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Fifth Sunday of Easter – May 2, 2010

Easter 5C RCL May 2, 2010

Acts 11:1-18

Psalm 148

Revelation 21:1-6

John 13:31-35

As someone has said, the Book of Acts often seems like an action-packed newspaper account of events in the early Church. Let’s fill in a bit of history leading up to today’s portion of Acts.

We begin with Peter. At first, he is convinced that the new faith in Jesus is to be shared only with the Jewish community. But one day at about noon, Peter goes up on the roof to pray and he has the vision which he summarizes in our lesson. He sees the heavens opened and a huge sheet comes down and on that sheet are all kinds of animals, those which one can eat under the Jewish law and those which are forbidden. A voice says to him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat,” And Peter says, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” And the voice, which, of course, is the voice of God, says to Peter, “What God has made clean you must not call profane.” This happens three times, and then the sheet is taken up into heaven.

Meanwhile, a Centurion by the name of Cornelius, a Gentile, also has a vision. An angel of God instructs him to send people to Joppa to find Peter. So, as Peter is puzzling over his vision of the sheet, which is clearly a vision of inclusiveness, 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.” A more exact translation, scholars tell us, would be, “Go with them without discrimination, for I have sent them.”

The next day, Peter and the three men set out for Caesarea, where Cornelius lives. When they get to Cornelius’ house, Cornelius comes out and falls at Peter’s feet in worship. But Peter makes him stand up and says, “Stand up, for I am only a mortal.” A large group of Gentiles has gathered at Cornelius’ house, and Peter goes in and speaks to them. “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile, but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.” Peter continues, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but that in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Peter goes on to tell the story of Jesus’ life and ministry—the Good News.

And then an extraordinary thing happens. As Peter speaks, the Holy Spirit falls on all of them, Jews and Gentiles. The people speak in tongues and praise God, and, since the Spirit is already with them, Peter orders that all of them should be baptized.

God has made it abundantly clear that the new faith is for everyone.

Back in Jerusalem, however, the Jewish Christian community is hearing about all this, and they can’t understand why Peter has been associating with Gentiles. So Peter explains step by step everything that has happened. At the end of his explanation, the community realizes that the new faith is not to be confined to the Jewish community. They praise God, saying, “God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to eternal life.”

Our passage from Revelation emphasizes this theme. God says, “See, I am making all things new.” The Spirit blows where it wills. God’s love and healing cannot be confined.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is with his friends. Judas has just left. It is nighttime. The darkness of betrayal is unfolding. But the light shines in the darkness. Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Charles Cousar writes, “In Jesus the disciples have a concrete, living expression of what love is. Love can no longer be trivialized or reduced to an emotion or debated over as if it were a philosophical virtue under scrutiny. Jesus now becomes the distinctive definition of love.” (Texts for Preaching, Year C, p. 310.)

Jesus is telling us that a Christian community is one in which all persons are loved. In addition to the Ten Commandments, there is this new commandment, that we create new communities in which all people are loved, no matter what. He gives us the blueprint for how to do that, and that blueprint is his own life and ministry.

Peter had a very clear vision of a sheet coming down from heaven, and that vision changed his entire world view. It also changed the course of the new Church.

The Holy Spirit is still at work in us and in the world. Just as in the Book of Acts, the Spirit can expand our vision and stretch the horizons of our hearts and minds. May the Spirit continue to bless us with visions of loving and inclusive community and the will to make such communities a reality.

Amen.

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