‘At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”
Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.
The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.”
When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.’
Why should God care about Cornelius? He was not a Jew. He was not a disciple of Jesus Christ – not yet. He seems to have been a good, faithful man. He was well-respected by the people in the neighborhoods that he and his soldiers patrolled. But, still, that doesn’t seem to be enough to merit God’s attention, right?
We know this: Cornelius was a “God-fearer” – a Gentile who worshipped Israel’s God, and was loosely attached to a local synagogue. Cornelius’ healthy fear of God expressed itself in two ways: Prayer and almsgiving. In fact, Cornelius’ practice of prayer and of tending the needs of the poor, were so consistent, faithful, and noteworthy, that he was not only well-known among the people – he was well-known in heaven!
Cornelius may not have had the whole picture, but he did see something good, right, beautiful, and true in the Jewish religion: Their practice of prayer and of caring for the poor, must have struck him as better than what he had been taught from birth. As a centurion, he would have been schooled in the military virtues, including a strong fealty to Rome and its traditions. And yet, there was something in the Jewish religion that God used to draw him in. And, from there, to draw him further in, to follow the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Cornelius’ commitment was good, but it was not yet in the right place – with Christ, in His Kingdom. So what’s the big deal? Shouldn’t we only hear about him, once he makes his decision to follow Jesus, and perseveres in doing that, for at least a little while?
The whole point of Christ coming to earth, is to do what He begins to do in this story: Take good, faithful people, who seem to be living well enough without God, and say: “You are missing something – me, and my Kingdom. Come to me, and do not be afraid: I am gentle and humble in heart. My burden is light, and I am all grace!”
Do you know someone who is “loosely attached” to religion, or spirituality? On some level, they are interested in what Christians believe – they love, or even practice, some part of what we practice, but they have not yet been introduced to the “whole picture” – the story of the redemption of the world, that we track Sunday by Sunday, year by year. Do you know someone like that?
Follow the prompting of the Spirit, in this story: Reach out to him/her today. Pray for your friend, colleague, family member, who is loosely attached, but interested in what we believe and do. Pray, then go, and draw your friendship into the work of the Holy Spirit: As you listen to and love him/her, ask God at the same time what he wants you to notice, to affirm, to gently challenge. In this way, God may use you – like the angel in today’s Scripture – to send the person you know on a journey from ‘loosely-attached’ to ‘securely-fastened’ in Christ’s Kingdom.
Prayer: Father, help me to know that one person you want me to reach out to – that friend you love, and want to draw into your Kingdom. Perhaps, Lord, that someone is me: I have been looking, searching, and have not yet found a home with you. Perhaps someone has been asking me to join him/her at Church, this Sunday. God, help me to say Yes, and take that first step with you. Amen.