Monday, February 04, 2008

God's Surprises

Monday, February 4, 2008 -- Week of Last Epiphany, Year 2
(Cornelius the Centurion)

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 951)
Psalms 25 (morning) 9, 15 (evening)
Proverbs 27:1-6, 10-12
Philippians 3:1-11
John 18:15-18, 25-27

One of the major themes in scripture is the presence of God's grace in the most unlikely persons.

Today is the feast of Cornelius the Centurion. Cornelius was a Roman officer, a commander of 100 soldiers. Roman centurions were army professionals, competent and disciplined. A centurion was responsible for the training and discipline of his troops. Many were literate and noted for their piety.

But a Roman soldier was not Jewish. He would not have been circumcised. He would not be a member of the congregation. By Biblical mandate and Jewish custom he was unclean, a pagan.

In maybe the most significant development in the early church, Peter in a vision realized that those he had regarded as unclean were not. He visited the home of Cornelius and was amazed to see the signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit among them, uncircumcised Romans. Peter baptized Cornelius and his family. It was a singular turning point in church history.

Paul made it a practice to build his congregation by inviting uncircumcised Romans who were interested in the piety, ethics and tradition of the Jews -- called Godfearers -- to join the Christian movement, where they could belong and be accepted without becoming Jews, and without becoming circumcised.

It was a controversial policy of inclusion. In today's reading from Philippians we see some of the polemic. "Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh!" Paul is speaking of Jewish Christians who hold to the traditions of the ancestors and the traditional Biblical commandments. Those Jewish-Christians insisted that the promises were given to the Jews, and therefore anyone who joined the movement of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah must also become Jewish, the males being circumcised. Paul argues with them in this passage saying he was a blameless Jew, but that he found his standing to be meaningless, next to "the righteousness from God based on faith."

Over and over God's surprising intervention comes from the unexpected person. The barren woman Sarah; the second son Isaac; the presumed dead Joseph; the murderer Moses; the usurper Jacob; Rahab the harlot; the timid Gideon; the woman judge Deborah; the left-handed Ehud; the Moabite Ruth; the youngest child David; the dresser of sycamores Amos; the disobedient Jonah; Magi from the East; the Galilean Jesus; the Ethiopian eunuch; the Garasene demoniac; the Canannite woman; the Samaritan woman; a bunch of fishermen. Over and over God surprises us by mediating grace and accomplishing wonders through those who were thought to be outside the circle of God's chosen, those thought to be unclean or secondary or sinners.

That is why we must be awake and open for the surprises God is accomplishing in our day. Where is the surprising presence of the Spirit? Look outside the usual places. What foreigners or pagan or sinners or outcasts are actually God's messengers and agents to us in our generation? It's an important theme -- not just a few verses of scripture, but a major pattern throughout the Biblical story. Those who miss the signs of God's activity through the "other" are those who will be judged as being blind in their day, those who tried to block the work of God. We are called to be alert and open to new possibilities. God is always surprising us.



Audio podcast: Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week. Click the following link: Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117

An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location --

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


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