A church without walls
EASTER 6 Acts10.44-48 Ps 98,1 John 5.1-12 John 16.1-24
+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit Amen.
Some people are open and welcome all comers. Others keep to themselves and are difficult to get to know.
Perhaps the greatest barrier to the spread of the gospel in the early church in the first century was the unwelcoming attitude of some of the early Christians and the Jewish-Gentile relationships. Most of the early believers were Jewish, with a long history of faith, and to them it was scandalous, even to think of associating with anyone who did not believe and practice religion as they did.
As an introduction to our first reading this morning the apostle Peter had just delivered a short and to the point sermon in the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion who, contrary to most was respected and God-fearing. While Peter was still speaking the Holy Spirit fell upon all present in such a way that there was no doubt that it was the Holy Spirit. This astonished the Jewish Christians present, because they thought that the Holy Spirit was for them only.
Peter and Cornelius were very different people. Cornelius was wealthy, a Gentile, and a military man. Peter was a Jewish fisherman turned preacher. But God’s plan included both of them. In Cornelius’s house that day a new chapter in Christian history was written as a Jewish Christian leader and a Gentile Christian convert each discovered something significant about God at work in the other person. Cornelius needed Peter and his gospel to know the way to salvation.
Peter needed Cornelius and his salvation experience, to know that Gentiles were included in God’s plan. We and another believer may also need each other to understand how God works. In every nation, in every society, there are hearts restless for God, ready to receive the gospel – but someone needs to take it to them. Seeking God is not enough – people need to find God. How then, shall seekers find God without someone to point the way. The question we may ask ourselves. “Is there someone near who is seeking God, and can we help them to find a relationship with God. We need to know God before we can show God to others and in showing God to others we need to be as our compassionate and loving God to them.
Continuing the story: Cornelius and his friends were baptised after they had received the Holy Spirit. Baptism can occur at any time as we found in last Sunday’s readings of the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch. and Cornelius and his friends openly declared their allegiance to Christ and identified with the Christian community.
When we acknowledge our Christian life, we become part of God’s family, with fellow believers as our brothers and sisters. Many of the members of this family are not ones we would choose if we had the chance. It is God who determines who the other family members are, not us. We are simply called to accept and love them. Can we ask ourselves. ”How well do we treat our fellow family members?” It is every Mother’s prayer that family members will love and look out for each other. Sometimes relating to other Christians, or our own blood relatives is not easy, and loving them is even more difficult. Jesus never promised that obeying him would be easy. But the hard work and self-discipline of serving Christ is no burden to those who love him. And if our load starts to feel heavy, we can always trust Christ to help us bear it. (Matthew 11.28-30)
The Gospels twice record God’s clear declaration that Jesus was his Son – at Jesus baptism (Matthew 32:15-17) and at his transfiguration (Matthew 17:5) It is thought that John’s letter to the Gentile churches part of which was read as the second reading was written at a time when there was false teaching about just who Jesus was. John clarifies the matter by saying that whoever believes in God’s Son has eternal life. He is all we need. We don’t need to wait for eternal life, because it begins the moment we believe. We don’t need to work for it, because it is already ours. We don’t need to worry about it, because we have been given eternal life by God himself- and it is guaranteed. But this does not mean we can ignore how we should live.
The Psalm chosen for today is a song of joy and victory. Because of God’s victory over evil all those who follow him will be victorious with him when he judges the earth. When things are going well, we feel elated. When hardships come, we sink into depression. True joy transcends the rolling waves of circumstance. Joy comes from a consistent relationship with Jesus Christ. When our lives are intertwined with his, he will help us walk through adversity without sinking into debilitating lows and manage prosperity without moving into deceptive highs. The joy of living with Jesus Christ daily will keep us level-headed, no matter how high or low our circumstances.
The gospel reading “now we see him, now we don’t see him” sets us thinking. What is this all about? Generally thought to be Jesus telling them about his death and resurrection. The disciples still cannot make sense of a Messiah who would die, rise from the dead and abandon his people in favour of another “Counsellor”. And their perplexity justifies Jesus’s assessment that they cannot yet bear all that Jesus wants to say to them. The disciples will know grief at the separation Christ’s death will bring but will be joyful at his resurrection. The combination of intense suffering and relieved joy at childbirth is, in the Old Testament a common illustration of the travail God’s people must suffer before the immense relief and joy of the advent of the promised messianic salvation. (Isaiah 26:16-21) Once the disciples rejoice, no one will take away their joy because the resurrection of Jesus is the onset of the eschatological age, the dawning of the new creation, the precursor to the age of the Paraclete.
Till now the disciples had not asked the Father for anything, but now Jesus teaches them to ask in his name and they are to do this in obedience in anticipation of the new order. They are exhorted to ask and told they will receive. To ask the Father for needs in Jesus’ name is to be done in full recognition that this is the route to the joy Jesus had earlier promised them. If joy is part of consistent obedience, then that obedience, that remaining in Jesus and his love and his word will have the result of fruit bearing that is the direct consequence of prayer.
If we abide in love, we will be able to show love and welcome others no matter who they are, likeable or a pain in the proverbial, whether they be our siblings, neighbours, or strangers in our midst. Amen.
The Reverend Canon Camellia Flanagan TSSF