06/05/2018

Doing, being and open hearts…

Preacher:
Passage: John 15: 9-17
Service Type:

This intimate time of teaching from Jesus to his disciples which is recorded in John chapters 14-16 is happening in the Upper Room after the last supper and after Jesus washed their feet. He first shows the gospel in action and love and then gives them some final instructions and words of advice which are his last to them before they go to the Garden of Gethsemane. In John chapter 17, which follows these chapters of teaching, Jesus brings everything together in prayer – prayer for himself as he faces the trial ahead, prayer for his disciples, and prayer for all believers who would, in the future, come to believe in his name.

Last week we read the first part of this 15th chapter of John, about abiding in the vine - we are the branches, said Jesus, and we draw our nourishment from the Vine which is Christ; “those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

Now, Jesus goes on to talk about abiding in each other as well, about serving each other, about loving each other…

John’s gospel is permeated with the world ‘love’, it occurs 9 times in this passage alone and his letters to the church community, written many years later, likewise… we have a reading from his first letter today – “by this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.”

In fact, it’s not surprising to read this story about the apostle John from a commentary by Jerome written in the (late 4th century):

The blessed John the Evangelist lived in Ephesus until extreme old age. His disciples could barely carry him to church and he could not muster the voice to speak many words. During individual gatherings he usually said nothing but, "Little children, love one another." The disciples and brothers in attendance, annoyed because they always heard the same words, finally said, "Teacher, why do you always say this?" He replied with a line worthy of John: "Because it is the Lord's commandment and if it alone is kept, it is sufficient." What else is there??! Little children, love one another….

I remember my mother saying in tears one evening, when she came home at 9 o’clock in the evening after a day of work in a restaurant, and the dishes and mess was still in the sink, that it is all very well to say you love someone but if you don’t show that love in action, the words don’t mean very much….

Jesus’ teaching today, and our reading from Acts, is about Being and Doing… Being in God’s love and Doing in God’s love… and the two go together…

I love this word ‘abiding’, which means of course that you live there – you abide there… in God, with God… another translation uses the word ‘remaining’ – “if you keep my commandments you will remain in my love… if you abide in my love, if you dwell there, you will keep my commandments.”

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Peter had been on a difficult journey. He felt that he had not remained in Jesus’ love and by his side on that difficult night and morning of Jesus’ arrest and execution and it had caused him much grief and pain but he clung to God and, when Jesus embraced him and all of the disciples after his resurrection, with love, joy and forgiveness Peter was transformed and this enabled him to lead the early Jewish church through a paradigm shift that would define their understanding of the Kingdom of God and the World.

I love history and archaeology and have always been fascinated with Roman history. There has been some wonderful documentaries recently about the Roman Empire and, while admiring much about their civilisation, I abhor their cruelty and violence and oppression, which makes every encounter with a Roman in the gospels and the book of Acts all the more fascinating. How many of them we encounter, for example, were centurions, captains in the Roman army who were godly and compassionate men.

The beginning of Acts 10, before today’s reading starts, tells us that Cornelius was a Centurion in the Roman army. He was a religious man; he and his whole family worshiped God, meaning the one God (unusual as the Roman religion had a number of gods including their Emperor). He also did much to help the Jewish poor people and was constantly praying to God. He had a vision. An angel told him that God was pleased with his prayers and works of charity and was ready to answer Cornelius’ prayer – he had obviously been seeking truth, to know more of God as he prayed and listened daily... The angel then told him to send messengers to Joppa for a man named Simon Peter, and even gave them the address! As the messengers were approaching Joppa, Peter was going up to the roof of the house where he was staying, to pray. God was preparing Peter for the task that he was about to be given, but God’s Spirit had to change something fundamentally core to Peter’s world-view. Most of you would remember the vision where Peter sees many animals and birds that are normally forbidden for Jews to eat and he is told by the Spirit to kill and eat them! And Peter says ‘certainly not! I have never eaten anything ritually unclean or defiled!’ and the Spirit says to him ‘do not consider anything unclean that God has declared clean.’ As Peter sits stunned and puzzling, the messengers arrive at the door…

Our reading follows on from that point and as Peter comes to the house of the Roman Cornelius he knows what the vision means – ‘you know that it is unlawful for a Jew to visit a Gentile, but God has shown me…

And as Peter prepares to share of the coming of the Kingdom of God through Christ, he says, ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him no matter what race they belong to.’ His world-view is beginning to shift but if we read the prophets like Isaiah, quoted a lot in the NT, we can see that God was beginning to reveal that truth hundreds of years before. It is when God’s Holy Spirit comes upon this non-Jewish group in the same manner that it had come upon the disciples at the feast of Pentecost that there is a cosmic change in their world-view…

The Jewish believers who had come with Peter were amazed that God had poured out his gift of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles also, and Peter says: 47 “These people have received the Holy Spirit, just as we also did. Can anyone, then, stop them from being baptized with water?”

Cornelius was a godly man and well respected by the Jewish community but he could never fully be a part of their community of faith. Because Peter himself had abided in the love of Christ, he was able to see these people as God saw them – he could see a man who loved God and was loved by God… a Roman, yes, a gentile, but in the love of God in Christ, Cornelius and his household could become full members and fully part of this new community of faith.

How do we abide/live in God’s love? God’s presence is always with us, around us, within us… we must nourish our awareness of God’s presence in our lives and in the World, and then this awareness will become the filter of love through which we think and act and pray…

Peter and Cornelius were both abiding in God, aware of his presence and love; praying, listening, seeking and ready for what the Spirit of God would do in them and through them…

Beloved Lord, enable us to abide in your love, and do the same…. Amen.

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