Our Bible study leader and presenter for the assembly is the Rev. Eric Wester, Assistant to the Presiding Bishop and Director, Federal Chaplaincies, ELCA. The attached one-page document is the excerpt from Acts 10 which serves as the main lesson for our study. Please read through this account of the encounter between Peter and Cornelius, a centurion (company commander), part of the Italian Cohort, deployed with his family to Caesarea as part of the Roman occupation force. Your familiarity with this passage will help us as we consider a Bible background for ELCA Federal Chaplaincies and our ministry to military service members, veterans, federal inmates and their families.
(Mark 15:39, Matthew 8:8, Acts 10:1-8)
10:1 At Caesarea lived Cornelius, a centurion in the Italian Regiment. 2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing. 3 One day about three in the afternoon he had a vision. An angel of God, came to him and said, “Cornelius!”
4 Cornelius stared in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.
“Your prayers and gifts to the poor come up as a memorial offering before God. 5 Send men to Joppa to bring back Simon also called Peter. 6 He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.”
9 About noon the following day two servants and a devout soldier sent by Cornelius were approaching Joppa. Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, Peter fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
Peter Escorted From Joppa to Ceasarea
17 While Peter wondered, those sent by Cornelius found Simon’s house and stopped at the gate. 18 They called out, asking if Simon known as Peter was staying there.
19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said, “Simon, three people are looking for you. 20 Get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.”
21 So Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?”
22 The men explained, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.”
23 So Peter invited them in and gave them lodging.
The next day Peter started out with them, and some believers from Joppa went along. 24 The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. 26 But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.”
27 While talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. 28 He said to them: “You are well aware it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me I should not call anyone impure or unclean. 29 I came without raising any objection. May I ask: why did you send for me?”
30 Cornelius answered: “Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. 32 Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter.’ 33 So I sent for you immediately. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.”
34 Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show partiality 35 but accepts from every nation those who fear God and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil. God was with him.
39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach and testify he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 The prophets testify: everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
44 While Peter spoke, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard. 45 Circumcised believers with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on Gentiles. 46 They heard them speaking in tongues praising God.
Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 He ordered they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them.