Sermon at First Presbyterian Church Lockhart

"Love One Another"

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

May 2, 2010

by James Greene

 

           In this 5th Sunday of Easter we continued to be called to celebrate Christ’s rising from the dead.  He has shown us The Way to the Father, and the love of the Father, for all people, this is through Jesus, who is The Way, and The Truth, and The Life that this love is demonstrated.

In our reading from Acts, we see Peter going up to Jerusalem to explain to the Jews his vision, and his call to Caesarea by Cornelius the gentile.  This is an overview of Chapter 10.  It is the story of Cornelius and the Holy Spirit being poured out upon the gentiles.

Cornelius is a significant name for me.  My mother’s family name was Doremus, and members of the Dutch Reformed Church.  Cornelius Doremus came to New Jersey from the Netherlands in 1687.  The name Cornelius is found in the next 4 generations.  One was also a soldier, and I’ve always been fascinated with this name in the New Testament.

 

In a brief review, Cornelius is a soldier.  He is a Centurion in the Roman army.  He and his house are known as God fearers.  These are gentiles who believe in, and worships the God of Israel.  The God fearers were allowed in Jewish worship, but were separate from the congregation.  Also, in this time, it was against Jewish Law for Peter to go into a gentile's home or household.

Peter has responded to the call of the Holy Spirit to go with the men that Cornelius has sent to bring him to Caesarea.  Cornelius has responded to the vision of an angel commanding him to send his men to retrieve Peter.  Cornelius has called his household together to hear Peter speak of what God has commanded him to tell them.

In the middle of Peter's presentation of the Gospel and witness to the resurrection of Jesus - The Holy Spirit is poured out on all the household hearing the Gospel.  They began praising God and speak in tongues.  These are gentiles.  The Jews who had come with Peter were amazed to see the Spirit being poured out upon gentiles.  Peter then orders them to bring water that they may be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

It is here, we see God's Spirit (God’s essence) poured out and claiming gentiles in Caesarea. The term for spirit was used to describe the spirit within human beings and within God.

 

The idea of Spirit – the West Messa across from Albuquerque in New Mexico.  There is nothing but low scrub brush and grass that is only about a foot tall.  You can see the brush and the grass move as a gust of wind approaches.  But it is not until a little later that you hear and feel the wind.  You can see the effect of the wind upon the landscape, but you do not hear or feel the wind,- until it comes upon you. 

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Just as we can see the effect of God’s love in the lives of people around us, but we do not hear it or feel it until it comes upon us and impacts our lives.  This is the essence and reality of what is being described in the text, with The Spirit being poured out on the people.

 

It reveals God's intent to overcome traditional views and customs, and to save not just the Chosen People but also, all people. The intimacy of eating a meal with unclean and uncircumcised Gentiles was culturally taboo.  This is world changing in its impact upon the society of the first century.  Here Gentiles are now allowed on the same level, and are considered as a part of the People of God.

Here also, there is no restrictions, no law forbidding the food that could be eaten.  Peter is told 3 times not to call anything impure that God has made clean.  Just as the significance of the phrase Holy, Holy, Holy is reserved for God.  The repeating of the instructions 3 times is to signify that the command is from God.  This includes relationships with Gentiles outside of Jewdism.  Now both Jew and Gentile are considered the same in relationship.  They are part of God’s creation and God’s people. 

This is the point on the tree where the Gentiles are grafted into the Promise of God.

The Promise fulfilled among the Jews at Pentecost, has now become the Promise fulfilled among the Gentiles.  This is the Gentile Pentecost.

 

Finally, Peter gives the argument that if God gave the Gentiles the same gift as he gave the Jews, who believe on Jesus, then “Who was I to oppose God?”  This reveals not only, how all people were accepted by God, but also God’s love for all people; that we as followers of the Christ, should also care for and love each other and all people.

 

           In Psalm 148 is the theme of offering praise to the Lord God.   It is God’s praise and God’s commanding of all nature and all creation to be brought into being.  It is all people and all creation that praise the Lord. In V:14 God has ‘raise up for his people a “horn”’ –an anointed leader – King David, and the son of DavidJesus that “all of his saints, all of Israel, and all of the people close to his heart [will] praise the Lord.”  It is a psalm of praise of the qualities of the Lord by all nature, all the nations and all peoples of the earth are to praise the “name of” the Lord. 

