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Joy for Everyone

6B Easter

5 May 2024

 



Eastertide.  We can once again say alleluia and dwell in knowledge that salvation had come.  I am so used to associating Easter with spring and new life that I wonder how I would cope if I lived in the southern hemisphere.  I guess it just shows my bias.

But what exactly is Easter?  I wish the lectionary had the entire story of the interactions of Peter and Cornelius. The story is the essence of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and work. 

Cornelius was a Roman centurion, a military officer in charge of one of the basic fighting units of the legion.  He was from Italy, but we know little else of his life.  I wonder where else he had served and what he had seen in his life as a soldier. He had a family; but exactly what that meant is up to our interpretation.  I would like to think he had a spouse and children; he had servants.  He would not have been rich but was by no means poor.  What led this man to be a pious follower of the Jewish God?  For that matter, why did the Ethiopian in last week’s story follow God?  Why do I believe in God?  I can’t answer for Cornelius; but a pious man he was who helped others, particularly Jews. And God spoke to him in a dream, sending a holy messenger.  Have you ever experienced a personal encounter with a messenger of God?  I realized that yes I have; but it came from the mouths of people I already knew and not until later did I realize where the message came from.  Cornelius was contacted in a very personal way, in the middle of the afternoon on what was otherwise a very ordinary day.  Isn’t that the way with God?  Comes at us when we least expect it.  Was Cornelius busy with something else and annoyed?  No, he recognized it for what it was, and, like Moses and the burning bush, he paid attention. God does not let our gifts of kindness pass.  We may never experience what Cornelius did, but know that what we do for others and in our worship does indeed please God.

Cornelius was recognized for following the Way that Jesus was teaching, the way that God wants all of us to live, without even knowing Jesus.  In his own way so was the Ethiopian in the story from last week. Neither man had met Jesus, but both sensed what was good and right and holy.  Peter, in turn, had a profound experience of the expansiveness of God’s love.  God made known to Peter that everyone and everything is holy.  It does us all good to read these lines and remember, when we want to get on our podium of self-righteousness, God knows more than we do.  It was not Peter’s place, nor our place, to make exclusions.  Right living, not right eating or right talking or even correct worship, is what Jesus taught and what God wants.  This was the final vision for Peter.  He now knew that what had been brought into the world was indeed for all the world.  Cornelius, too, knew something had changed.  Or, rather than change, God made clear what was intended from the very beginning of time. So the men sent by Cornelius meet Peter and they lodge together and then go to meet Cornelius.  Was it difficult for Peter to go there and to enter the home of a gentile?  We all have places we do not feel comfortable going to, but I cannot imagine the depth of his discomfort.  Yet he did it.  God will give you what you need. And Peter spoke.  God does not play favorites; it is what is in your hearts that makes you whole, not where you live nor with whom you live, not your age or gender or ethnicity.  Not even the religion you practice.  That is a hard thing to accept, but this is what scripture teaches us.

And so the Holy Spirit fell upon all these gentiles. What must that have been like.  We, who tend to be reserved folk, have a hard time thinking of the Spirit coming upon us suddenly.  I think the Holy Spirit came to me like the seeds in a garden.  Slowly they open and come through the dirt and ever so slowly grow, yet one day you look and see the blooms and the fruit. For some folks it comes like a bolt out of the blue. But come it does and it will lead us to deeds and places we never dreamed of, and perhaps deeds and places we did not want to experience.  This is the promise of Easter!  This is how we live into our baptismal covenant. This is how we follow the path of life.

Jesus showed us what God was like, or rather is like.  Peace, love, faith, and joy.  Jesus was filled with joy, not happiness but joy!  He tells his disciples today they are his friends who have walked the road of love with him and that love with abide with them and fill their hearts with joy.  What greater gifts can be given to us than these? 

Let us continue, then to walk the road and our hearts, too, will be filled with joy.

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