Sunday 9 May 2021
Acts 10:44-end, John 15:9-17
May I speak this morning in the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Next Thursday is the Feast of the Ascension, when we remember the resurrected Jesus returning to be with God the Father.
Having seen Jesus die on the cross and then having undergone both the disbelief and the joy of the resurrection the disciples, and perhaps us by extension, have become used to having Jesus around again. But he can’t stay in the world forever – it may be interesting to imagine a world in which Jesus simply never died and never left – but that was not God’s plan for the world and for the church. So Jesus is now getting ready to return to the Father and, perhaps more importantly, he is also getting his followers ready for a world without his physical presence.
If you cast your minds back over the previous several weeks I hope you will recall the lengths that Jesus went to in order to demonstrate not only that he had been risen from the dead but that he was physically real. He was neither a ghost nor a purely spiritual being – he had hands and feet and a side still bearing the wounds of the cross. He ate and drank with the disciples both to prove his physicality but also to continue to share fellowship with them from the other side of the cross – the Last Supper was not really the last at all.
But if the resurrected Jesus was physical then, of course, the Jesus that ascended was also physical. Whilst we may seek to put God into a space marked ‘spiritual’ and ourselves and the world into a space marked ‘physical’ it seems to me that the incarnated, resurrected and ascended person of Jesus takes away that distinction.
By being born into human flesh, which was created in the likeness of God and which becomes literally the image of God in Jesus, by defeating death which entered the world through disobedience and by being lifted up to the Father in the flesh we are shown time and again that God wishes to reconcile the whole of our being with him. God came to us in Jesus so that we could be lifted back to him.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
How are the followers of Jesus to cope in the world, without Jesus being with them?
In the Gospel reading Jesus tells his disciples that they should ‘abide in his love.’ This word ‘abide’ was also in last week’s Gospel when Jesus used the image of the vine branches abiding in the vine.
We would usually abide in our abode. Our home. Our dwelling place. Somewhere where we bide our time, where we want to spend our time.
Jesus is saying that his love is our home – the place where we can and should abide.
We should live in the love of Jesus.
And if we live in the love of Jesus then we know that we are living directly in the love of God the Father, because Jesus abides – lives and spends his time – in that love.
Jesus says that if we live in his love that our joy will be complete.
The world can be a difficult and dark place but if we feel that in May in 21st century Kent then never forget that the world has been much more difficult and dark in most other times and places.
Jesus knew that, because it literally crucified him.
But, despite that, it is possible for our joy to be complete if we make our home, our dwelling place, in the love of Jesus.
However, abiding in the love of Jesus does not, and never meant a purely private, spiritual, relationship between Jesus and individual followers.
Jesus makes it clear that the fruit we bear when we make our home in his love is that we love those around us – ‘that you love one another, as I have loved you.’
‘As I have loved you’.
How did Jesus love?
By giving everything he had, including his life, for those that he loved.
The love Jesus had for his disciples and the love he commands them to have for one another is never a purely spiritual love. It is the opposite of a ‘thoughts and prayers’ love, which rarely results in thoughts, prayers and certainly not in action. The love that Jesus has, and the love he commands us to have, is a love which finds expression in thought, word and deed. The Good Samaritan loved the injured man by taking costly action.
So the disciples, and by extension us, learn to cope without the physical presence of Jesus here on earth by dwelling in his love and allowing that utterly spiritual but deeply real and practical love bear fruit in the world for all those around us. We cope with the absence of Christ by making Christ present.
But Jesus knew that we needed some extra help with that and we know that in two weeks time we shall celebrate Pentecost when the Holy Spirit arrived in power to breath new life into the disciples so that they would become the church, the body of Christ on earth. I shall keep my powder dry for that but in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles we see that the Pentecost was not simply a one-off event for the very first members of the early church but that the Spirit of God comes to all those who believe.
Just before today’s reading from Acts beings, Peter was speaking to a group of God-fearing gentiles and telling them the good news of Jesus – about Jesus’ baptism by the Holy Spirit, about his miracles, about his death and resurrection and he concluded by saying that everyone who believes in Jesus will receive forgiveness of sins through his name. We spoke about the power of names a couple of weeks ago.
And this is the point at which our reading today begins – v. 44 – the same Holy Spirit who had descended on the Jewish believers in Jerusalem now descends on the Gentile believers and they start to speak in tongues and praise God. And the Jewish believers who had accompanied Peter to Caesarea were astonished that even the Gentiles were being blessed by the Holy Spirit but Peter said:
“Can anyone stop these people from being baptised with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”
This should remind us of something we heard last week. Remember the Ethiopian in the carriage:
“Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptised.”
The Ethiopian came to faith through the written word of God made clear by Philip and his response was baptism and joy. Today’s gentiles came to faith through Peter’s preaching and the Holy Spirit and their response was to praise God and be baptised. Word, Sacrament and Spirit together leading to conversion and to joy.
Like the disciples following the Ascension of Jesus we do not have his physical presence with us.
But we are not lost and abandoned. We are not sheep without a shepherd, we are not branches without a vine.
We can abide in his love and we are able so to do because the Holy Spirit who abides in us from baptism leads us always back to him, and he points us always towards the Father, and each of us are called into that relationship of love.
But that love into which we are called to abide doesn’t just draw us in to God and ourselves and, perhaps, our fellow church members and Christians. It is a love and a relationship which impels us to bear fruit by loving all those around us, back out in the real world, with a real and costly love which changes lives and points beyond ourselves to the one who first loved us.
And then our joy will be complete.