Where does all of that antiseptic hand sanitizer stuff come from? When did folks start scrubbing down for surgery after every handshake, using a public computer terminal, or touching a door knob? I remember the funny stories about Howard Hughes when he passed away in 1976. He would fit right in with many folks in 2018 with his germaphobia. Then he had to live in a hotel penthouse suite; now he could walk around knowing sanitizer would always be within his reach. No one would stare if he chose to wear a mask while taking a constitution through the germ-coughing masses outside his door.
I appreciate the need for clean hands; I really do. But do I need to lather down every five minutes? Do I need a bottle within reach at all times? Must I have a dispenser dangling from my briefcase and rearview mirror like someone wearing a garlic garland to ward off vampires? Maybe I am too insensitive to killer germs around me; maybe we need the half gallon size containers at the end of every church isle. Just be careful, you do not know who touched the pump last.
I do not know how I survived childhood in a world without hand sanitizer. I also wonder if it is okay to ride on this public airplane right now. Yuk! Maybe I should have hired a hazmat team to scour those bathrooms between Dallas and my destination in Ohio after all.
Reading through Acts 10 transports us to a world even more obsessed with clean and unclean hands. While perceptions of cleanliness differed quite a bit from our day, they nonetheless dominated people’s thinking and actions. Every encounter included mandatory considerations of maintaining purity at all costs. Staying clean required constant vigilance of every person one might encounter. Peter put it this way, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone from another nation.”
While the vision contained a divine mandate to never judge a person unclean based on old rubrics, Peter still had no clue why visions and angelic visitations had arranged the meeting. Peter had to ask why Cornelius had invited him to his house.
The soldier explained the angel’s appearance … an appearance that included assurances that prayers and care for the poor continually stood before God. The heavenly messenger assured the God fearer that Peter would be able to give divine guidance for the man, his family, and close friends that crowded into the house. Cornelius believed the angel and graciously accepted the rare act of a Jew visiting his home. He prophetically claimed, “We are all here in the presence of God.”
Peter witnessed to all he had seen around Jesus from the baptism of John Baptist to the resurrection. He told of his own commission to preach Jesus as the judge and as the One who would grant forgiveness to anyone who asked. He did not preach about the Holy Spirit. The apostle no longer considered them to be unclean, but he did not really see them as potential covenant members.
The Spirit fell on them anyway.
What once required over three years of study and 10 days of waiting in an upper room now happened “while Peter was still saying these things.” Jesus not only provided a way to take away uncleanliness, He inhabited all of those Italian outsiders at the same moment. Those of the circumcision were amazed. Peter’s friends had come to defend the apostle’s purity to people at home – instead they witnessed the birth of brothers and sisters that smelled a little different from them.
In my world I see so much sin stain and differences among people. Oftentimes believers cannot practice fellowship with each other much less practice hospitality with the ‘unclean’. Maybe we need a vision. Maybe the heavens would open for us when we pray with a hungry stomach. Maybe we could spend some time pondering the vision in the context of cultural exchanges we encounter every day. Just maybe we could invite them into our house. Maybe we could listen until they invited us into their house. Maybe we could hear the angelic proclamation that prayers of people who do not even know Jesus’ name have mixed with their good works to become a holy scent in heavenly places.
Maybe we can witness what we have seen even while we really do not know the dimensions of God’s new work. Just maybe the Spirit will fall on whole houses while we talk.
I think I need to pray.
I worship You, the One who ripped down every cultural barrier in death. I worship You, the One who hears prayers, sees care for others, and makes us clean where we were once outcasts. As I worship You and give thanks, I must ask for Your forgiveness. I am a man of weak perception and I dwell among a people of weak perceptions. Help us to get along in fellowship and communion in Your body, so that we can see Your vision.
You have already prepared the way for many more Spirit outpourings – outpourings that will leave us amazed as were the insiders that day. Help us overcome our phobias about a sinful world. You will keep us clean wherever You send us. Your holiness will spread like an unstoppable tsunami.
Here I am. I listen for the knock on the door — knocks from some who I have trouble believing can be saved so easily. I tend to think more of the evil around me than the good You have placed within me. By Your grace, endow me with the curiosity to visit ‘their’ houses. I look forward to hearing what You have already told them before I get there. I await Your Spirit’s outpouring.
Even so come quickly Lord Jesus.
In Jesus’ Name,