Written Sermons & Bible Studies

Wisdom Unleashed: The Fine Line Between Perfection and Vulnerability

This Veteran’s Day weekend, we will explore the religious journey of a military leader in the early church. He is the Roman Centurion Cornelius, and his story is written about in the Acts of the Apostles. As we explore our scripture today, I want us to contemplate the spiritual gift of wisdom. Wisdom links vulnerability and perfection, two realities of the Christian life and the life of a military veteran. For those who have served in the military, and especially for those who have seen combat, you understand vulnerability and the chaos of combat. With the chaos of a battle and the fog of war, a soldier experiences profound vulnerability. At the same moment he is expected to perform his role with perfection and with practiced efficiency. The soldier balances his vulnerability and need for perfection with the guidance of wisdom. And every soldier hopes that he serves under wise superior officers.

In combat, soldiers are still guided by principles and ethics. In the heat of battle, soldiers act and even take lives to restore peace and justice rather than take revenge. Soldiers must resist engaging in actions driven by sheer hatred. Soldiers use force that is proportional to the threat they face. They avoid excessive use of force or causing unnecessary harm to civilians. Soldiers take all reasonable measures to avoid harming civilians and non-combatants. This includes minimizing collateral damage. Soldiers adhere to laws and conventions regarding the treatment of captured enemy combatants. They treat prisoners with dignity and respect. Even in the chaos of battle, soldiers are expected to act with discipline and strong moral guidance.

I think we can learn a great deal from the lives of soldiers. We go into a hostile world ruled by Satan and full of chaos. We go as carriers and combatants for delivering the grace of Jesus Christ. To carry out our mission well requires discipline and wisdom.

Our passage today is:

Acts 10:23-33 The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the believers from Joppa went along. 24 The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. 26 But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.”
27 While talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. 28 He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?”
30 Cornelius answered: “Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. 32 Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.”

We have talked a lot about the extent and reach of the grace of Jesus Christ. This story carries the reach of Christ’s grace to a profound extreme. The open door of Christ’s grace reaches even a Roman Centurion. The fact that Peter and the Roman Centurion are called together by the Holy Spirit is incredible. It challenges the deep-seated social and religious norms of both Peter and the centurion.

Both men want to follow Christ and worship their Savior, but too do so makes both men extremely vulnerable. For Peter, the Jewish authorities and the Christian authorities will challenge his position as Apostle for meeting with the Centurion. The Jews will want to kill him because of their hatred of their Roman oppressors. For the Centurion, he faces charges of sedition from the Romans. That would be a death sentence carried out by crucifixion. Both men are aware of their vulnerability. Despite their vulnerability, both men seek to walk with Christ. They seek the wisdom to live perfected lives in the Holy Spirit. In our church, we call it holiness.

Let’s look deeper at Cornelius. As a Roman centurion, Cornelius was not just any Gentile. He was a symbol and enforcer of the Roman Empire’s occupation. He subjugated the Jewish people and represented Roman authority and power. He oppressed the Jewish people. At the same time, he was a God-fearer and was sympathetic to the Jewish people. In his role, he still ruled them with force. He lived a double life. To Cornelius, a symbol of Roman rule, God sent an angel and Peter the Apostle. As the story continued, Cornelius, his family, his slaves, and friends were baptized as Christ followers.

For Peter, allegiance to God over any authority was a settled matter. His allegiance to Christ in the presence of a Roman centurion carried risks. The Romans expected people to venerate the emperor. Peter’s worship of Jesus Christ challenged the emperor’s supposed divinity. Peter defied Roman religious and political norms. Peter asserted that Christ’s kingdom transcended earthly realms and authorities. Cornelius joined him in pledging his allegiance to Christ.

The early Christan movement was pacifist. It believed in turning the other cheek. Yet God reached out to a Roman commander of soldiers. God spoke to him with an angel and brought him into a relationship with Christ Jesus.

Nowhere in the story does Cornelius give up his post as centurion. He remains a commander of soldiers. He now seeks wisdom to balance the demands of his faith and his duty. For the veterans here today, that may be a shared experience.

Some believe that as Christians, we are to remove ourselves from the world. This story tells us the opposite. Cornelius doesn’t leave the world; he brings Christ to the world. Historically, many Roman soldiers came to Christ. Philippi was a military town, much like San Antonio. It was the Apostle Paul’s favorite church.

Peter and Cornelius came from two different worlds: the Kingdom of Israel, with its messianic expectations, and the Roman Empire, which viewed such aspirations as rebellious. Both men faced the opposition of their worlds. Peter embraced Christ as the Messiah, a view at odds with Jewish rulers. Cornelius turned to Christ and embraced a life at odds with the imperial cult.

The Romans viewed Christianity and Judaism as part of Jewish faith. To Romans, Cornelius’s new faith was in the God of a subdued nation. But he understood that a risen God had greater power than Rome. He believed in a savior that elevated peace over conquest. This was revolutionary for a Roman military officer. It was also striking that Jesus Christ welcomed Cornelius and family. No Christ follower would have expected Christ to accept him. Jesus always reached farther than his followers expected to save people and bring them into the family of God.

The story of Peter and Cornelius shows us the transformative power of the Gospel. It shows us the uniting inclusivity of the Christian Gospel. It demonstrates how Christ moves beyond the boundaries of nation, culture, and political allegiance. Christ seeks everyone and changes, up ends, ignores and demolishes social and religious expectations to call people to God.

