31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
May 15, 2022
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
A week ago Saturday, my husband, Stuart, and I ran into his former co-workers in the Costco parking lot. It was a joyous reunion because these are people Stu really liked working with and hasn’t seen in eight years.
After catching up, Stu said to them “Let me tell you what had to happen for us to be standing here together” and he proceeded to tell them about us starting our day doing the 5K Race in the Park for breast cancer research and then meeting my parents for lunch and having the first place be too busy so we had to go to another place, to us making a plan to take two cars to Costco to our car having to turn back around because I had forgotten something to ending up right there at the right time to see these wonderful people.
After Stu’s convoluted story, the couple told their own no less complicated story of what had to happen for them to be standing there with us.
My answer to “What happened to bring the four of us together in the Costco parking lot?” is a lot simpler – the Holy Spirit.
You have your own such stories. I know you do. Stories when such a complicated series of events fell into place for you to be in just the right place at just the right moment for a blessing, large or small. Stories of how you felt called deep inside to do something and it led you to just the right person, just the right outcome, just the right blessing.
Peter has a Holy Spirit story, too. Earlier in Acts, Peter is traveling “here and there among all the believers” (Acts 9:32) when he comes to be with the Christian community in Lydda. While there, he heals a man, and of course, word of this miracle spreads ten miles to the city of Joppa, where the Christian community is grieving the death of faithful and generous Tabitha. So the followers of the Way in Joppa ask Peter to come there where he prays with Tabitha and invites her to get up and live.
Two healings, two cities. Sounds like Peter was in just the right place at the right time to be blessed and to be a blessing, but wait! There’s more! These miraculous healings were just the Holy Spirit’s way of getting Peter where he needed to be for a revelation that would forever change the community of Jesus Christ, and that important place? Simon the Tanner’s home.
I have no more idea why God chose Simon the Tanner’s house than I know why God chose for us to have a joyful reunion in the Costco parking lot. God works in mysterious ways. All we know is that at Simon the Tanner’s house, while praying on the roof, Peter had a most extraordinary vision. The heavens open and a sheet descends and in it are four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and all sorts of birds. In response to Peter’s hunger, a voice says to him ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ (Acts 11:7).
Peter is a faithful messenger of the good news of Jesus Christ; Peter is the ‘rock’ on which Christ’s church will be built; and Peter is also a faithful, devout Jew, practicing this new Way of Jesus while still maintaining all of the purity rules of Judaism. So there is no way that Peter is going to get up and eat any of these unclean animals. No way. And he says so. God argues back.
The vision happens two more times, and while Peter is pondering what it could mean, the Spirit straight out tells him. Look there are three men, three men from a household that you might have been tempted in the past to call unclean. Go with them. Go and see the new God is doing.
So Peter goes to Cornelius’ home and learns that Cornelius, an officer in the Roman army, a devout and generous man, yet not a Jew, Cornelius has his own Holy Spirit story. As Peter puts the two stories together, the light bulb in his mind starts to glow. Ohhhh, God shows no partiality; God loves all people. Peter is then astounded to witness the Holy Spirit descend upon these non-Jews, just as the Holy Spirit descended upon him and Jesus’ original disciples on Pentecost.
In this moment, Peter understands that although God’s ways are mysterious and sometimes unknowable, in this moment, Peter knows that God loves all people and intends for all the members of this new community of Christ to be equals. As the Apostle Paul will write to the Galatians, for those who have been baptized into Christ, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:27-28) For all of us are one in Christ Jesus.
No distinctions or partiality. Equals. Included. That is to be the new way for the new Way of Jesus Christ.
But… the Jewish followers of the Way in Jerusalem were not at Simon the Tanner’s house to witness Peter’s vision. And the leaders of the “mother” church were not in Caesarea to witness the Holy Spirit being poured out even on these Gentiles. And I suspect that they might have believed that they in Jerusalem would be the ones to determine the new ways of the new Way of Jesus Christ. So when they hear that Peter has broken with tradition, not followed procedure, well, these “original” believers criticize Peter.
I might be tempted to be defensive or criticize back. Peter though knows that his fellow believers are only criticizing because they do not understand yet, because they have not heard his Holy Spirit story. When they did though, the believers too came to believe that God’s new way was for all to be included, for all to be equal.
They didn’t believe this though simply because Peter was Peter. They believed because they were open; they were listening; they were prayerful. They were filled with the Holy Spirit.
They were filled with the Holy Spirit. We are filled with the Holy Spirit. It is a gift given to each one of us. The Holy Spirit has the power to transform our lives and transform our world, ‘melting us, molding us, filling us, using us’ – when we are open, when we are listening, when we are prayerful.
Just as the Holy Spirit has the power to transform our lives and transform our world, so do Holy Spirit stories. Just like when Peter shared his Holy Spirit story with the believers in Jerusalem, when you tell me your Holy Spirit story, when you tell me your ‘too many coincidences to be believed’ stories, your “I felt the power of that moment” stories, when you tell me your Holy Spirit stories, I am then blessed by the Holy Spirit. I am inspired. I am changed for the better.
As we celebrate 275 years of ministry, we are looking back and moving forward in faith, and part of that journey forward in faith is day by day becoming a more authentic community of God, a people who are continuously open to the Holy Spirit, a church where the Holy Spirit is acknowledged and a church where Holy Spirit stories are freely and often told.
So please tell me your Holy Spirit stories. Tell other people your Holy Spirit stories. Ask to hear each other’s Holy Spirit stories. Because our Holy Spirit stories have the power to transform lives, to transform the church, to transform the world – all for the better.