(Preached on 21 May 2006)
I once talked to our office manager about how it came about that I applied for my job and she, in turn, told me the story of what had happened within the organisation which created the vacancy.
In both stories there were coincidences and unexpected events. Looking back the paths that led to me being offered the post at that particular time had twisted and turned in many directions before finally meeting and continuing together from then on.
It seems to me that something similar happens in the story of Peter and Cornelius. God prepares both of them for their encounter which was to bear much fruit – it led to the baptism of many Gentiles, an event which was completely unexpected and probably couldn’t have happened at any other time.
When Peter received the summons from Cornelius, he had only just had the vision through which God told him that nothing he had made was to be thought of as unclean.
If the message from Cornelius had arrived just 24 hours before the chances are Peter would have refused to go – he still believed his task was to preach to the people of Israel only.
If Cornelius had not sent for Peter he would have missed the meeting which had an extraordinary impact on both him and the early church.
God was preparing both Peter and Cornelius so that they would be ready for this moment of revelation. Cornelius was ready for something new, some major development in his faith journey. Peter was ready to take a huge risk in his ministry – a risk he had not expected or planned for.
When Cornelius and Peter entered the unknown territory of their meeting they discovered that God had been there before them preparing the way in each other’s hearts and minds and was waiting to lead them on to the next stage.
There is encouragement for us in this story.
On our journey of faith God is preparing us all the time for the next stage. Our faith grows out of the things we learn, the experiences we have and the people we meet. We may not understand where it’s all leading but when we look back along the path we’ve travelled it may twist and turn all over the place but there will be some sort of discernible pattern which shows our lives as an evolving event, not a series of random and isolated events which have no meaning.
And as we walk into unknown territory, unexpected encounters or times when we need to take risks as followers of Christ we will find that God has been there before us. God will be present and will in some way have been preparing the way for us.
This walking with God requires faith and commitment on our part and the words of Jesus prepare us for what it will involve. He talks about keeping his commandments, dwelling in his love, loving each other and living in fellowship with him and with his Father. And if we do set out on that journey we can see that Jesus has already been there before us, showing us what it means to love by loving us.
It’s a lifetime’s work to learn what it means to be so perfectly in tune with God but it’s a lifetime’s work with God alongside us now, God preparing us for the next step and God ahead of us preparing the way and waiting for us to join him there.