Sixth Sunday of Easter with Baptisms
Readings Acts 10 44-end: Ps 98: 1 John 5 1-6: John 15, 9-17
Hymns; The day of resurrection: God is Light; Be thou my vision; Love Divine
‘Each of us is already in relationship with God before we’ve thought about it,’ as Rowan Williams writes. And amid that perhaps unacknowledged relationship, how often do things happen, whether wonderful, horrible or indifferent, which we have neither wanted for nor even openly wished for, but from which come new chances, new ideas, new friendships. Alison’s late father Andrew asked me in 1993 to preach in this church, and then to take services, chiming in with an unspoken wish since my teenage years to be ordained. Without his firm confidence which, in preparing me during a time of waiting, put me in the right place and helped me see the way forward, I would not be here today to give back a little in baptising Alison and Joseph’s two children.
A time of waiting could perhaps describe all our lives whether overall or in sections: waiting for health, waiting to see how a career develops, waiting for the dough to rise or the wheat to ripen, waiting to discern a partner, waiting for something to happen. Waiting is inevitable, yet increasingly in this fast techno-savvy world, people here make a poor show of waiting. Perhaps because it makes clear we do not have full control over the outcome, the future, ourselves, we easily become irritated, uneasy and disquieted seeing waiting as a waste of time. How odd, because preparation, being prepared for whatever comes, whether eating better after a bout of ill-health, studying the right courses to plan a career, weeding while the plants grow, is part of any process and any outcome.
In these fifty days from Easter to Pentecost, we are waiting for God to descend to us as Holy Spirit. In the meantime, we have been preparing by reading the first Epistle of John, which is primarily on love and truth, represented today by the Spirit as Truth; reading the Gospel of John with the words God as Jesus left for us, ‘you did not chose me, I chose you to bear fruits that will last,’ and reading the views and experiences of the Apostles as they haphazardly worked their way through their unknowing, their uncertainty about who they were to be and how they were to act, to become true images of God- an image we all share.
The relative lack of church interest in this period of waiting is surprising because all the readings make clear that the revolutionary aspect of God’s intention expressed through God in Christ affects us, all of us. Last week, Philip baptised the Ethiopian eunuch, an imperfect man not from the chosen people, and this week, Peter, a little surprised perhaps, acted on the Spirit ‘which fell on all who heard the word,’ and baptised all the gentiles present. How much more important something have to be to be worth noticing! Whether part of an elite or one of the masses, whether male, female or between, from this place, naturally the right place, or behind the moon, this our faith was a faith which, amazingly at that time of localised cults or traditions restricted to one group, included absolutely anyone who, tentatively or firmly, wanted to acknowledge their relationship with God and for love of God follow God’s plan, God’s rules of love and responsibility as best they could. It is an ethic summed up by Peter Chrysologos, a 5th century Bishop of Ravenna: ‘If you look for kindness, show kindness yourself: if you want to receive, give; show mercy to others in the same way, with the same generosity, the same promptness, as you want others to show to you.’
But our faith is not just an ethic – though faith without works, without the works of love, is paltry indeed. No, it is a certainty of God’s love expressed in God’s descent to earth to make us Divine in his dying for us and coming to dwell in us as Spirit, and it is a hope that we move nearer to understanding and experiencing God in our lives here and eternally.
Williams, in his delightful and deep book ‘Tokens of Trust,’ discusses living in the now while preparing for whatever comes. He writes thus: ‘All we know is that we are called to pray, to trust and to live with integrity before God in such a way as to leave the door open, to let things come together so that love can come through.’ He explains love as a baseline of God’s creating, creating of the world and all that is in it, food, flowers, and human existence, and the relationships not only between people and the natural world – in which we have been too clever by half, with disastrous results- but also in in relating between and towards individuals, towards and among groups, which we may occasionally manage rather better. ‘Leaving the door open,’ is such a significant phrase! Leaving it open both for each of us to go out into the world, and for all to come in to our lives individually and collectively. Most of all, though, leaving the door open for God’s unconditional love to make a difference in how we live our lives.
Floundering on clouds of unknowing about ourselves, our future, our end, as we all do, and full of joys and equally full of fears as we all are, one thing is sure: God, for whom we wait at Pentecost, keeps each of us as the apple of God’s eye, and shelters us all under his wing. Amid the trials of parenting, and later the hazards of growing up, preparing for whatever each is called to do, may Hannah and Martha, Allison and Joseph, know they are blessed, just as we too feel the blessings of God on our heads.
Revd Dr Elizabeth Koepping
Heidelberg 12th May 2015