being invited by God, in different ways, again and again, to see more fully the full humanity of people and communities of color whom our racist society tries to train me to see as less than that. To see that we are community together. That different people might operate in different ways but that doesn’t mean that the ways I’m used to are better. I think this is the kind of journey Peter is on.

For people without these kinds of privilege, I think there’s still a journey of transformation, just a different one in some ways. As a white person, I don’t presume to preach about what that should look like for people of color. I do know that for me, as a woman in a world designed by and for a particular kind of men, the journey of transformation has often been about learning to embrace my own equality, my own full humanity. It’s about embracing my worthiness and value and gifts, and advocating for these things to be recognized.

Whatever the journey looks like, I think that for us, like Peter, it’s a long one. A life-long one. It may not be an easy journey. But it is good.

After all that time, after all that walking around with and learning from Jesus, after all the different moments throughout the book of Acts where Peter has been stretched and changed and challenged—Peter is still learning. He’s still being transformed. And he’s open to it. 

May we, like Peter, resist the urge to think we’ve arrived. May we be open to the ways God’s movement might surprise us still, might challenge us still, no matter how much we might think we know. May we trust that the journey is a good one.

Peace, openness, and new possibilities for transformation to you and your communities this week,


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