Saturday, April 16, 2016

Sunday 24 April 2016 - Fifth Sunday of Easter

Theme                  Love one another

Sentence             By this love you have for one another everyone will know that you are my disciples. (John 13:35)

Collect                  Abba God, we call you Father,
                                And your care for us
          Is motherly as well.
                                Protect our power to love and be loved
          And make us glad to be called your children,
          One whanau in Christ;
                                Through whom we pray in the power of the Spirit. Amen. [adapted, NZPB, p. 608] 
           Acts 11:1-18
           Psalm 148
           Revelation 21:1-6
                                   John 13:31-35


Psalm 148 is both a hymn and a vision. A hymn of praise to the Lord, which calls on the whole of nature to praise the Lord, including kings and princes, young men and women, old and young. Everything and everyone, Praise the Lord! The vision is of the world understanding that it does not exist as existence without primary cause, or work in an orderly manner without prior design. Rather, the world is to praise God because it has been 'created ... established ... [with] fixed bounds' (vss. 5-6).

Acts 11:1-18 draws us into a new insight into the way of the world, with the aid of an account of a vision of nature which has some resonance with Psalm 148. This insight is that what in the minds of Israel was an 'established' fact in respect of 'fixed bounds' was changed. The fixed bounds involved circumcision by which the bounds of the Israelite nation were established. Within those bounds people might eat together as the people of God. Across those bounds table fellowship could not occur. Now, through a vision to Simon Peter the bounds were not just being broken but abolished. The first Christians did not understand the scope of the cross, that on it Jesus died for the world and not only for Israel. Now they know differently. But there remain pockets of resistance to this deeper understanding of the gospel, a resistance which will feature through the remainder of Acts, through Romans, Galatians and Ephesians and, to a different extent, through Hebrews and Revelation.

In the psalm we have no reckoning with creation gone wrong or creation being wrecked. The reading from Acts is an engagement with the creation gone wrong through disruption to the unity of humanity. One way to understand the gospel is that it is God's message that the time has come and the power is available to restore unity to humanity. 

In Revelation 21:1-6 we have a portion of an extraordinary vision of the restoration of creation, so beautifully and completely restored that is is 'a new heaven and a new earth'. It is an extraordinary vision because it gives multiple expressions of this restorative healing work in the space of a few verses: 'new Jerusalem' ... 'Death will be no more' ...'To the thirsty I will give water', to note just some of the inspiring images presented here.

Thus, we come to the gospel reading, John 13:31-35, with an openness (via the preceding readings) to hearing Christ's new commandment, 'that you love one another', and to understanding it, not merely as an instruction for relating to people when worshipping and meeting with them in church, but as a key which unlocks the door to the new reality of a gospel-oriented world. 

A united humanity comes into being as we love one another. The gospel message spreads to every corner of the world ('by this everyone will know that you are my disciples') as we love one another. The power of God to change the world is the power of God's love. The power of God at work in us is the power of divine love empowering us to love one another. To love one another is both to obey Christ's specific commandment to us and to forward the plan of God for the restoration of creation.

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