Acts 11:1-18 Psalm 148 Revelation 21:1-6 John 12:31-35
Jewish law governed all matters of life in ancient times – and it still does if you are an orthodox Jew. It limits what you eat and forbids you from working on the sabbath; it tells you how to dress, and when and how you may interact with the Gentiles – meaning anyone who is not Jewish.
In Acts, however, Peter has a vision that prompted a radical departure from Jewish law. In it, God instructs Peter to eat meat that is unlawful for him to eat. Then, the Spirit tells him to go the home of Gentiles and share the story of Christ with them. Peter witnesses the Holy Spirit descend upon them, just as it had the disciples. After hearing this story, the early Christians say, “God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
From this point forward, the Good News of Jesus Christ, God’s love for us, is shared with all who will listen. The early Jewish Christians may continue to struggle with how their traditions differed from those of the Gentile Christians, but they no longer consider themselves the chosen people at the exclusion of others. Well, most did not, there are Christian denominations today that suggest there is only one right way for believers to act and worship. Following their customs, like following Jewish Law, is necessary for salvation. Other Christian denominations are worshiping false Gods, they have been misled by Satan.
Part of choosing our denomination is finding what fits our believes, what affirms our individual faith. For many, the traditions of our youth carry forward, but for many of us it changes as we mature in our own faith. I am one who grew up in a different denomination and then found the Episcopal Church to be the place I could grow more deeply in my faith and feel most closely connected to God.
Our church allows for differences and gives us room for growth. It challenges us to see Christ in people we might otherwise not associate with, peoples who beliefs or politics are different from our own. They might be, for us, the Gentiles, people whose life experiences and traditions are different from ours. We, of course, are human and have our own tendencies to judge others – especially people who are judgmental. If they would only see the world as we see it, this would be a better place.
In virtually every faith community there is a tendency to view other denominations as misguided. It is far easier to see the flaws in others than it is for us to see them in ourselves. Peter’s vision, should not only be understood as a challenge to the Jewish Christians of his day, it should be understood as a challenge for us.
Who are the Gentiles in our world today? In our community? Are we excluding others? Or, are we reaching out in love to them, as Christ reaches out to us – and as we do reach out to one another here at St. Paul’s?
In the Gospel reading today, Jesus says to his disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Here Jesus, just before he is crucified, commands his disciples to care for one another.
Earlier this same evening Jesus washes their feet and then says, “You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am. So, if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Jesus teaches them and us, by example. By example he teaches us to care for one another. And, in his ministry which lead him to Jerusalem, he teaches us, by example, to preach good news to the poor and the oppressed, and to help those in need.
So yes, we are called to care for each other, AND, we are called to spread to the Good News of God’s love for ALL of humanity – including to the Gentiles in our community whoever they might be. In our reading from the Revelation to John, John has a vision in which he sees a new heaven and a new earth. He sees, “the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” Then he hears a voice saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals.” It does not say God’s home is among the chosen people, it says mortals.
I believe this is the Good News that we need to share. God is with us; Christ is with us. His home is among the mortals. At the 10:30 service, we will have our Sunday School Celebration and the children will help lead our worship. On the front of the bulletin for that service is what is posted in the Sunday School area that says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind. Love your neighbor as yourself.” We know this to be the two great commandments. Beneath this, though, they have added, “and we’ll all be happy people!”
When we follow Christ’s commandment to love one another as he loves us, and when we understand that this applies to everyone – Jews and Gentiles alike, Episcopalians and others, we experience life in the new Jerusalem. We are “Happy People”! Our prayers are answered and God’s will is done on earth, as it is in heaven!
Let us pray. Loving and gracious God, fill our hearts with your love that we might truly love one another as you love us. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen