Preached on 10 May 2015 at St. Luke’s Memorial Episcopal Church, Tacoma
Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B
Here we are in Eastertide, a time to focus on the Resurrection; on Jesus, risen from the tomb. Except our readings for today won’t let us rest there. The lesson from Acts leaps ahead past Pentecost while the gospel pulls us back to the night before Jesus was crucified to hear more of what Jesus had to say to his disciples that night.
In the gospel, Jesus is preparing them for what is to come; how they are to continue his work after his crucifixion; after his resurrection; after his ascension; after the coming of the Holy Spirit. He can tell them, but he knows they can’t possibly comprehend what he’s teaching them. Not yet. So he reminds them again and again. “Keep my commandments. Abide in my love and I will abide in you. Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know you are my disciples if you love one another.”
Last week, we talked about abiding. I suggested that we think of “abide” as meaning “deeply home.” Jesus knows that if his disciples are deeply home in him and in his love, they can face anything the world will confront them with. If they abide in him, they can go wherever the Holy Spirit leads them; they can do whatever the Holy Spirit asks of them. That’s Resurrection Life.
In Resurrection Life, God does a new thing and invites us into it. God initiates, the Holy Spirit goes before us; is already there and we are invited to participate – to act.
Last week and today, we hear two examples of this in our lessons from the Acts of the Apostles.
Last week, we heard about an Ethiopian eunuch. He has been to Jerusalem to worship and is returning by chariot where we find him reading from the book of the prophet, Isaiah. The Ethiopian isn’t identified as a gentile, so he is probably a Jew of the diaspora. But as a eunuch, he would be excluded from the Temple. An angel of the Lord tells Philip to go to him. He joins him in the chariot and helps him understand what he’s reading and tells him about Jesus. He proclaims the gospel to him. When they happen upon a pond, the eunuch asks Philip, “Here is water, what is to prevent me from being baptized?” Philip immediately responds. They go down into the water and he baptizes him.
God does a new thing, breaking down old barriers, and invites Philip to participate.
Today, we come in at the end of a story, so let me fill in some details.
Cornelius is a centurion in the Roman army, stationed in Caesarea. He is what is known as a “God-fearer.” He has not converted to Judaism, but he worships the God of the Jews and studies the scripture. He is known for his devotion in prayer and his generosity in good works and gifts of charity. He is seen as a righteous man, but he is still a gentile. While in prayer, he has a vision and an angel tells him to send for a man named Peter who is staying in Jaffa, a town nearby.
Meanwhile, Peter has a vision as well. He sees a sheet with every kind of animal on it – both clean and unclean. A voice tells him to kill and eat; but he responds that he has never allowed any meat from an unclean animal to pass his lips. But the voice responds, “Do not call profane, that which I have made clean.” This happens three times. And then Cornelius’ servants arrive. The Spirit tells Peter to go with them and the next day, they set out together with some of the other disciples from Jaffa.
When they arrive at Cornelius’ house, they find that he has gathered together his family and relations and close friends. Peter addresses them and tells them the good news of Jesus Christ. While he is still speaking, the Holy Spirit comes down on the people gathered and anoints them so they begin speaking in tongues and proclaiming the greatness of God.
Hold on! This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be! They’re gentiles. They haven’t been instructed or circumcised or baptized with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. How can this be?
But Peter, abiding in Jesus and finally, fully understanding his vision realizes God is doing a new thing. He is invited to participate, to baptize them and welcome them into the Body of Christ.
He asks, “Could anyone refuse the water of baptism to these people when they have already received the Holy Spirit?” And so he baptizes the whole household. For the first time, gentiles are baptized.
God is doing a new thing. The boundaries of who is in and who is out are expanded. Who is Peter to try to stand in the way of God?
God initiates and the Holy Spirit goes before them. Peter is invited to participate, to act.
This is Resurrection Life. There is no reason to think that God has stopped doing new things. All through the Bible, we find God “doing a new thing.” The question is, will we notice? And How will we respond?
Look around, what signs do see that God is doing a new thing now? This is especially important right now in the life of St. Luke’s; in this time of transition. What new things is God doing in your midst?
What are you being invited into? How will you respond?
Remember, whatever it is, God is already there. The Holy Spirit empowers you. Remember what Jesus says, “Abide in me as I abide in you.”
Abide in Christ and pay attention.
God is doing a new thing.
You don’t want to miss your invitation.