6th Sunday of Easter
Happy Mother’s Day.
Certainly Mother’s Day is a fine time to talk about love, as would be Father’s Day. A mother’s love for her child, at its best, is the closest we may come to mimicking Godly love. Parents can forgive anything; parents can give without thought of return; parents are capable of laying down their lives for their children.
But to really practice Christian or Godly love, we must love other Mother’s children the same way we love our own. This is not so easy!
I’ve talked about giving to others and loving others the last two Sundays. And how many times over the years have I echoed Steve Schaitberger saying, “What part of all don’t we understand?”
There are churches, even Christian churches, that claim that the commandments to love and care for one another only apply to our own religious community. By implication, they would expect a merchant to deal fairly with any members of his own faith, but he would be free to cheat those who were “other.”
I think that the lessons from Acts we heard last week and this disprove any such notion. Last week we heard the story of Philip and the Eunuch. The Eunuch was studying scripture and was very interested in Judaism. However he could never become a Jew, not only because he was a Nubian (probably black skinned) and a gentile/pagan, but because as a Eunuch he was considered to be deformed, unclean, unable to ever enter the Temple.
Philip, directed by the Holy Spirit through an angel, was in the right place when the Eunuch’s chariot came along. Philip joined him and told him the Good News as a way of explaining a passage from Isaiah. When the Eunuch saw water along the road and said, “Why can’t I be baptized now?” Philip agreed. After all, if the spirit sent him hence, how could he refuse? And so the Eunuch was baptized into the new Way, the Way of following Jesus.
In today’s reading from Acts, we only hear the very last bit in a rather long story. Do you remember the story of Cornelius? It begins at the very beginning of Chapter 10. Cornelius was a centurion of the Italian Chohort. He was a devout man and who feared God. This refers to non-Jews who hung around the fringes of the Jewish community and were often referred to as God-fearers.
Acts goes on to say that he gave alms, prayed to God and so did his household. One day he clearly saw an Angel who told him to send to Joppa for Simon, called Peter, and told him where to find this Peter. So he sent some men to fetch Peter.
Meanwhile, Peter is on the roof where he is staying when he fell into a trance. He saw a sheet being lowered from heaven holding a variety of animals, all of which were forbidden by the Jewish dietary laws. Now Peter was hungry and a voice told him to kill and eat. But he replied, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” The voice replied, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”
This exchange was repeated three times and then the sheet was drawn back up into heaven. While Peter was busy trying to figure out what this vision might mean, the men from Cornelius arrived at his door! And just in case he didn’t get the connection, the Spirit says to him, “Look, three men are searching for you. Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation, for I have sent them.”
So Peter does as he’s told. He invites the men in, gives them food and lodging for the night, and sets off with them the next morning, taking some of his Jewish followers with him.
At the home of Cornelius all of his household and some of his friends are gathered to hear what Peter has to say. And Peter does preach to them. See Acts 10:34-43. Now we arrive at today’s reading. While Peter was preaching to the gathered crowd, the Holy Spirit descended upon them, as she had on the disciples at Pentecost. The circumcised believers who accompanied Peter were astonished to see this, for they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Peter says, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he proceeded to baptize the whole crowd.
It’s worth noting that the verses following this story tell us that the believers in Jerusalem were upset by this, and they criticized Peter for doing the baptism. So then he has to explain the whole story to them.
So let’s think for a few moments about what all this means. Both Peter and Philip were born and raised as Jews. They had been taught exclusion from day one of their lives, because Jews lived surrounded by pagans or gentiles and they taught their children to think of them as “other” in order to keep the faith of Abraham pure.
Like wise they were taught from day 1 about the purity laws of Judaism. Those included among many other laws, laws about what animals could or couldn’t be eaten, laws about which people were ritually pure and which were not. Everything in their background and training would incline them to exclude the Eunuch and Cornelius and his household. They couldn’t even eat with such people! So how could they possible baptize them?
Philip and Peter had to put aside their early training, their parent’s instructions, their earlier Rabbi’s teaching, their own prejudices, their own distaste for non-Jews. They had to put aside their old attitudes and their assumptions in order to include these foreigners into the new community.
So we have to ask ourselves, how well do we do this? Would we be comfortable welcoming a black person to our church or our neighborhood? How about an illegal immigrant? How about a Muslim?
Next Sunday we’ll be welcoming guests from the Christian Bikers Association. What if they were Hell’s Angels?
I hope we can all remember how Peter and Phillip stepped up, out of themselves, into their new lives, in order to love some other Mother’s child.
And so must we. And so must we.