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Easter 5C RCL April 24, 2016

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

There are certain events which change the course of history. This is true of the story we read today in our opening lesson. Peter is a faithful Jew. He has followed the Law every day of his life. He has never eaten anything that the Law declares to be unclean.

One day, he goes up to the roof to pray. He is hungry and a meal is being prepared. He has a vision. A large sheet comes down from heaven. On it there are all kinds of foods, some of them forbidden by the dietary laws. A voice, which he takes to be the voice of God, tells him to “Kill and eat.” Three times he refuses, saying that nothing unclean has ever entered his mouth. This happens three times, and Peter refuses three times. But then God tells him that all these foods have been made clean. The sheet is pulled up into heaven.

Then three men come from Caesarea. They have been sent by an angel to go to Joppa, get Peter, and bring him to the home of Cornelius, a Roman citizen and an officer in the Roman army, a centurion, who is a man of faith, not Jewish, but a supporter of the synagogue in his city and a compassionate person who cares about his neighbors.

Cornelius had been praying and an angel came to him and told him to send to Joppa and have Peter come to his house, so Cornelius has sent messengers to fetch Peter. As Peter is finishing his time of prayer, and has just had this vision, the messengers arrive from Cornelius. Meanwhile, Cornelius has gathered all the members of his household, plus many neighbors, to hear Peter’s message.

The next day, Peter and his ministry team go with the messengers to Cornelius’ house. Peter begins to speak about his vision and how he has realized that God shows no partiality. God loves everyone. As he is preaching and teaching, the Holy Spirit falls on these Gentiles. They begin speaking in tongues and praising God, and they are baptized.

The news that these Gentiles have accepted Jesus, have received the Holy Spirit, and have been baptized, reaches the apostles and the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem.

The followers of Jesus up to this point have always assumed that they would continue to be a part of the Jewish faith. They would follow the law and all the observances of their faith but they would also be following Jesus. They assumed that this new faith was open only to Jews.

But now the Holy Spirit has filled these Gentiles and they have been baptized. The apostles and followers of Jesus in Jerusalem want to know how this could have happened. So, Peter is telling the story of how God opened the horizons of his faith. Peter is sharing how God has convinced him that God loves everyone and that faith in God is for everyone. And he says,”If God gave then the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” And the Jerusalem community responds, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

A couple of chapters ago, in Chapter Nine of the Book of Acts, we have the story of Saul, meeting the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. He gets a new name, Paul, and a new identity. From persecuting the followers of Jesus, he is called to preach the Good News to the Gentiles.

God spoke to Peter and to Saul, and expanded their vision. If they had not responded as they did, the course of history would have been very different.

In our gospel for today, Judas has just left the room to go and betray Jesus. This is a tragic moment in history. Jesus must have had many feelings as he contemplated Judas going to the authorities and promising to lead them to our Lord. Jesus knows that he is going to the cross. What a horrible reality to face. And yet, he uses this moment to give the apostles and us the great commandment, that we love one another as he has loved us.

The encounters that Peter and Saul had with the Lord called them to love everyone as Jesus has loved us, and they responded faithfully to that call.

Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “For us, moving year by year into an increasingly multi-racial and multi-cultural society, this passage is eloquent. I would suggest that it asks us to live in this society as a Christian but to remain open to the ability of the Holy Spirit to work through men and women who do not share this tradition with us.”

God loves everyone. God showers gifts of the Spirit on everyone. When Pope Francis took several Muslim families home with him to the Vatican to embark on a new life, he was expressing that love.

May we do the same.  Amen.

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