Acts 10:44-48 Psalm 98 1 John 5:1-6 John 15:9-17
I’ve been enjoying our readings from the Acts of the Apostles this Easter Season because they provide us with an account of how Christianity moved from just another sect of Judaism to a worldwide religion. Today, Jewish followers of Christ witness the Holy Spirit being poured out on the Gentiles, they were “astounded.” Peter then says, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” He then orders them to be “baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”
I had an experience that helps me relate to this passage. I take call for the hospital chaplain once night a week. It is rare that I get called out, but from time to time I have been. Usually this is to say prayers with a family after a death, but the hospital also pages the chaplain for every trauma. I am still learning what is expected of the chaplain in these situations since a moderate trauma is not life threatening – but we are paged, nonetheless.
Recently, I was called and when I arrive I waited for the staff to complete their initial assessments. The patient was taken to have a CT scan before I had an opportunity to approach him, so I waited. As I sat in the hall, I could hear the staff and patient talking and thought I was not needed – but I stayed anyway. As the security guard was pushing the gurney back to the ER, he was called to assist the staff with another patient, so I helped the nurse guide the patient into a room. Family began to arrive at that time and I introduced myself to the patient and family and said that I just wanted to check on him and offer a prayer if he wanted one. He did. As I prayed, I noticed a tear running down his cheek.
At that moment, I believe I experienced what the Jewish followers of Christ experienced when they witnessed the Holy Spirit fill the hearts of the Gentiles. It was a holy moment and once that astounded me. After the prayer I listened to the man’s story and I knew why I had waited.
Yesterday at a workshop titled Invite, Welcome, Connect – a conference on evangelism, it was suggested that listening may be the most important tool of evangelism. Everyone has a story, and painful times is a part of each of our stories. The presenter shared a video of an ordinary scene – people entering, ordering, and eating at a Chick-fil-A. The camera would pause on various people and there would be a caption telling us something about their lives. There was a woman whose cancer had gone into remission. Another woman who was eating alone on what would have been her 46th wedding anniversary – just months after her husband had died. There was a child whose mother died giving birth to her. There were two employees, one who had just been accepted into the college of her dreams and another whose only son had been deployed into Afghanistan. There was a family struggling to pay their bills, a man who had been fired from his job who was worrying about how he could support his family. There were more, but you get the idea. Everyone of us has our joys and struggles and few of us know what others are experiencing.
As a priest, I have heard lots of stories – enough to know that mental illness, mental health issues, substance abuse – drugs and/or alcohol, physical or emotional abuse and neglect, grief, and betrayal are all too common in our families. We live in fear, we feel guilty, we feel shame, and we are angry – at ourselves and others for things done and left undone.
These struggles are often the reason a guest walks through the doors of our church, and the reason many of us are here. In another video about why people don’t come to church, we heard, “the church is full of hypocrites,” and the reply, “we have room for one more.” We all need to experience God’s grace, for we are all broken.
As I was leaving the patient’s room, I told him I would continue to pray from him and he said, “May God be with you on your journey through life.” I went to the hospital to offer comfort and I received God’s grace.
This experience helped me understand why, in our gospel reading, Jesus says to his disciples, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.” His commandment is “that you love one another as I have loved you.” I waited to see the patient just in case he would want a prayer. I am so glad that I did because I not only witnessed the Holy Spirit at work in him, I received a blessing that filled my heart. By keeping Christ’s commandment to love one of God’s own, I found that Jesus was, indeed, abiding in me.
There are certainly times when I put myself first and I do not keep Christ’s commandment to love and care for my neighbor. We all do, it is part of being human – to put ourselves first. And that is why Jesus gives this commandment to his disciples – to us, to love others as he loves us. Sometimes we get it right, other times we don’t. But we are here today because we are trying.
When we get it right, as I did that day, we are rewarded by bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit and by knowing that Christ abides in us – even if it is only for a minute or two. I came home that night and said to Cathy, “I’ve been a priest for nine years now and I’m still learning how to be a priest.” She responded by saying she has been a nurse for a lot longer than nine years and she is still learning how to be a nurse.
And, that reminded me of what a priest said to a group of hospice volunteers, “if you ever feel comfortable walking into the room of a dying patient, you should not go in.” I believe it is difficult to be a Christian and to be comfortable. Loving people requires empathy, which requires us to acknowledge our own brokenness and, to some degree, suffer along with them. We may not know what another is going through, but we can relate to their feelings as we recall our own experiences.
Seeing this man’s tear, touched me. I instantly shared some of his pain – and knew that not all of his pain was physical. He is now in my prayers and I feel blessed for having shared some time with him.
Many of you know some of the stories of the people around you, but we are seldom privy to the whole story and we do not need to know everything – only that they, too, are a child of God and worthy of our love. We all need to experience God’s grace, and when we share Christ love with others, we experience his grace as he abides in us.
Let us pray.
Loving and gracious God, fill our hearts with your peace, that we might know you are present with us – throughout our journey through life. Help us, we pray, to be with others through the challenges and struggles they face in their families and their lives. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.