- The Revd Canon Camellia Flanagan, TSSF
Easter 6 Acts 17 Psalm 66 7-19 1 Peter 3 8.-22 John 14 15-21
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit Amen
Jesus said those who love me will keep my word. Saint Peter tells us that in keeping the Word, a group of believers will demonstrate in their lives the five characteristics which will help them serve God effectively. His letter, part of which is the second reading this morning, was written to the Jewish Christians who were experiencing persecution for their faith in Jesus.
The helpful characteristics are unity, sympathy, love, compassion and humility. Even in our time it is useful to develop these characteristics.
Unity of spirit means pursuing the same goals in harmony with one another. We shall glorify the name of Christ if we love one another and affirm the truths which we believe in common.
We are to be responsive and sympathetic to the needs of others. We are to be sympathetic with the sin and sorrow of the world, to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice, because we can feel their sorrows with them and feel their joys. When someone is desperately sad, sometimes all we can do is to sit in silence and somehow suffer with them.
We are to have a humble mind or humility, which comes from realizing that we are creatures and that God is our Creator. God in Christ holds the universe and us in existence.
Peter tells his fellow Christians to love goodness with a passionate intensity. We might ask what is goodness?
How to define “good” is a difficult philosophical question. Good relates to things and to people. A good fruit is sweet and juicy, ripe and has a delicious flavour. A “bad” fruit is probably sour, and dry and does not have any flavour at all. To say a that a person is good, we have to know the qualities that make for goodness. We can see them in the life of Christ and read them in the Sermon on the Mount. Can we be ardent lovers of those qualities and that sort of life?
We are to be prepared to share our faith with anyone who asks us to tell them about it. That means we have to know the truth of it, and the facts of it. Can we show the same reverence to one who asks us about our faith, or even attacks it, as we show to Christ?
When Peter said “Christ also suffered for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God” this, in theological circles, is sometimes called “substitutionary atonement”. Peter is going back to the Old Test ament and saying that the death of Christ on the cross is the sacrifice or sin offering, which atones for the sin of the world. Sin has interrupted the relationship which should exist between God and humans and the object of sacrifice is to restore that lost relationship.
The message is,We have sinned, but Jesus Christ was without sin.He loved all through his life with never a break in the loving – and it is helpful to define sin in terms of “not loving” The reason for this is because the two great commandments say “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind and you shall love your neighbour as yourself.: Jesus did this and so theologians speak of his “sinlessness”
Referring again to Peters letter, We shall never know what happened in the darkness of the cross, and the meaning of the proclamation to the spirits in prison is not absolutely clear, but we do know that supernatural things happened at the time of Jesus crucifixion.
We do know that those who love Jesus, and put their trust in the sacrifice that Jesus made have found themselves in a relationship with God that was not known before. The way to the presence is open and we know the presence of the Spirit of Christ within us.
Christ died for our sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. Bring us into the arms of our Heavenly Father. In dying and rising and ascending to heaven he promised he would come back. He meant just that. He sent the Holy Spirit to live in believers hearts and to have the Holy Spirit, is to have Jesus himself.
In new Testament times it was mostly adults who were baptised into the Christian faith. They believed in God, in the forgiveness of sins, and in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Baptism declares that our sins are washed away and we have new life. We are “regenerated” or “born again”. God’s plan has always been for the salvation of his people and the restoration of the relationship with him lost in the Garden of Eden.
However much we believe in the sovereignty of God, we also have to believe that he has left us free to respond to him or to reject him.
As a baptised believer we are free in unity of spirit to freely commit our love to God and to others, and we are free to recognize the loving guidance of the Father and of the Holy Spirit of Christ who have made their home within us.