Reverend Rob Lamerton
9 May 2004, Easter 5
In our gospel story today, there seem to be four parts.
The mention of the NEW commandment prompts the asking of the question What is the OLD commandment?
Is it just that the situation requires a new commandment to LOVE in the midst of tension, betrayal, antagonism and death.
We do not find out what Jesus means by love in detailed words not here, but he has not long before acted out the meaning of LOVE, in washing the feet of the disciples which symbolized
In this setting, with Judas having made his move, and the difficulties and tensions increasing all around, discipleship begins with his followers' care and support for one another.
But what about the world around?
Surely the ministry of Jesus' followers cannot even begin to touch the world around unless they begin:
and we find an early example of differences of opinion among the believers in the reading from Acts 11. The believers n Jerusalem become concerned that Peter (who of course had been with Jesus in that upper room at the washing of the feet.)
The Jerusalem Christians had become concerned over Jewish rules and taboos. Peter had been mixing with non-Jews AND eating with them and believing Jesus message to be essentially for Jews. (The People of God) they objected. (verses 1-3)
And so Peter recounts his story and his experience:
We find in this story the fact that the action of God's Spirit in NOT dependent on baptism Instead God's Spirit is active as these people openly respond to God's message and so baptism follows.
From Acts we learn that the only predictable thing about the activity of God's Holy Spirit is UNPREDICTABLE.
As Peter explains these events to the Jerusalem believers their criticisms are silenced and they praise God saying
"Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life."
They had written off these Gentiles as beyond God's reach and beyond God's mercy only to find out how wrong they were!
How often do we write people off? I hope never!
Even our enemy we are not to discard. What does this say about attitudes in the case of Iraqi prisoners humiliated by their guards. So often God prods and pokes us reminding us NOT to get so bogged down so stuck in our comfort zone that we fail to recognize God's Holy Spirit at work around us.
Two things stand out The gospel reminds us that at the heart of the life of the church it is absolutely necessary to have love for one another NOT just tolerating! *NB It is important that we work out what this means because we will be ineffective if we do not. Note that we still have a long way to go with our brothers and sisters in some other churches!
The reading from Acts points out that we can never afford to be so clicky (CLICKY!) and comfortable together that we fail to respond to God's call to a wider world. (And as I say that I am aware that our St Philip's Day Dinner did not attract many of our new families and students nor did it attract some of the older members!)
The reading from Revelation speaks of all things being made new! If we think about it, this has begun with Christ in his Resurrection it also anticipates looks forward to, the life of the People of God breaking into the world around and also to God's final and complete "making new".
The point of today's reading is that we need to recognize the transition from the ministry of Jesus to the ministry of Jesus via the activity of the Holy Spirit in the believers TODAY.
I have been talking this week to some of the senior members of St Philip's who are finding illness and the limitation of ageing very frustrating and difficult. How do we adequately express the love of Christ to them? On the other hand, we have been richly blessed to have young families and children in our midst. On this Mother's Day I remember the stresses and strains of parenthood without the support of my own family. How can we practically express the Love of Christ to them?
Then there are those of us in the middle????
[Which is not where the sermon ended. I should have transcribed the powerful ending.]
And there was the story that Rob read out of the Lenten Studies. The man had come along to a study group. When asked why he had come, he said it was because he was lonely. "Jesus is your friend", he was told. "Yes," he replied, "But Jesus doesn't play golf!"