Saturday, May 27, 2006

"They have the Holy Spirit; how can we NOT baptize them?"

Last Sunday, while everybody everywhere (including +Timothy) were preaching on "God is Love", according to the two readings by St. John, there actually was a first reading, from the tenth chapter of Acts.

In that reading, St. Peter is confronted with a dilemma. He's been summoned to the home of a Gentile. Not just any Gentile but a Roman, and not just any Roman but an officer of the occupation forces. A believer. One on whom God's Spirit has descended in power. It took some doing by God, including a prophetic dream that is described just before the passage assigned Sunday, but St. Peter did give the only right answer --- "How can't we baptize these people, they have the Holy Spirit same as us?"

Even after this, it took a while for the universality of salvation to really sink into St. Peter. St. Paul has to call him out about it at least once. Yet it is true that there are those among all the nations whose God is the LORD.

Of course, now that we all know that, we can look back with perfect 20/20 hindsight and see that it is not that much of a surprise.

Yes, the LORD chose a people, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Yet Abraham had two sons, and the LORD made promises to both of them. This is the LORD who always keeps His promises.

When His people were captive in Egypt, He brought them forth with His outstretched arm and pillar of fire --- and a mixed multitude with them who threw in their lot with the LORD and his people. Rahab, from Jericho, and Ruth, a Moabite, are admitted to the LORD's people and are the ancestors of David the King, and this even though Moabites were to be excluded from the people for 40 generations, and even though Rahab had been a sex worker. They claimed the LORD, and the LORD claimed them.

When God gave the instructions for constructing the Tent of Meeting (and later, the Temple), it was arranged in areas that were progressively more protected and set apart, more and more holy. At the very center was the Holy of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept and where the pillar of fire would descend, where only the high priest would enter, and only once each year after great preparation. Then there was the court of the priests, where the incense and the "show-bread" were offered (remember, St, Zechariah was chosen one day to make the incense-offering and....), then the court of the Levites, then the courts for the men and the women of Israel, ans a court where those of every and all nations could enter and worship the LORD. The LORD was the God not only of Israel, though He chose them, but is the one only God in all the world.

Jesus defended the rights of all people of any nation to worship the LORD His Father in the Temple. The one place in all the world set aside for those of all nations to worship the one true God, the temple service providers had taken over for a marketplace, leaving no place in the Holy Place for non-Israelites to worship the true God. Jesus drove out the animals and chased away the currency exchanges from the Court of Gentiles. For the Temple is a house of prayer for all peoples, not just the one people. For all of us whose mothers' mothers weren't Jewish, as those whose mothers' mothers were.

So, looking back, is it really any suprise that the Spirit of the Lord fell on the household of a Roman non-commissioned officer? The LORD chose all sorts of people to be His own ---including public sinners like Rahab, and people from notoriously irredeemable nations like Ruth --- and He reserved a great court of the Temple for them. A surprise?


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