‘Learning step by step’ – 15th May 2022 – 5th Sunday of Easter

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22 05 15 Fifth Sunday of Easter Eucharist

The Readings

Acts 11.1-18

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’ Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, ‘I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But I replied, “By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.” But a second time the voice answered from heaven, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, “Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.” And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?’ When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.’

John 13.21-26

After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, ‘Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.’ The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot.

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
By Catherine, a Reader at St. Mary's

During the week, I teach instrumental music.  I like to keep up to date on the latest ideas in music education.  I don’t want my teaching pattern to fall into a rut.  So I attend courses for music teachers from time to time.  After a stimulating and thought provoking weekend in London or Manchester I come back with new ideas to try out on my pupils.  Often these are lapped up with enthusiasm by my students.  But not all of them.  When I try something new with one of them, she looks at me disapprovingly and says “You’ve been on a course again….”  I have to break things down into steps in order to convince her that this idea is worth trying.
The apostle Peter was out and about on his travels, meeting new people and sharing the gospel.  It turned out to be like going on a course.  First there was the dream.  In it he saw a vision of a table on which were all sorts of animal food forbidden to Jews, and being told to kill and eat it.  He was most reluctant to do so, but when the vision appeared two more times, he understood it was a vision from God.
Next there was an invitation.  A gentile household wanted hear him preach the gospel.  To his amazement, he had hardly begun to speak when the Holy Spirit came down among Cornelius and others in exactly the same way as had happened to Peter himself and Jesus’ other close friends at Pentecost.  Peter was exposed to a new idea – Gentiles could become followers of Christ just as the earliest Jewish believers had done.  And so it naturally followed that Jewish and Gentile Christian alike could eat at the same table and share the same food.
Peter got it.  Well he was there, he experienced it – it was obvious.  But for his friends who had stayed in Jerusalem, it was all rather alarming.  News reached them: Peter has been socialising with Gentiles!  He’s eaten food forbidden to a good observant Jew.  Not the way to go Peter!  Explain yourself!
The only way Peter could get his friends on board with this amazing new revelation was to explain it step by step.  First the dream: the vision of unclean food, protesting that he couldn’t possibly eat it, the voice declaring that if God has made something clean, it is no longer profane.  Three times! After the dream, the messengers from Cornelius.  Come and share the gospel with my household!  And then as he started to speak, the Holy Spirit coming down and filling them all.  This had to be from God: What else could explain it?
Peter’s step-by-step explanation was then accepted, indeed welcomed by the amazed Jerusalem church.  Jesus’ message of life-giving repentance was open to Gentiles too!
Life at St. Mary’s has seen a lot of change recently, with a lot of new things to learn.  We have begun to work more closely with St. Mark’s and St. Johns, our Mission Area partner churches.  We have shared in some study courses together. And during the lock-downs we have had to imagine and create new ways of being church together when we couldn’t meet in-person.  Online worship is now very much mainstream, and our understanding of God and church has evolved as a result.  And we have seen growth too.
There will be further opportunities for learning, change and growth as we elect new members on to the PCC at today’s annual meeting, and as we work with our new parish administrator.
Today’s gospel reading reminds us that the only way we can be Jesus’ disciples is to have love for one another.  This love means being respectful of each other, listening to each other, taking time to work through differences of opinion.
Changes and new ideas can be threatening.  But done well, with everyone on board, they can be life-giving times of growth.  Successful change means being able to understand that not everyone may be keen at first.  Their concerns matter, and can be helpful in discerning whether or not a suggested change is indeed a good idea.  Peter listened to the concerns of the Jerusalem church.  He then explained his experiences clearly and carefully.  And in doing so the church embraced the new idea and grew.  We can do this too!

The Prayers
Prepared by Oliver Giles

Lord, help us to bring your kingdom close through restorative justice. Where we see inequality in our society, help us call it out and implement change. Where we see acts of hate done to a neighbour, give us the courage to not be a bystander. Help us work with purpotrators of wrongdoing to behave and think differently.
Lord, by your grace,
Open In us the gates of your kingdom 

Lord, help us bring your kingdom close through nurturing Joy. Help us to be thankful for the small things. Help us delight in the successes of others. Help us rejoice in your perfect creation.
Lord, by your grace,
Open In us the gates of your kingdom 

Lord, help us bring your kingdom close through fostering divine Peace. Help us be peacemakers in situations of conflict. Help us bring reconciliation to broken relationships. Help us to find inner peace when we feel scattered or broken.
Lord, by your grace,
Open In us the gates of your kingdom 

Lord, help us to bring your kingdom close through sharing with all your unconditional Love. Help us love those who trespass against us. Help us to love those who have no one else. Help us love those we disagree with. Help us love without needing anything in return.
Lord, by your grace,
Open In us the gates of your kingdom 

Lord, as the days get longer and we increase our productivity, As we help to bring your continued creation to fullness, help us also to remember the importance of rest. Help us to rest without guilt and without to do lists crowding our minds.
Lord, by your grace,
Open In us the gates of your kingdom