Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; I John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17 Oremus Bible Browser

We have been called friends by Christ, the Son of God

In the gift of Bethlehem, the child was entrusted to us

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

‘While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.’ When I first read that I actually pictured just saying that here – thinking, OK, Peter’s speaking, and I thought, ‘Gosh, maybe this isn’t the text for us here at St Paul’s – could be that they’re talking about another Peter’. And then I wondered if it actually is about us, because I guess it’s not about us only if we read that sentence either in a literal sense or hanging on to our Sunday School theology. If we actually look at it a little bit deeper, then we can check it out. You see, we probably don’t even expect the Holy Spirit to fall upon us. The wording is valuable and in the frame of its day it made sense, because falling would mean that it came down from heaven, it descended, just as on Thursday we have the Feast of the Ascension, the ascending, the going up to heaven. But I wonder if the text does make a bit more sense if we take ‘fall’ out and put in things like permeated, gifted, inspired, overwhelmed, graced, blessed with the divine, gifted in Love, then we can start to get in touch with, hey, some of that is here in me, in us.

The other part of that text which is really helpful is the ‘all’: while Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all, and it’s an ‘all who heard the word’. And that becomes quite important. One of the things in the modern world, it has become harder and harder to hear. Bob reminded me of it yesterday; Bob wears a hearing aid – just giving out one of your secrets, Bob. He said when he’s in a crowded room with lots of people talking, it’s really difficult to hear. So for those of us who don’t wear hearing aids, you think if they’re all talking you can hear them all. It goes the other way round – it’s just like the modern world, all of the noise. There’d be a degree of silence descend for example, if all the fridges in the world turned off. They all hum, and we’ve lost what the world sounds like without a lot of noise. So if we are to discover this falling Spirit, the divine love which permeates the whole of creation, we’ve got to be able to hear, become aware of what we’re hearing - what we hear within the church, from each other; what we hear from without the church.

On Friday there were a couple of headlines that took my attention in relation to what we hear. The first related to John Howard’s visit to the US, and he affirmed just how much, quite passionately, how much the world needs a strong global military intervention by the US and how we will support the US in this. The other thing that I then heard was from the Opposition, saying that it will address the issue of migrant labour and restrict it, ‘for migrant labour can erode our standards and take away our jobs’, and I wondered what it is they are listening to in order to come to those conclusions. And then I thought, what is it that I hear? And I detect in both those instances, I hear fear, I hear fear - fear born out of the deafness to the divine word. I then had an example later that night at a dinner party, to hear two very devout Christians who had studied in the US for five years. They’d studied the end times and the books of the prophets. And I found it amazing as they discussed, almost trying to timetable the date of the second coming, able to cross reference world disasters with biblical prophesy, and I wondered again what is it that is being listened to, what is it that is being heard.

What we get in 1 John is a very short teaching about God’s love and the forces at work in the world. And when he says ‘whatever is born of God conquers the world’. ‘Whatever is born of God conquers the world’. Perhaps that’s the sort of intervention we should be listening for. What is it that is born of Love? But we know that if we go there then our life will change, because God requires certain things of us and as we learnt in Sunday School – those that are old enough may even have learnt to memorise them – there are commandments that go with all of that. And yet we read a little later on, again in 1 John, ‘his commandments are not burdensome’. Now I really enjoyed reading that and I want to look for those, because the ones they gave me in Sunday School I thought were hugely burdensome; they sounded stunningly burdensome, such that I pushed them aside. These are the ones that I want to seek, the commandments that are not burdensome, because from those there is an opportunity to discover what is born of God and so to bring life to the world.
If we go further on, still within the context of John and this time from the gospel, we find that teaching that we began last week, that’s reflected in the letter, the 1 John reading, that also comes out of the inclusive nature of the Acts reading: there’s something permeating the whole of creation, all that is seen and unseen, all that is born and yet to be birthed - there’s something permeates that, it appears that it fell from heaven. There’s something there for all people and every age, what is it?

Verse 9 tells us ‘abide in my love’; verse 11: ‘my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete’. What is this love? What is it that will make me complete in joy? What is it that will be my joy and enable me to bring light to the world? Well, it’s that greatest love, the laying down of one’s life for one’s friends. I’m sure that doesn’t mean that we’ve all got to go out and thrust ourselves in front of trucks. What does it mean, what does it mean to lay down one’s life for one’s friends? And where may I lay that life down? In verse 15 we find, ‘I do not call you servants, I call you friends’. We have been called friends by Christ, the Son of God. ‘I call you friends and I have given you everything; I have made known to you everything that I have heard from the Divine’. All is revealed post-Easter – abide in my love, for you know everything.

If we could contemplate that further, then we find that loving one another, putting the life of another before our life, is actually the act of creation, of the activity of the Divine. And maybe that’s where we in the modern world might begin to contemplate ‘abide in my love’ a little deeper - to turn the fridge off and with it the radio and the TV and the newspaper and our Government and our Opposition and the voice of the past and the voice of my parents and the voice of the Church and the commandments I had in the Sunday School rubbish – turn it off, turn it all off and sit with ‘abide in my love’.

And what’s the image I wonder, that would come forth from that? Almost immediately for me, probably post-Mothers’ Day as well as post-Easter, was the image of mother and child. ‘Abide in my love’ - it’s a lovely image and it’s an image in which we can perhaps feel some sense of comfort, some primal sense of value, us being held in the arms of God, abiding in God’s love. Take the image then and turn it round and place ourselves as the mother and the Divine as the child, because in the gift of Bethlehem, the child was entrusted to us, and what’s made clear in the gospel reading today is that a shift is being asked of the disciples. It’s a shift that’s being asked post-Easter, pre-Ascension, in that little gap, that little gap of the reassurance that was needed – gob-smacked disciples still wondering, can this be true?

And the truth that’s being given to them is that all has been revealed, all has been given. ‘No longer are you servants with me your lord and master, no longer are you children with me your loving parent, no longer are you sheep with me your shepherd; I told you last week, I am the vine and you are the branches - we are one together. This week, I tell you that you are friends.’ Now we all know that our friends are those who hold and support us, but they also know that we’re friends because we hold and support them.

The shift that is spoken of in the gospel today is a shift into taking our part with the Divine in the unfolding of creation. We can stay as children, accepting God as our Father; if we do that then we stay, we do not move. The movement that is asked of us is to accept the light that has been given and to shine as a light in the world: to become friends and co-create with the creator.

The Lord be with you.

Peter Humphris

Textweek Easter 6