Rev. Dan Haugh
Please read: Acts 10: 44-48 and John 15: 9-17
May 8, 1945 Winston Churchill stood in Trafalgar square in London and proclaimed to the world that the war with Germany was over. It is claimed Victory Day in Europe and though other battles would still be fought, ultimate victory was claimed. But it came at a great cost and with thousands of lives lost. American President General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander spoke these words when introduced on the floor of British Parliament following the Allied Victory in Europe: "Humility must be the measure of a man whose success was bought with the blood of his subordinates, and paid for with the lives of his friends." Freedom and salvation come at a great cost. This past week week we remembered and honored the brave sacrifice of countless lives being laid down for the sake of others; for justice, for liberty, for freedom..for life.
The text in John 15 continues the parting words from Jesus to his group of followers. Jesus is in the upper room with the disciples and uses this last meal as an opportunity to share his heart with those who would hopefully continue the mission. The imagery and analogy of a vine was unwrapped for us last week and now we pick up in the conversation as Jesus discusses the evidence of remaining in him and living as his disciples. Jesus declares that love is the measure of friendship and obedience. Love can be fickle as we know. Love, as an emotion or feeling can be fleeting. But love as sacrifice is powerful and transforming. Of course there are all types of sacrifices. Some are inconveniences such as taking out the garbage when you would rather read a book or waking up early to take your dog out for a walk when an extra hour of sleep seems much more satisfying. Perhaps it is true that the greater the “inconvenience” or sacrifice we make for someone else, the greater the love. Giving up television, a hobby, free time, or rest is good, but would we gladly give up our career or ambition, agenda, pride, being “right”? How about giving up one’s very life? Perhaps it is easier to think of sacrificing for life for a spouse, or a child, or even a friend...what what about for an enemy? Jesus was giving a command to his friends that would shortly be modeled for them.
Jesus knows that the future of the disciples work among others depends on their attitude toward one another. He is advocating and commanding unity instead of rivalry; trust instead of suspicion; obedience instead of self-assertion. The measure of their love for one another is his love for them which would soon by demonstrated. Even in the incarnation, we discover a God willing to lay aside rights, privileges and power for the sake of love and intimacy with his creation. Love always requires sacrifice, whether on the battlefields of Europe or the battlegrounds of our heart, which often can be the most dangerous
Love is laying aside our egos, agendas, convictions and even beliefs for the sake of the other. This does not mean compromising, changing, or pretending we do not have them, but a willingness to lay aside for the sake of our sister or brother. It was this lesson that Peter had to learn before the gospel could spread. The first text we read in Acts needs a few words of context in order to grasp the gravity of the situation. Luke begins this story, with a man named Cornelius. Cornelius was a Roman centurion centered in Caesarea, the governmental headquarters of Palestine. He was a “God fearer”, meaning contrary to the common religions of the day, he was attracted to the monotheistic belief of Judaism but not converted fully into that religion. Cornelius then was a man who was seeking after God and as he sought God, God found him. However, he was also a Gentile and this was a major issue among religious Jews. Strict Jews believed they had no use for Gentiles.
According to their Scriptures and traditions, Jews were not allowed to socialize or fellowship with Gentiles. Because of the social animosity associate with them, Gentiles were not welcomed or included and certainly not believed to be worthy of temple worship, God’s mercy or the blessings of inheritance and promise. Therefore, details restrictions and measure where practice to ensure this separation and segregation. Blaise Pascal once said, “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it with religious conviction.” Association with Gentiles was an anathema for Jews, especially Peter and the disciples for this prejudice had carried over into this new movement.
And so we read about a divinely orchestrated encounter between this Gentile Cornelius and Peter. While praying on a rooftop, Peter had a vision of all unclean animals and a voice from heaven saying go Peter kill and eat. Peter refused, believing it could not be proper or morally correct. It certainly did not line up with his theology, his tradition, or even the Biblical commands forbidding such a thing. The voice spoke a second time, explaining “what God has cleansed do not call unclean.” This event happened three times leaving an indelibly impression upon Peter’s heart. Finally when the two of them meet and Peter accepts hospitality from this Gentile, he shares these words: “You know that it is against the law for a man who is a Jew to have contact with or to visit one of another race. but God has shown me not to call any man common or unclean. So I came without objection when you sent for me. In truth I have come to understand that God shows no favoritism but that in every nation he who fears him and acts righteously is acceptable to him.”