 

In the New Testament Book of Revelation, we see a vision of the future.  It is God’s plan for us.  It is a loving God coming to dwell in the midst of His people, and the relationship of all people and all creation with the God of the universe.  It is also a restatement of Isaiah 65:17-19, with the new heaven and the new earth and a created Jerusalem.  (The Kingdom of God)

It is God making “everything new”.  Like Peter’s encounter with Cornelius’s household, and the Gentiles becoming a part of God’s people, there is a newness in the way we all will see things.  All people will come to know God’s standard, and our relationships will reflect the love of God toward one another that is accomplished in God’s time.

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In the reading from John we see Jesus describing how God and the Son of Man will be glorified.  He gives a new command to the apostles to “love one another”.  This is about bringing in The Kingdom of God and it’s fundamental commands: To believe in Jesus (the Christ), and to love one another, as he demonstrated that example toward them:   as he has loved them”.  The word for love, in this text, is ‘Agape’ – the highest form of love.  It is to love unconditionally.  Let us look at Christ’s love towards the Apostles, and let us also reflect upon our love within the fellowship, and demonstrated as the body of believers.

In Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible written from 1706-1721, he summarizes and brings to light the love and leadership of Jesus.He spoke kindly to them.  He was truly concerned for them and their welfare.  He instructed them.  He counseled them.  He comforted them.  He prayed with them and for them.  He justified them.  He took their burden when they were run down.  They were dearer to him than his mother, his brothers, and his sisters.  He brought out the best in them.  He forgave them for abandoning him in his time of trial.  He was their servant leader when he washed their feet.  It was the way he loved them, that he calls them to do the same when they “love one another.” 

 

In the Old Testament there are many names for God - Elohim, El Shaddai, Ancient of Days, and the Hebrew word 'Love'.  The explanation I have heard is that the most important name of God in the Hebrew tradition is the one for 'Love'.  Because God, in being love, is so intense that no one could stand in His presence, because it would consume them, because, it is that intense, and that pure.  This love is the integrity of His righteousness.  It is this love and this righteousness, that He brings to all people.

 

So, for us to return love to God is the most important thing we can do, as a Child of God, because he requires all of our heart, soul, and strength.  If we focus with that intensity, we understand just a little of what it is to be one of God's people, and a part of God's creation, like Cornelius.  It also reveals to us through the Holy Spirit, and the Word, the wisdom of that focus, and what should be the spirit and the heart of our intent towards all people. (our neighbor)  This is the standard that Christ has shown us:  it will be reflected in how we cared for one another and cared for the stranger in our community.  This Agape love is the fundamental element of what it is to be a follower of the Christ, and to be in community with each other.

 

There is a marque that a veterinary clinic in Austin puts up brief sermon-ets every week on Bee Cave Road.  A message they put up a while back was "Breathe in God's Spirit,  Breathe out God's love".  That sums up the spirit and intent of God not just for his people but all people. This is the pouring out a spirit of caring in the Spirit of God towards each other, and the love of God -back to God.  Because of His Grace, this love brings about salvation.  In this way we overcome the world by following Gods example (through His Son) and fulfill the intent of God's Spirit for all people and creation. 

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In the end it is a matter of the heart.  God requires that we love one another, this is the standard of what it is to be a Child of God; that we live in relationship to each other in community in a loving way, because in doing that, we reflect what it is like to be in The Kingdom of God.  It is building a fellowship of believers that love each other.  Remembering that love is the fulfillment of the Law.  It is reflected in the words of the Hymn “They’ll know we are Christians by our love”.

So the greatest commandments -  are that we do God's Will - by doing God's commands to love Him with all of our heart, mind, and strength, and that in loving each other, we fulfill the rest of God's will.  We must believe on his son Jesus the Christ, and obey his command to remain in His love, that we might remain in the Father.  Love is the key element that we must give to our God, and to each other in and through His Will.  It is in loving that we lift up our soul and our spirit- to have faith in God's Spirit, and The Christ, that fulfills our purpose, in this world and the next.

 

 

           In the Name of    the Father,   the Son,   and the Holy Spirit.  Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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