5th Sunday After Easter – (15th May 2020)
Acts 8.5-17, Psalm 66.1-8, 1 Peter 3.13-22, John 14.15-21
There is certainly a lot going on in this morning’s readings.
In Acts we have the story of Philip preaching among the Samaritans and joy and enthusiasm they showed upon receiving the Good News.
Then in First Peter there is the encouragement, of having received the Good News to remain steadfast in their faith under the pressures of persecution and derision.
Not to mention that important injunction for us all to keep in mind, that we are always to be prepared to give a defence of our faith to others, or more precisely, to give a reason for the hope that is within us – but to do so with all gentleness and respect.
We could benefit a lot from reflecting on this passage alone and asking ourselves what would you say if someone asked you to explain your faith to them?
What would you say if someone asked you to explain who Jesus was and why you think he is so important?
Would your answer give the inquirer something to take away and think about?
Would you have watered the seed that prompted the question in the first place?
Or would they go away thinking that you don’t really know what you believe or why and that if it is not important enough for you to learn about deeply and to study sincerely then why should they?
On the balancing side of this is also the consideration that if you’re so rigid and literal in your beliefs that you are unwilling to engage in discussion or allow your faith to develop and mature then you are unlikely to be truly gentle and respectful.
But what I would like to dwell on for a few moments this morning is our Gospel passage, which ties in to our other readings in various ways, but perhaps especially in to the epistle, in giving us another way to demonstrate what our faith is and what Jesus means to us.
Today’s Gospel, which contains the promise of the Holy Spirit to be our Advocate and to help us in all Truth, places this information in a sandwich between the repeated injunctions from Jesus that if we love him then we will follow his commandments.
Now this passage continues to build on the words we have heard over the past few weeks.
Firstly, we heard a fortnight ago, of how Jesus called himself the gate, in order to create an opening in the barriers that human beings may have place between themselves (or more often between others) and God to try and keep out those we don’t think “fit”.
Then last week we heard how Jesus described himself as “The Way, The Truth and The Life”, through whom people gained access to the Father, which was referring to the idea that none of us can force our own way to God, but rather must rely on God’s gracious invitation and the work of Redemption completed in Jesus.
So now, when we think of Jesus’ commandments to us, we should not be tempted to think of the many rules and regulations that have developed in and around churches over the millennia. It is almost tragic that as a body we have worked so hard to define who is “in” and who is “out”.
The Church, as a whole, has been responsible for many injustices over the centuries as we have denied, and in some areas continue to deny, the full fellowship and complete flourishing of different groups of people because they don’t fit “our model” of what we think God wants. They are the wrong colour, they worship the wrong way, they have the wrong gender, and they love the wrong people.
We can scan the New Testament for the sort of rules and regulations that the Pharisees pulled out of the Old and make all sorts of lists but in the end the commandments that Jesus left us with boil down to one word...Love.
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Jesus said: “This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: you shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
These are the commandments that Jesus left us and if we think that we can follow the first part by codifying laws and practices that we think are right in order to exclude others then we, just like those who opposed Jesus and the early Church, ignore the second.
For in the end while we can debate over the words that are recorded, we can have no doubt about the practice that Jesus engaged in.
How he showed love and concern for those who were marginalised and outcast.
How he sat down and ate with those who the religious authorities considered to be “sinners”.
How he reached out and touched those who the world looked on as “unclean”.
So as we each consider our faith, let us not try and defend the indefensible, but let us each share the love of God that has been revealed to us in the life of Jesus by following the example of compassion and care for all that he left us.
In Jesus’ Name. Amen.