Sunday, July 14, 2019

SHS: Acts 10-15

The story of Cornelius and Peter is one of my favorite Bible stories. Its lesson of accepting new folks with different backgrounds and beliefs into our communities is a timeless message

Acts 10:
1 There was a certain man in C├Žsarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band,
2 A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway.
3 He saw in a vision evidently  about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius.
4 And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.
5 And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter:
6 He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.

The onetime bustling Roman city of Caesarea with its temple, theater, hippodrome, baths, and a big port protected by large sea-breaks.

source: Wikepedia

From north (top) to south notice the parallel aqueducts, the port (center left), the hippodrome (large oval arena paralleling the coast between the two main promontories) and large theater (lower right).

In the Hippodrome.

The harbor from the temple platform with Ottoman mosque turned Israeli restaurant.

Crusader fortifications protecting the northern section of the city.

Aqueduct that brought water from Mt Carmel to the north.

Jaffa (Joppa, Yafa) from the beaches of Tel Aviv.

9 On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour:
10 And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance,
11 And saw heaven  opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth:
12 Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.
13 And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.
14 But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.
15 And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. 

Looking north towards the modern day city of Tel Aviv from the ancient port of Jaffa.

The home (a private residence) of Simon the Tanner overlooking the sea coast.

St. Peter's Church in Jaffa. 

Painting of Peter's dream of the unclean foods. 

To read about how I once used this story in a Family Home Evening (FHE) of scripture charades see this blog post:

21 Then Peter went down to the men which were sent unto him from Cornelius; and said, Behold, I am he whom ye seek: what is the cause wherefore ye are come?
22 And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee.
23 Then called he them in, and lodged them. And on the morrow Peter went away with them, and certain brethren from Joppa accompanied him.
24 And the morrow after they entered into C├Žsarea. And Cornelius waited for them, and had called together his kinsmen and near friends.
25 And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him.
26 But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man 

27 And as he talked with him, he went in, and found many that were come together.
28 And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.
29 Therefore came I unto you without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for: I ask therefore for what intent ye have sent for me?
30 And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing,
31 And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God.
32 Send therefore to Joppa, and call hither Simon, whose surname is Peter; he is lodged in the house of one Simon a tanner by the sea side: who, when he cometh, shall speak unto thee.
33 Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.
34 Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:
35 But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness is accepted with him.

St. Peter's church (left) looking north to Tel Aviv from Jaffa.

Exclusion (or the absence of inclusion) of others is an on-going problem in the world. I could go off about President Trump's weekend tweet telling four members of congress (all women of color) to go back to the countries they came from (three of the four were born in the USA and the fourth was a child refugee from Somalia), but I won't. Instead I will mention two examples, one from modern day Jaffa about exclusion and one from current happenings in our family about inclusion.

Jaffa is an ancient city with a long history. The above map shows Palestine in the 1930s during the British Mandate of Palestine. Cities are represented by circles. Colors inside the circles represent religious communities living in those cities: yellow for Jews, red for Christians, Green for Muslims. The large circle bottom center is Jerusalem which at the time had a majority of Jews with significant minorities of Arab Christians and Arab Muslims. Tel Aviv is represented by the large all yellow circle (lower left). Just below Tel Aviv is the medium sized circle representing Jaffa which in the 1930s had an Palestinian Arab (Muslim and Christian) majority and Jewish minority. In 1948 most Arab citizens of Jaffa fled during the first Arab-Israeli war and ended up as Palestinian refugees scattered around the world. Some of these Arabs from Palestine remained in the city and ended up becoming Arab citizens of Israel. Over time many Israeli Jews moved into Jaffa and the city was annexed into the large metropolis of Tel Aviv.

Located at the edge of the large plaza in front of St. Peter's Church, this government installed timeline of Jaffa's history is an excellent example of how history can be written to exclude those that are undesired. As I read down through the history I noticed that it never once mentioned that Arabs/Palestinians lived in the city. It never mentions that the Christian Arabs of Jaffa descend from early converts from the time of Jesus and thus have a 2,000 year presence in the city. It never mentions that the majority of Arabs fled the city in 1948 or that the city is now one of only a few mixed Jewish-Arab cities in Israel. There are better ways than this to make the current Arab citizens of Jaffa to feel as if they are a welcome and included part of the city and country.

This past week Joel departed for his missionary service in Ghana. In my desire to help him be well prepared I thought it would be a good idea to make sure he was informed and aware of policies in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that over time have been both exclusive and inclusive of blacks/Africans. I printed out copies of the Race and the Priesthood gospel topic essay (
found on the Church's web site with the intent to discuss the topic in FHE. Before we were able to have that discussion, Joel reported that they discussed the essay in his seminary class during the last week of school. I wasn't sure how in-depth the discussion was so I asked Joel more details. I was impressed with how the topic was handled. His seminary teacher even emphasized to the students that, as specifically stated in the essay, there had been no revelation that started the ban and that blacks were not excluded from having the priesthood because of the curse of Cain or for being less valiant in the pre-existence. It was encouraging to me to hear such straight forward and with-no-excuses discussion about a troublesome policy of exclusion that lasted for over a century. Joel made me proud when at the end of the discussion he asked his seminary teacher, who knew Joel had his mission call to Ghana, what he should say to people in Ghana when they asked about the one-time ban on blacks holding the priesthood. The teacher honestly said he did not know what Joel should say. All he could offer was that it was his understanding that the priesthood ban is more of an issue for blacks in America than for blacks in Africa and that is is not likely to be a matter of concern for most people Joel interacts with in Ghana. For sure Joel can focus on the fact that an exclusionary policy from the past  has now been changed for the better. In the time of Peter change meant that gentiles were welcome with full fellowship into the fold. In the modern era, revelatory changes welcomed blacks into full fellowship. 

In Joel's farewell talk in Church he related the story (link below) of how for several decades black believers (who had happened upon copies of the Book of Mormon) in the Cape Coast Region of Ghana (where he will be serving) patiently and impatiently waited, and lobbied, and prayed and fasted for the opportunity to be baptized. With the the 1978 changes in Church policies, that opportunity finally came. Change can be a good thing. Welcoming others into the fold is also a good thing.

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