Disciples in God’s Kingdom
Updated: Oct 30
Disciples in God’s Kingdom. The Reverend Canon Camellia Flanagan TSSF
Easter 5C 2022 Acts 1: 1-18 Psalm 148 Revelation 21:1-6 John 13:31-35
+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sometimes it is only after considerable time has elapsed when something happens that we can realize that God has been up to something and that something involves us and the growth of his kingdom.
In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter had heard a voice from heaven which immediately changed his attitude. He was not suffering a schizophrenic attack and hearing voices. This seemed to him a voice from Heaven. And I can tell you that sometimes this does happen. I have distinctly heard such a voice when someone was praying for me, and I had my eyes shut. I heard “Open your eyes” which I did immediately, and I found myself looking into eyes that were looking into my soul, like fire, but crystal blazing blue, which could only be described as the supernatural and I will never forget it.
I tell you this because sometimes God leaves us with no choice as to the way we should go and what we should do. This is what happened to Peter in the vision he saw. You can read the whole story in Acts Chapter 10. After Peter’s vision he left Joppa and went with the six witnesses to the house of Cornelius, the person who sent the men from Caesarea to fetch him.
And he explained this carefully to the believers in Jerusalem who criticized him when he brought the news of Cornelius’s conversion to them. Cornelius was not Jewish. He was referred to as a Gentile and the believers were shocked that Peter would associate with him.
We might ask ourselves, are we shocked when we see others who call themselves Christian associating with people who do not conform to our idea of a Christian or are not traditional Anglican?
But look at how the Jewish Christians acted when they learned the story of how he had been called to Caesarea and how the Holy Spirit had fallen on all in the house. The Holy Spirit came upon the Gentiles when Peter began to speak and left him and them in no doubt that Gentiles were to receive the Holy Spirit just as the Jewish believers had done.
These Christians who first criticized Peter praised God. God had promised throughout scripture that he would reach the nations. This began with his general promise to Abraham in Genesis and became very specific in Malachi’s statement: (Malachi 1:11); “For from the rising of the Sun to its setting, my name is great among the nations and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of Hosts” God was reminding the people that they were not offering their best to God, and that a nation in the future will be part of the covenant and be God’s people and God will be their God. and it was a difficult truth for the Jewish people to accept. The new converts understood how certain prophecies were fulfilled in Christ, but they overlooked other Old Testament teachings. They were being selective and narrowminded in their views. And in the book of Revelation we discover that just as God finished his work of creation as told in Genesis 3:2-3 and Jesus finished the work of redemption on the cross as told in John 19:30 so the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit, will finish the entire plan of salvation by inviting the redeemed into a new creation. The lives of the Gentiles in Caesarea had been changed, and that was all the evidence Peter and the Jerusalem believers needed. Can we not forget that changed lives, are an equally powerful evidence today of the Holy Spirit’s work?
Jesus’s message is for all people and even Jesus himself preached in Samaria in the region of the Gera-senes which was populated by Greeks. He reached out to the Romans when he healed the Centurion’s servant in Capernaum. It is interesting to know that the questions, the theological discussions and the criticism stopped, when the whole story reporting that God had given the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles became known.
This is an example for us, to teach us how to handle disagreements with other Christians in that before judging the behaviour of others can we hear the whole story? We may find that the Holy Spirit has something important to teach us, through others. We find that the recognition by the Holy Spirit of the Gentile people was a turning point for the early Church. The people had to accept those whom God had chosen, even if they were Gentiles. But we also find that the joy over the conversion of the Gentiles was not unanimous. This continued to be a struggle for some Jewish Christians throughout the first century. And the Church continues to struggle with the acceptance of other’s view as outcomes of the recent General Synod have shown. I have lived a long time and was confirmed in Sydney when Howard Mowll was Archbishop. He followed Archbishop John Wright and in the later part of the 25 years of his service began to change the trajectory of the diocese toward a more conservative theological position. Progressive leaders have become even more dogmatic over the years. To love one another is not a new commandment but to love others as much as Christ loved others is revolutionary. This is another example for us - to be more accepting of others and to encourage one another and others in their Christian journey. We are to love others based on Jesus’ sacrificial and unconditional love for us. Such love will not only bring unbelievers to Christ it will also keep all of us who profess to be believers strong and united in a world hostile to God. Jesus was a living example of God’s love as we are to be living examples of Jesus’ love.
Jesus says that our Christlike love will show we are his disciples. Do people see power plays, bickering, barrow pushing and division in our church? Or do they know we are Jesus’ followers by our love and compassionate understanding for one another? Christlike love reveals itself in action. It is seen in helping when it is not convenient, giving when it hurts, devoting energy to other’s welfare rather than our own and by absorbing hurts from others without hurting back, but also standing up for justice and equality for all. This kind of loving is hard to do. That is why people notice when you do it and know you are empowered by a supernatural source. When we understand this, we understand what God needs us to do and be, in the building of his kingdom. We need not need to wonder whether God is up to something or not. This is the way we should go. This is what’s new about the commandment to love one another. Amen