This Sunday's second lesson from Acts chapter 10 is a classic example of what drives me crazy about the lectionary. Here is a key moment from the book of Acts -- Peter's encounter with the Gentile Cornelius, and the subsequent baptism of the whole household -- and all the lectionary designates for the day is Peter's speech -- sermon really -- excerpted from the larger narrative. I can't think of any preacher's sermon that would hold up well over centuries, with only one paragraph and no context whatsoever. Peter's, I'm sorry to say, is no exception.
The rationale, I suppose, is that we get a mention of the relationship between John the Baptist's ministry and that of Jesus. But the really remarkable thing about baptism in Acts 10 comes in the narrative, in the fact that Peter, having never entered a Gentile's house before, finds himself baptizing Cornelius and all his household.
A key word for the book of Acts is several variations on the word un/hindered. Acts ends with the news that, even under house arrest, Paul is preaching the Gospel unhindered. In Acts 10, the same word appears in verse 47, but is translated withhold. "Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" (10: 47) Later, when Peter has to justify his actions to elders in Jerusalem, he asks "who was I that I could hinder God?" (11:17)
Baptism, we learn in Acts, is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Our job is not to be gatekeepers, but simply to get out of the Spirit's way, and be witnesses to what God is doing.