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God's Word on Sunday: God will be found in surprising places

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  • May 2, 2021

Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 9 (Year B) Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17

Humans have their ideas, opinions and plans, but they seldom are the same as those of God.

Peter had a real shock when he visited the house of Cornelius the Roman centurion. Not only was Cornelius a gentile, but he was also an officer in the army occupying Judea at the time — scarcely a promising introduction. But the Spirit had been teaching Peter many things.

The big surprise was that God cared very little if at all about labels and categories and that God played no favourites. Anyone that feared God and did what was right was just fine in God’s eyes regardless of their origins.

Just to drive the point home, the Spirit chose that moment to fall upon Cornelius and his entire household. They began to pray ecstatically in tongues and praised God, fulfilling prophecies of the prophets Joel and Isaiah. Who could argue with that?

Peter saw clearly that if God had seen fit to include a gentile household, who was in any position to argue? The entire household was baptized and included in the family of faith.

This is a hard lesson to learn and over the centuries Christians have not handled it very well. There is a human tendency to think that one’s own faith group has an inside track to God and that God in a sense belongs to them. This is one of the main causes of religious bigotry and competitive violence. God deftly steps away from all human attempts at possession and control. We have had to learn that God is not white, male, European, an upholder of the powerful or the status quo or any of the other images that humans can project on God.

God will be found in the most surprising places doing the unexpected and God does not bother to consult us. The attempts to manage God prevent us from enjoying the full extent of all that God would like to do for us. God does not want to be a consultant; God wants to be in charge.

How do we recognize those who are doing what is right and pleasing God? The author of 1 John has the answer: Those walking in God’s ways are recognized by the love they show to all.

Love in the biblical sense is eminently practical and is defined as compassionate concern and care, expecting nothing in return. Those born of God love and it is only through love that we will ever know God. We cannot reason, manoeuvre or control our way to God — only love will take us there.

What does it take to be a friend of Jesus rather than a servant? Jesus made it clear: doing what He commanded and abiding in His love. This promise of personal friendship is not taken seriously enough by many Christians, but Jesus meant exactly what He said. Rather than Jesus being an awesome and unapproachable figure, we are invited to the participate in the relationship that Jesus has with God the Father — in a sense, experiencing the life of the Trinity.

Joy is a vague and overused word, but Jesus has a specific meaning in mind. His joy is the direct and personal relationship He experiences with the Father — they dwell in each other.

This is the same joy He wants to grant to us so that our joy can also be complete. Again, if this were taken seriously, our lives could change.

Jesus does not hide or hold back anything from us, but shares all that the Father has given into His hand. Abiding in His love sounds deceptively simple but it requires the giving of the self. Jesus cannot be merely a focus of occasional worship. We need to put on the mind and heart of Christ and live there.

The way that Jesus loved is how He expects us to love, laying down our lives for one another. This does not mean literally dying for another in most cases, but putting the needs and sufferings of others before our own and being a source of hope and comfort.

It is up to each one of us to choose what kind of relationship we have with the Lord, from a casual acquaintance to a deep and personal friendship.

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