When the early church recognized the Holy Spirit accepting people, even those they didn’t expect, they baptized them and welcomed them.

Acts 10:44-48 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

In my own life, I have been in jobs where my financial life could end on any given day. I have experienced a health crisis that could have taken my life. Vulnerability and chaos have been a companion of mine for many years now. While not the same experience as our veterans, it can be unnerving. It requires the ability to accept one’s vulnerability. I’ve had to strive to perform despite knowing the risks.

In our story, both Peter and Cornelius feel their vulnerability. Their lives were in jeopardy by their association with each other. Yet both sought the Holy Spirit and Christ. Both men and their families were vulnerable to any number of religious and political factions wanting to destroy them. Yet, both accepted and executed the will of the Holy Spirit.

Remember our story of Sarah, a new resident of Graceville. As we follow her life, we find her faced with the need for wisdom. We find her in a relationship where she must balance vulnerability and perfection.

In Graceville, a town named for its tranquil spirit and neighborly love, Sarah’s life’s work was under threat. She had spent years building programs that fed, taught, and nurtured the less fortunate, but as the economy faltered, so did the lifeline of funding that kept her mission alive. The community watched, hearts heavy, as the prospect of shuttering these havens for the needy loomed large.

The unexpected arrival of Mr. Cornelius, with his sharp suits and sharper business acumen, offered a glimmer of hope. He was ready to rescue the outreach programs with his fortune, but his offer was laden with conditions that risked tarnishing Sarah’s work. He wanted to use the programs as billboards for his ventures. His business reputation was less than stellar, and associating with him could reflect poorly on them. His offer used people in need as instruments in his marketing, rather than treating them with human dignity. This was a price that Sarah’s conscience balked at paying.

Wrestling with the moral quandary, Sarah sought solace in prayer and reflection, asking for guidance to navigate this testing crossroad. She emerged from her contemplation with clarity. She had a proposition for Mr. Cornelius that would test both their resolve. She proposed a partnership that focused solely on the welfare of the community, one where his contributions would be silent gifts of generosity rather than loud declarations of self-interest.

The negotiations were tense, with Cornelius initially balking at the lack of recognition his “investment” would receive. But Sarah, with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, stood firm. She detailed the real human impact his unrestricted gift could make. Her vision of a community that thrived on unconditional giving was an appeal to Cornelius’s better angels. She spoke not only to his mind but to his soul.

As days turned into weeks, the town of Graceville began to see a change in Cornelius. He started to appear at Sarah’s side, not as a savior but as a student, eager to learn the true meaning of service. He rolled up his sleeves and served soup at the shelter, listened to the stories of those he had once seen as mere beneficiaries of his wealth, and, for the first time, saw them as equals.

It was a quiet Sunday when Cornelius’s transformation became public. In the middle of a sermon on grace and redemption, he stood up, his voice cracking with emotion, and shared his journey of conversion. In that moment, the townspeople saw not a businessman but a fellow pilgrim on the path to righteousness.

The impact was profound. Cornelius funded the programs, no strings attached, and his newfound faith led him to champion more causes with Sarah. Together, they built a stronger, more caring community, with Sarah’s programs flourishing like never before.

Sarah and Cornelius’s story became one of Graceville’s most cherished narratives, a real-life parable of hope, change, and the enduring power of faith to move the human heart towards acts of pure charity. It was a story that would resonate with generations to come, symbolizing the power of conviction and the beauty of a transformed life.

What lessons can we take from the life of a soldier and our story of Sarah?

Right Intention Motives behind the actions of a soldier are very important. The core motivation for followers of Christ is love and the pursuit of peace. We should engage the world with the right intention of fostering peace and justice. Our actions reflect the heart of Jesus Christ, who loved even his enemies.

Proportionality in Response This principle helps guide a soldier in combat to achieve just ends without excessive loss of life or destruction. In our confrontations, we should respond appropriately with our emotions and actions. Proportionality in response acts as a guardrail for our emotions and reactions. It encourages restraint and grace under pressure. It follows Jesus’ teachings about offering the other cheek.

Like our Savior Jesus Christ, we should be offering forgiveness instead of seeking retaliation. Our responses are to be measured as we seek to restore relationships rather than escalate conflicts.

Protection of the Vulnerable Soldiersstrive to protect the lives of innocent noncombatants. We should actively aid the vulnerable and marginalized because we recognize the image of God in every individual. We seek to aid people in need and to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our community. Protection of the vulnerable is a tangible expression of the biblical mandate to love our neighbor.

Respectful Treatment Soldiers treat enemy captives with respect and dignity. We treat those with whom we disagree with respect and kindness. When we dialogue or debate, and even when we correct or oppose others’ views, we should do so with gentleness and respect as commanded in Scripture. Respectful treatment of our opponents is crucial in our society. When we engage in civil conversation, we display the fruits of the Spirit even in disagreement. We seek to  turn conflict into opportunities for witness and reconciliation.

To follow these lessons, we need the gift of wisdom from the Holy Spirit. When we engage the world as followers of Christ, we experience vulnerability. Yet we are called to perform as holy people. Holiness can be challenging in a caustic world with difficult people who oppose us. As Christians today, just like the early church, we navigate our vulnerability and our perfection with the Holy Spirit Who dwells within us and with Place of Grace Fellowship, our brothers and sisters at our side.

Let us pray.

About Pastor Tim

Tim Holmes

Senior Pastor

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