The Sixth Sunday of Easter - Reflection

‘God does not show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him’ - Acts 10:34-35

Friends, now that Amelie, our four year old has started school we’ve hit the period of our lives of big birthday parties. It all seems a bit intimidating. There are forty-three in her year, twenty or so in her class, and she has four or five close friends. Who should we invite? Do we cause some kind of issue if we go too small? Do we bankrupt ourselves if we go too big? We’re helped because Amelie’s birthday is in August so we get to see what everyone else does before we need to decide, but it must be a lot harder for those whose child was born in September. Inviting, it seems, is always tricky—whatever we’re organising—we don’t want to offend but we do want the right people to come, and frankly not the wrong people. It’s tricky for kids’ parties, it’s tricky for grown-up gatherings, and it seems tricky for the Apostles in our first reading today.

Over the past few weeks, we have had a reading from Acts each week, although we haven’t really looked at them so let me fill us in. Acts follows on after the Gospels and is the true story of the spread of the Good News of Jesus' resurrection and the invitation to follow Him from the moment of His Ascension until the arrival of St Paul in the capital of the ancient world, Rome. It’s a fantastic read, full of amazing stories, critical mistakes by the apostles—many which we still make today—and the wonderful acceptance of the invitation to so many different types of people to join Jesus' family. However, in our reading this morning the apostles are only just getting going and they’re in danger of making a big mistake. Who is the Good News of Jesus for? Jesus was Jewish, the Apostles are Jewish, so is the Good News of Jesus only for Jewish people? Peter certainly thinks so and like some primary school kids, he is only set on inviting those in his class who are like him. Peter has grown up in a world where there are clear dividing lines. Jewish people don’t mix with non-Jewish people and non-Jewish people don’t mix with Jews. To be fair to the Jewish people most non-Jewish people have treated them pretty badly and after all, God did tell them to separate themselves in the way they lived and worshipped from those round about them. However, now—with the death and resurrection of Jesus—God is doing something amazing, God is breaking down barriers and seeking to create a new family, a new people, who follow Him and He is inviting everyone! To put this in modern terms God’s invitation is inclusive. 

From our first reading: ‘Peter began to speak: ‘I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.’ God, in Jesus, has opened up His family to anyone who wants to join, ‘God does not show favouritism’ we’re told ‘but accepts [people] from every nation’. To compare this to school birthday parties, the invitations go not to those just like the birthday-boy or to those who are like him, or even to those who are in his class; no God throws open the invite to, well, everyone in the whole school. Now, I love St Peter, he is one of my favourite people from the Bible but sometimes he does need to be hit over the head quite a few times to get what Jesus is doing. He doesn’t get this inclusive Good News when Jesus first teaches it to him. Peter doesn’t get it when God sends a dream in the story which immediately precedes today’s reading! No, it takes an invitation to Cornelius’ house and the obvious gift of God’s Holy Spirit to the non-Jewish people for the the inclusive nature of God’s invitation to finally sink in. Too often in the past the Church has been like Peter. Christians have shared the Good News only with people like them. Only with the middle class perhaps, forgetting that God loves the poor. Only with those in our nation perhaps, forgetting that God loves people from every nation. Only with those who speak English maybe, ore who have the same skin colour, forgetting that God loves those who we see as different for whatever reason. We are not to limit who can come to Jesus either through prejudices of our own, or through choosing to invite, or choosing to welcome only those we like. All are to be invited. All are to be welcomed. God, in Jesus, loves everyone and our job is to tell everyone to invite everyone. God is against racism, against nationalism, and against those who think God only loves people like them. Jesus looks to the world as it should be, a world were His family is free of discrimination, of prejudice, and is welcoming to everyone and anyone. Jewish-Christians like Peter looked down on people they were called to invite, because of centuries of in-built prejudice on both sides of Jewish-Gentile divide. Peter struggled to invite people not like him and so often we are too much like Peter before his realisation. So who are you not inviting? Who is not meeting Jesus because of your hang ups? Who will you not talk to? Who will you not share your faith with? Who will you not invite to church—or to our Pentecost Picnic Mission event—because… well, they are not really ‘our sort’? Let today’s first reading be a wake-up call, a reminder that God wants everyone to be invited into His family. No one is to be denied the chance to follow Jesus. The invitation to follow Jesus is inclusive.

You know, it is always nice when Amelie is invited to a birthday party. It means someone has thought about her, wants her to be at their special event, and has taken the time and effort to ask her. Of course, the invitation has more on than just ‘Come to my party’. The invitation also includes the name of who is inviting, the location, the time, and often what to wear. All that information is critical if we’re to arrive in the right place, at the right time, wearing the right things, and carrying the right present. It’s no use going to the park if the party is at soft-play. It’s no use bringing a present for a girls if the party is for a bot. It’s no use turning up at lunchtime if the party is at dinner time. What we’re invited to is just as important as who has been invited. The same is true of Jesus’ invite. Listen again to our key verse from out first reading: ‘Peter began to speak: ‘I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.’ God invites everyone, God shows no favouritism in who He invites… but there is a correct response. Peter says ‘God accepts from every nation the one who fears him’… that’s the Bible-language for choosing to follow Jesus. Everyone is invited but everyone is invited to do what? To follow Jesus. God is inclusive in His invite but exclusive in how He expects us to respond. Everyone is welcome… to follow Jesus. Jesus never says that people can follow any god they like, do whatever they like and still expect to be accepted by Him. Now-a-days people use ‘inclusive’ to mean pretty much that: accepting people regardless of what they do, and indeed Christians are called to love all people, no matter what. However, they key mark of this love is to invite them to follow Jesus; to come as they are, yes, but be willing to follow Jesus into a new life, to a new way of living, with new values. Jesus invites us ‘as we are’ but responding to that invitation always ends with our complete transformation, through repentance, forgiveness, baptism, and receiving the Spirit. Think about it, the Apostles spent their time trying to convert, trying convince, the Jewish people to follow Jesus; not stay as they were, following the Old Testament law just as they always had. Jewish people need Jesus. Peter in this story, and Paul in the rest of the New Testament spent their time telling non-Jews—who they called Gentiles people like you and me—not to stick with their gods, not to stick with our ways of seeing the world but in choosing instead to follow Jesus. Non-Jewish people need Jesus. Yes, the invitation is inclusive—as if the birthday invitation goes to the whole school—but the invitation is very specific. The inclusive invitation invites everyone to stop following other gods, to stop following other ways of living and instead follow Jesus! To live as He lived, to believe what He believed, and to leave behind those things which are out-of-sink with this His new way of being. The Gospel Invitation is inclusive but the response expected is exclusive.

Coming up in a couple of weeks is our Deanery Mission. An opportunity for many people in our parish and beyond to come and hear about Jesus. However, they will only come if they receive an invitation. They will only receive an invitation if we all invite them. Invite, not just those like us, not just those who we think might fit in, but by being really inclusive and in inviting everyone and anyone we meet. Peter had to learn the lesson the hard way but we have his story to help us to learn the easy way. Let’s learn that lesson this morning and go out and invite everyone and anyone to church, everyone and anyone to the Pentecost Picnic, and everyone and anyone to hear the Good News of Jesus. No one is to be left out. All are to be invited. All are to be included… and the rest—whether they accept or not—we leave up to them and God. Amen (from Fr Mike).