Acts 10 tells the story of salvation for Cornelius and his household. It takes place in a cultural context of social barriers and notions of "clean and unclean."
The story begins with Cornelius having a vision during a time of prayer. Cornelius, a Roman centurion, was a gentile who sought to know God. In the midst of the plethora of Roman gods, Cornelius had come to believe in Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Still something was missing and in this vision Cornelius was told to seek Peter who would come to tell him a message from God.
Meanwhile, Peter, a Jew and devoted follower of Jesus, was having his own vision during a time of prayer. Peter had been taught all his life that gentiles were "unclean" and should be avoided. How much more a Roman Centurion? In Peter's vision, the Lord commanded Peter to eat from a sheet of "unclean" animals. Peter refused, but the Lord declared them to be clean and that he could eat.
As Peter reflected on his vision, three men from Cornelius came to Peter's gate. Immediately, Peter realized the meaning of his vision and invited these men into the home he was staying offering them food, lodging and conversation -- the gift of hospitality. He accepted their invitation to go to the home of Cornelius.
The next day Peter arrived at Cornelius' home. Cornelius offered the same gift of hospitality, welcoming Peter into his home. Peter accepted Cornelius' invitation and entered.
Because of these gifts of hospitality, barriers were broken down, relationships were formed and Peter was able to share the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Cornelius and all his household believed and were baptized.
Like Cornelius and Peter, we too live in a world of "clean and unclean" where all kinds of barriers are built to separate "us" from "them."
This week our nation celebrated the birth and contribution of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who gave his life to break down "us and them" racial barriers. And yet tragically, people and systems still keep and attempt to reinforce those barriers. Over the last days, we have been reminded of this reality as racism has once again shown itself in our community.
I am struck by the story of Cornelius and Peter because they were able to overcome the stigmas of "clean and unclean" from their own cultures and backgrounds through prayer and the gift of hospitality. They not only invited one another inside the gates of their lives, they invited one another into their "living rooms." They showed genuine interest and compassion towards one another. And in doing so, salvation came to Cornelius and his household, as well as to Peter and the early church.
Salvation always involves a "turning from," which inevitably means a "turning to." Our nation and communities must continue to "turn from" racism in its subtle and unsubtle forms and "turn to" a spirit of respect and good will for all.
Hospitality was the key to Cornelius' story of salvation. I can't help but believe it is also one of the essential ingredients needed in our story of salvation.
What if we practiced hospitality between the races? What if we practiced hospitality between the political parties? What if we practiced hospitality in our homes, neighborhoods and at work?
The gift of hospitality welcomes people past our gates and into our living rooms so that we might share food and conversation with them. And in so doing, the barriers of our prejudice and ignorance come down and we experience a taste of salvation.
Hospitality does not guarantee agreement on every issue. It is, however, impossible to work toward a solution on any matter when we refuse to sit down with one another. At minimum, hospitality offers the possibility of understanding and the appreciation of one another.
Who do you need to offer the gift of hospitality to? Whose gift of hospitality do you need to accept? It could be the first step to your salvation and the salvation of others.