Readings: Acts 10:44-48, 1 John 5:1-12 & John 15:9-17
Have you ever found yourself looking at the world today and thinking,
“The more things change the more they stay the same?”
Sure, there is an awful lot of change the world has experienced in recent years. We only have to look at technology: the internet, smart phones and tablets, and of course, social media. Then there are other significant changes, such as the collapse of the Soviet Union, advances in medicine and medical treatment, and many others. Not to mention social change in our country: such as the legalisation of same sex marriage, equal rights for women, multiculturalism and so on.
But it seems to me there are certain things that don’t change, in spite of all the rhetoric of politicians, and despite the efforts of many brave and courageous people, who have given their lives, in the fight to bring about change.
What prompted me to think about this, was a documentary I watched on Netflix the other night, on Robert Kennedy; the brother of assassinated US President John F. Kennedy, and himself assassinated, when he ran for president in 1968.
The documentary included footage of speeches that Kennedy had given on his campaign trail, and as I listened to the things he was saying, I found myself thinking that a lot of the issues he was talking about fifty years ago, are still being talked about by politicians today. Issues such as providing real and compassionate assistance for the underprivileged in society. True equality for racial minorities. Ending the exploitation of third world countries. And removing military personnel from the territory of other sovereign nations. These sorts of issues have been spoken about by world leaders and influential people, such as Robert Kennedy, for decades now, but not a lot seems to change.
But that was definitely not true for the early Christians, especially those who came from a Jewish background. Their whole world, and the way they looked at the world, was totally transformed by the death and resurrection of Jesus. And our first reading this morning, from the Acts of the Apostles, provides a perfect example of this transformation.
The context for the reading, is that a Roman centurion in Caesarea named Cornelius, who believes in, and prays to the God of Israel, has a vision in which an angel of God tells him to send for the Apostle Peter, who is staying in the city of Joppa. In the meantime, Peter himself has a vision, in which God reveals to him that there is nothing that should separate Jew from Gentile (non-Jew). And so Peter returns with the servants of Cornelius to Caesarea to meet with Cornelius.
In today’s reading, Peter is talking to Cornelius and others (who like Cornelius, were presumably Gentiles) when suddenly the Holy Spirit comes upon them. We know they receive the Spirit, because they begin speaking in tongues, just like the Apostles did on the Day of Pentecost.
The Jewish Christians traveling with Peter to Caesarea, are shocked to see the Holy Spirit being given to non-Jews, because it is the Jewish belief that Jews, and Jews alone, are God’s chosen people. If these non-Jews receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, then it must mean they too are God’s chosen people. Peter confirms this, when he orders that the non-Jews be baptised.
What an incredibly difficult thing for those Jewish Christians to understand and accept. Everything they believe in, is being turned upside down. Their whole world is changing. Clearly the message being sent to them, is that whoever believes that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God, is a child of God.
This is the same message the Apostle John gives in our second reading this morning, from the First Letter of John. But John also says that if people truly love God, then by default, they also love the children of God, because whoever “loves the parent loves the child”. John tells us “we love the children of God, when we love God”, and we love God when we obey his commandments.
And as we hear in the reading from John’s Gospel, we remain in the love of Jesus if we keep his commandments. The commandment he gives the Apostles in the gospel reading, is to
“love each other in the same way he has loved them”.
And nothing is greater than his love for them because he lays down his life for his friends. They are his friends if they follow his commandment. They are no longer merely his followers, or his servants as they are referred to in John’s Gospel, because followers or servants don’t always know what their leader or master is doing. But Jesus shares with them everything he receives from God. They know everything he is doing.
The Church has undergone significant change throughout the two thousand plus years of its history, but at its heart it remains the same. The Church remains the body of Christ in the world, because its members are disciples of Christ, just like the apostles were two thousand years ago. And just like the apostles, who were Jesus’ friends, and as his friends knew everything he was doing, we know everything that God is doing, because God’s purpose, is revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ.
Like the early Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, we are children of God if we believe in Jesus as Messiah and Son of God. And we love all the other children of God when we love God, and we love God when we obey his commandments. And as Jesus told the Apostles, his commandment is that we love each other in the same way that he loved us. And if we keep his commandment, we remain in his love.
To return to where I began this morning, a lot of the problems that exist in the world today are the same ones that have existed for hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years. And as individuals, we can’t solve them.
But by obeying Jesus’ commandment to love each other in the same way that he loved us, we create a ripple effect, that slowly spreads out across the network of relationships that we have, and which hopefully will continue to spread beyond, through the network of relationships of those that we love.
The Lord be with you.