Acts 11:1-18, Psalm 148, Revelation 21:1-6, John 13:31-35

Fifth Sunday of Easter 2 May 2010 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

Easter 5C 2May 2010 Textweek

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

Our readings in the season of Easter awaken us to the changes that took place as a result of the Passion of Christ; they give us an insight into the first ‘church’ community as it formed and became itself. However, there is a much more valuable context in which these readings can be more fully appreciated, these are readings from Sacred Texts, the eternal word of God and so can give us insight into Divine Revelation – inside in - in and to the manifestation of the Divine. That does not have to mean that they are written by God; rather throughout the centuries these texts have been seen and acknowledged as having a significance in the moment of their apprehension. Each and every time the scriptures are read and heard, they have the opportunity to echo ‘I am making all things new’, to echo the activity of the Divine in our lives.

It is not the historical that is revealed; rather through the narratives of the Bible and through the other literary forms of the Bible’s many books we have an opportunity to see the present moment, and the present movement, with an accompanying Divine perspective. In the Acts of Apostles we reflect on the first Christian community, the early church, and amazingly, we see ourselves. Maybe we have an advantage over many other churches because we also have a Peter playing a significant, though not always helpful role, in our community formation, just as was the case in that first community.

Peter and the apostles and that first ‘church’ community were desperately trying to make sense of Easter. They were seeking to understand and to realise the revelation of Jesus - his life, his teaching and his death and his resurrection (which most, like us, had only heard about). Like us, they were already a people of faith and had lived within a tradition that already honoured the Divine; they and their fathers before them already had a sense of God and a life and culture that honoured God in their day-to-day living. Like us (or hopefully like most Christians) they also understood themselves as different from those who did not have the same sense of God. They, the first group, called the others Gentiles or uncircumcised. We know them today by many other names - Muslims, Gays, Hindus, Terrorists, and depending on your point of view, Catholics or Protestants. The list of ‘Thems’ in the present age seems almost endless.

‘Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticised him, saying, "Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?" Peter had encountered a shift; the shift was the movement of Easter and it was brought into question by the church of the day. The community were on the cusp of realising Easter, of walking from the tomb of their tradition into a new Jerusalem, and the movement was brought into question.

It’s good to remember that this is the post-Easter community. Like Jesus, the apostles and disciples were Jews. They had seen or encountered a new truth within their faith community; the stone had been rolled away, newness of life could be glimpsed beyond the entrance to the tomb. The newness of life that was dawning was that they were living in the dark and not in the light; they were being called into a movement out of that tomb into a new way of being. Are we also a community on the cusp of realising Easter? Is the East End a manifestation of the vision we have seen – like the vision Peter saw? Is the new light that shines into this very church the dawning of a newness of life for us? Is this - our tradition, our faithfulness, our rightness - also our tomb?

Each time I walk through the chapel or go into the chapel, I feel a sense of prayer. It’s an odd sense because it’s not a sense of prayer that wells up from within, it’s as if it’s being drawn from around; it’s as if there is an asking of something. Something is being asked as I walk through that new space - of me – of us. And it’s also interesting that when asked what are we going to use it for, like you, I don’t know; and yet within there is an amazing confidence that we will know. It’s as if it is drawing us somewhere that we haven’t yet planned out on a path that we haven’t yet walked. We have changed the shape of the Church and it has and is and will shape us. More than once when I’ve been in the chapel, I’ve found myself wondering if I belong in the church, or if I am to be found in the chapel. Do we belong within these walls or are we to be found in a new Jerusalem?

Is this not the experience we are reading of as we read of Peter in the Acts of the Apostles? The disciples never wanted to part from the Jewish faith; they wanted to open up a new truth within that faith; likewise Martin Luther (10 November 1483 – 18 February 1546) was a German catholic priest and professor of theology: he never wanted to start a protestant church; he wanted to open up a new truth within that faith tradition. What is the vision we have opened up here in building ‘beyond the Church’?

In the first reading, there is some tension: ‘the circumcised believers criticised him, saying, "Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them? It is a tension birthed in and echoing the fear felt by the disciples following the Easter event. Remember they were found by the resurrected Jesus huddled together behind locked doors, and later Peter was found by Jesus on the shore; he had returned to his old ways and was back to his old trade of being a fisherman.
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We are experiencing some of that same tension, I hope, in our community now: ‘the circumcised believers criticised him, saying, "Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them? Why have we moved from behind the altar? Why have we moved the furniture? What is wrong with doing things the way we did them before? What’s happening with the car parking, the garden? These are not questions of rightness versus wrongness; these are the believers criticising a movement that is partially evident but not yet clear. And the delight is they signify a wanting to know; they signify a wanting, and they call into question our community wanting. More than that they cry out, “What is wanted of us?” What is the shape I am called to be in this movement to a new Jerusalem?

Going back to the text....In verse 7 Peter hears the word of God.....I also heard a voice saying to me, 'Get up, Peter’. And true to his name he responds, ‘But I replied, 'By no means, Lord.’ This occurs three times, just as his denial of the Easter event occurred three times. He knows, he feels, he glimpses, but the movement that is called forth is just beyond his vision, almost beyond his capacity. And yet the movement of Easter continues in its unfolding. ’Then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them.’ The voice of God “pulled up again to heaven” and is now evidenced in the reality of engagement with others; and the echo of God’s word is compelling: The Spirit told me to go with them

What is the vision we have opened up in building ‘beyond the Church’? Are we as a community on the cusp of realising Easter? There is an energy, a spirit that is asking us to “Get up” and “go”, reforming us in the new light of Easter’s resurrection. It is an energy, a Spirit, of promise, so readily captured in the Revelation of John. ‘Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.’ The sea represents the uncreated chaos, the unformed life that has not yet heard the Divine word.

I received another letter, another sacred text, from the writing of Nelson – not Admiral Lord Nelson, but from Nelson Gardiner to the church of St Paul’s: “If you’re not riding the wave of change you find yourself beneath it.’ So stunningly good to go with that reading today from Revelation. Nelson thinks he just turned over his calendar and that text was there. There’s a movement that is echoing a vision, calling us, drawing us. If we listen to our own unfolding narrative, our story as the community of St Paul’s, then like those in today’s narrative from Acts we might find ourselves silenced, brought to a stillness, the voice of silence is one. ‘When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, "Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life."

We will realise a gift that has been brought from the tomb of our past and that will enable all to be brought into newness of life. That alone will change the shape of the church and all who dwell therein. As we move “beyond the church” into the promise of Easter, we will hear the gospel on our own lips. ‘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."

God is Love, and this commandment therefore speaks of much more than our casual understanding of love. This is not a commandment that says we should love one another, in other words we should do more than liking one another. It is a commandment that we should love - the activity of God - should be that which passes between us. It is a commandment about our Divine activity toward all people, our Christ-likeness that is birthed as we realise the promise of Easter.

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humprhis