March 1, 2019

Prayers and Gifts to the Poor

March 1, 2019


Psalm 99
Deuteronomy 9:6-14
Acts 10:1-8
This weekend’s reading: Luke 9:28-36

In the next section of Deuteronomy 9, Moses goes from sounding like the coach to sounding like a weary parent who has worked so hard, sacrificed so much, and still the teenagers won’t behave. After 40 days of fasting Moses received the “tablet of the covenant” from God, but the people down in the valley were displaying behavior that indicates they will never keep their end of the covenant. They had already broken the first two commandments, dreaming up another god to worship and making a graven image of it. God says to Moses, “Let me alone! I will blot out this stiff-necked people.” Moses was exhausted, but from his point of view, he could not let God give up on these rescued slaves he has led all the way from Egypt. God had heard their cries in Egypt and remembered the covenant made with their ancestors Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob. God’s word is from generation to generation.
Acts 10:1-8 is the beginning of the familiar story that ends with the revelation to Peter that no one is excluded from God’s grace, not even a foreigner, a centurion in the enemy’s army. These verses focus on Cornelius, who provides a quiet, devout contrast to the “stiff-necked people” Moses addressed. Cornelius lacked one thing: the baptism that is the mark of the Christian who lives and dies and lives again with Christ. His personal piety was exemplary, but he longed to be taken in to the community of Christ and loved as a member of Christ’s Body. Cornelius prayed with courage and his prayers were answered. God’s messenger came to him and said, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.” And he was instructed to send to a certain house for an apostle to teach and baptize him.
The words of the angel to Cornelius about his care for the poor as a “memorial offering” are echoed a century later in Rome when Justin Martyr is about to be executed for refusing to participate in the Roman rituals of burnt offerings to the gods. He explains to the emperor that Christians worship the God of creation and burning what God has created is wrong. Instead, he explains, with songs of thanksgiving we enjoy the meal God provides and share what we have with the poor. “To feed the poor is to put food into the mouth of God more surely than burning up the offering.” May our worship be pleasing to God.


  • Cornelius already believed in God and was living an exemplary life. What more did he need? Why did he need for Peter to come to him?
  • John Wesley thought sanctification (loving God and neighbor) was a conversion that took place over our whole lives. What did Peter still have to learn, even as he was called to teach Cornelius?


  • What is a covenant? God instructs Moses to bring the people “the tablets of the covenant” (Deut 9:11). What is on the tablets?
  • Do we have a covenant with God today?

God of all ages, we stand on your promises through good times and through trouble. Make us lovers of your justice and mercy, that we may honor you by feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and the prisoners, loving our neighbor as ourselves. You set us apart as your holy people; help us to grow in love and faithfulness, for your steadfast love endures forever. Amen.