Peter proceeds to preach the gospel to Cornelius and his entourage. He summarizes the good news is about Jesus of Nazareth: anointed by God with the Spirit and in power to preach, teach, and heal; hanged on a cross but was raised to life by God on the third day and was seen by many witnesses; the result is the forgiveness of sins and new relationship with God. Peter concludes with these radical words: “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” With the promise of forgiveness offered to everyone who believes in him, these outsides were given a reason for hoping beyond their fondest hopes. As the gospel is proclaimed, the Holy Spirit descends in a powerful way upon people previously believed to be apart from God’s favor.
With their reception of that inclusive message, the Holy Spirit came upon the Gentile congregation just as it did upon the disciples at Pentecost with powerful signs. Scholar William Barclay writes, “these signs may have been given for the sake of Jewish believes in Cornelius house but also for Jerusalem believers who would later hear of what had happened so that all would see the conversion of these Gentiles as being entirely of God and none would revert to their old prejudices and relegate these new converts to the role of second-class Christians.
Traditional barriers continued to crumble as Peter then baptized this group and welcomed them into fellowship. This act of Peter, but in reality the act of the Holy Spirit changed everything. Later in his life Peter would physically lay down his life in a martyr’s death for the sake of his friend Jesus, but in this moment Peter laid down his prejudices and tradition for the sake of those God loved.This is what Jesus had in mind when sharing his heart with Peter and the disciples. He was calling them towards a new way of love. This call of love became the focal point of the mission. Jesus shared with them his heart, knowledge and sense of calling to continue his ministry on earth; a ministry of redemption, salvation, healing, forgiveness and reconciliation to all peoples. Jesus makes it clear that we are chosen for love. We are sent out into the world to love one another. Sadly, sometimes we live as if we were sent into the world to compete with one another, dispute with one another, or even quarrel with one another. Sadly, Christians are often associated more with the word “hate” than love. Sadly, Christians even today use the Word of God as justification for their own prejudices, bias, or intolerance, choosing to focus more on the letter of the law rather than the Spirit of the law.”
Yet, the love of Christ should compel us and propel us towards lovingkindness and obedience. Jesus makes it clear that true joy is found in remaining in his love and obeying his commandments. One would rightly ask, which commandments, or at least this sensible question: which are the greatest commandments? To which Jesus gives us an answer; “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.‘ Loving God necessitates loving others and treating them the same way you would want to be treated and respected. As we read last week, how can we claim we love God, whom we cannot see, yet hate our brother or sister who we can see?
In Christ, there is a new metric of love; a new barometer for Christian growth and maturity. Whom God chooses and gifts with the Holy Spirit, can any of us relegate to second-class Christians? As we learn to love one another, the world will take notice. As we learn to sacrifice for the sake of others, Christ’s love is demonstrated. As we learn that unlike us, God does not show favoritism based on class, race, social status, creed, sexual orientation, gender, economics or academics for there is now neither Jew, Gentile, slave free, male, female, black, white, gay, straight, rich, poor, for you are all one in Christ.
We believe that salvation is a gift of grace that needs only to be believed and received. Everyone of us received another gift without doing anything. None of us had anything to do with our birth. Some woman out there...your mother brought you into this world. Her pain, her labor, her work, her sacrifice given out of love for your life. Home is where we first learn and experience the deepest kind of love. It is where we learn about sacrifice, patience, grace, truth, obedience. You want to see the heart of God, look into the heart of a mother. French novelist and playwright Honore de Balzac stated it this way, “The heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness.”
This kind of love is selfless, giving, sacrificial, tireless, patient, forgiving, hopeful, and endless. May I offer a sincere “thank you” to all mothers for your example of love
May this example of love be true of us, as together we strive to follow the example of our Lord and Savior who gave himself fully and completely over to death for the world. This same Jesus told his disciples, “love one another as I have loved you”. It starts here. It begins with us. May the love of Christ in-dwelt in is, with the power of the Holy Spirit compel and propel us towards loving kindness. May we too came to believe the truth that in Christ we are all one and that the Spirit brings unity across all boundaries and barriers.
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord,
We are one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord,
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored:
And they'll know we are Christians By our love, by our love,
Yes, they'll know we are Christians By our love.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.