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God's Spirit Blows In All Directions.

wild flowers inside old work boots, we are called to put ourselves in the shoes of others

Sermon by Pastor Nelson

Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 5, 2024


Acts 10:44-48

1 John 5:1-6

John 15:9-17

Last week’s first lesson had the Ethiopian asking Philip, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” The answer was nothing - not his “foreign” gentile ethnicity, not even his physical disability as an eunuch – stood in the way of full fellowship with God’s people. This week, Peter, basically asks the same question about Cornelius and others, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people?” The Greek word [kolyei] can mean, “prevent,” “withhold,” “hinder,” and a host of other similar words. Thus, the message is, no one can impede god’s outreach to all people across physical, social, or territorial boundaries. This inclusive theme extends to the end of acts and even then is ongoing, and open ended. Peter’s point is that “these people” – these uncircumcised gentiles, “have received the Holy Spirit just as we [Jews] have.” But we know, Peter, just like the church through the ages has never quite lived up to that teaching of openness.

Through the years we have hunkered down behind the catechism and/or something else to say who is in, or who is out. God is saying to all who live beyond the barrier of separation from God, I have come to life in Jesus the Christ and in the presence of the holy spirit, to break down all that separates you from me.

As with Cornelius,

• I/God have heard your prayers.

• I/God have come to visit your house.

• I/God pour my spirit of life upon you.

• I/God break down the barriers of sin, Satan, and death that have kept you from me. Very inclusive, eh?

Now let us take a look at our second lesson. 1st John is basically a sermon weaving together the message of love. A love that is from God, ss revealed through Jesus the Christ. That love then should exist between believers who experience that fellowship with each other, and with everyone else, and with God. The community to whom 1st John was written was facing a crisis. Not really much different from what a community of faith faces today. Was/is Jesus the Messiah? And more importantly, what do we do as followers of God?

1st John’s simple, confident, response is as relevant today as it was when the letter was first written. You know who you are, and you know what you have been told from the beginning.

• God shows us what is true.

• There is no need to panic or argue.

• Focus on living your faith.

God has the whole situation under control. Now I know unless you live in a vacuum, that is hard to believe. But that is the message. That is the good news. God loves us and if that is true, then we will love everyone, because how can we love a parent without loving the child whom the parent brought into being. Everyone becomes our brother and sister. Whoever loves the parent loves not just one of the parent’s children but all of them. The consequences of this conclusion are enormous.

• >every injustice done to a child of God echoes the injustice done to God.

• >every act of violence committed against a child of God recalls the violence committed against Jesus the Christ.

• >loving God, loving god’s children, and therefore keeping god’s commandments forms and inseparable link in a circular chain.

We hear the conversations that Jesus had with his disciples,

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

“They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love, and those who love me will be loved by my father, and I will love them.”

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved, you.”

Now we often make all of this very burdensome. It seems to be our nature to make all this very heavy. But remember Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens – for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” First john is insisting that this is a call to love, “Not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”

Therefore, genuine faith is firmly connected with active love. Yes, I know, “it is easier said then done.” But I as a preacher have to say it.

That is my mission. True Christian faith conquers the world not by military might or doctrinal arguments and certainly not by coercion, but by love. Everyday I find it harder and harder to take in the full story of Jesus and his suffering and death. But everyday I also understand that this story is telling me/us that the faith that overcomes the world,

Is that god’s love brings life even out of brokenness and death.

This is the victory to which we are called, loving god’s children, and thereby living our faith in a loving god.

Now let us be honest, there are times in every relationship when people get discouraged and think of walking away. Every marriage, every close relationship, if it is real, will face crises on the way to deeper love. Most love stories begin with two people facing each other, enthralled by the beauty they see in their partner. There is a time of bonding in a honeymoon of friendship and commitment. That relationship is meant to grow toward a threshold of finding a shared purpose, often in parenting and or vocation. So rather than gazing at each other, we stand side by side and face the world and its challenges. The story of Jesus is one of inviting his disciples to accompany him on the difficult journey through the cross to new life.

All of them had their doubts and fears, but they endured the hard times to enter into the challenge of the gospel. They stood with Jesus, not as someone to gaze at but to follow and imitate. They grew as a community of purpose by being on the road with him, learning, struggling, and working for the realm of God that Jesus was announcing. Jesus’ love for them was constant, but he also challenged them to stay the course and endure the struggles life would give them.

Through it all, Jesus’ message was the same, “Remain in my love.”

He knew their names, He knew their strengths and weaknesses, and even when they failed, those failures were teachable moments.

So it is for each of us. Knowing God loves us, gives us a strength to love others. It is the basic message for each of us, “Remain in god’s love.” Yes, the road of life is long and hard. We have to continually go back to our galilees, but we also know Jerusalem is just up the road.

Yes, there is a road out there that is long and narrow and winding but we still believe there will be a time when our joy will be complete.

Now I know that sounds like “pie in the sky,” theology.

[at the age of 23, after one year of seminary, I served two congregations for three summer months in 1963. The poor people.

I had been married two years, Julie was not with us yet, I had a BA and I had learned how to shoot a rifle and march and was ready to go to war if need be. Thank goodness, I did not have to go but many of my age group did die in the rice fields of Vietnam. The miracle is that I still believe in the over all message of the gospel.]

In the midst of the bible stories we find the truth. Is every “jot and tittle” in the bible true, of course not. The miracle of faith along with the miracle of the church is that we are still here. I remember 18 year olds in my first class on the bible in university claiming their faith was lost because the teacher told us the world was not created in six days. I think, I really began to get it together when John XXIII opened our eyes to a new way of looking at faith, church, and life. No, I am not RC but I am catholic. I believe, Francis is trying to do the same now.

We have to continue to walk, listen, and encounter one another on the real issues facing us today in our mission to the contemporary world we live in.

From the very beginning we have been called as a Christian community,

• to see beyond ourselves,

• to see god’s saving power for all the world,

• to see the humbling truth that the spirit of God does belong to every nation, tongue, denomination or religious tradition.

• god’s spirit blows in all directions,

• always leading towards a future that God has created for us.

Our part is to wonder at and appreciate how god’s saving power extends to “all of the earth.” Today’s story from acts gives us a story that incarnates the teaching of first john and today’s selection from Jesus’ last discourse. What we heard in the first two lessons can be taken as a commentary on today’s gospel message of love. Dwelling in god’s love calls us to live more deeply, more passionately, and to allow god’s love to activate everything we do. We have heard the call to love one another, perhaps too frequently. But god’s love is what these readings of the sixth Sunday of easter call forth from us. And yes, this call is likely to make us uncomfortable. Peter was uncomfortable eating unkosher food with gentiles. All of that seems pale in the light of divisions we know today. But the key to all of this is, “Remain in my love.” I am not sure how true the story of Mary and the angel is, but the truth is as Gabriel said, “For god, nothing is impossible.” The more profound things are, the simpler they seem to be. The essence of the gospel and this season of easter coalesces in today’s focus on god’s love for us and the commandment to love one another.

All of this may seem far too simple, and/or far too complicated, but the reality is amazing and also terrifying. If we are honest, we know both the impact and the cost of this kind of love from our own personal experiences.

Jesu, Jesu,

fill us with your love,

show us how to serve the neighbours

we have from you.

[ELW 708]

Amen

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