So let's start with our Gospel reading, which comes first time wise. All the other gospels cover the last night of Jesus in one chapter or less, but the Gospel of John uses 4 chapters to tell everything Jesus talked about during this last night on earth. This reading is from the first chapter in that upper room narrative.
First Jesus washed their feet, then predicted his death. Judas left the group and now Jesus tells his disciples, "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
(Reminds me of a song - And they'll know we are Christians by our love by our love, yes they'll know we are Christians by our love.)
Jesus had just given them an example of loving one another through the foot-washing. More than anything else, it's an example of finding new ways to reach out to one another, but it doesn't end there. We are to go on looking for ways to be Christian to one another (and as we see in the Acts lesson, to those who are not [yet] a part of us.)
So in our lesson from Acts, we have the 're-telling' of Peter's visit with Cornelius (a Gentile). We don't necessarily have a good time line of these events - this may have been a few months after the resurrection, but (more likely) a few years. Peter is defending his actions to a group of the apostles and believers in Jerusalem.
Let's start with Cornelius -- he is not a Jew - he is not a "Christian" (follower of 'The Way'.) - Chapter 10 tells us that Cornelius was a Roman soldier - He was raised like other Roman citizens with the tradition of multiple gods like Jupiter, Apollo, Venus, and Mars. But he has heard of this God of the Jews and he has been led to believe. He was described as devout - he prayed daily and he gave generously to those in need. And Peter, through his vision, came to understand that he was to accept Cornelius and to call no person unclean or profane. This was a new idea (to be considered) - a new thing (to deal with.)
And when Peter spoke to Cornelius and his family and close friends, the Holy Spirit descended on them just as it had on the disciples at Pentecost. And Peter tells his fellow apostles and believers, "If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us, who was I that I could hinder God?"
In other words, God is still doing a new thing - he is accepting people who have no previous experience with the Jewish religion. That was a big thing at this point - the disciples believed that in order to follow and accept Jesus, you HAD to be a Jew. And God was branching out and bringing others into this new sheepfold. In Chapter 10, verse 16, Jesus told the disciples, "I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also. There will be one flock, one shepherd."
And I think this has a lot to say to Christians today. Every time we want to limit who can be a member of this church, remember that Jesus gives us a new commandment and the Holy Spirit can lead even those from other faith traditions into knowledge and those who differ from us into belief.
How often do we hinder God by deciding for ourselves who God likes and who God dislikes? In the Revelation to John, we hear a loud voice saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his people and God himself will be with them." God is dwelling with mortals - humans - - - not Jews and not Christians - - - All people.
How often in the gospels do we see neighbor and family being redefined? From the Good Samaritan, to the story of Lazarus and the rich man, from entertaining angels unaware, and to the blessing of those who reach out to the poor, the hungry, the sick and those in prison. God readily accepts the disenfranchised, the outcast, the untouchables.
One of my favorite movies in recent years is "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." There is a lot of interplay between characters, concerning acceptance and rejection. If you don't know the story, a group of retirees from England decide to travel to India to live because it is cheaper and their retirement funds will carry them further. The young hotel owner, (Sonny Kapoor) played by Dev Patel, is something of a dreamer and an optimist. He often quotes his favorite "saying," - - "Everything will be alright in the end. If it's not alright, then it is not yet the end."
In our reading from Revelation, we hear, "And the one who was seated on the throne said, 'See, I am making all things new.'" God is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end" When we look around in our life and at the world around us, quite often it's not alright. All you have to do is listen to the news on any given day to know the depth of evil that permeates this world. God is not finished with it yet. God is still working behind the scenes to bring about his kingdom on earth. (Sometimes, I might wish he were a little more up-front about it.) But God is not through - and He does promise that it will be alright in the end.
Things that are not so good happen in this world. I have a friend who's 11 year old nephew died two weeks ago following a horrible 4-wheeler accident. Nothing evil about it, but very poor judgement on the young boy's part. Where is God in this? He is holding that young man in heaven in His loving arms. And He is working here on earth behind the scenes to bring about healing in a family torn by grief. He is drawing them close - to one another and to God himself.
Remember, God is still working in and with all of us. - And if you look at the world around you and find that it is not alright, then remember, it is not yet the end. God will make all things new, and when he says, "It is finished!" then it will be alright. Amen.