(Acts 11.1-18, Ps148, Revelation 21.1-6 & John 13.31-35)

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

We continue through the season of Eastertide with the theme of transformation.  For the disciples they were still processing everything which had gone before, including the Resurrection.  For them there were still major events ahead, the Ascension and Pentecost, which again they would have to get their heads around.  This was very much a transitional time.

We might not think it is the same for us, however it is worth reflecting that we have, at some point in our lives, gone through a similar experience as we came to faith.  Some of us will have had ‘road to Damascus’ experiences, others a slow and steady deepening of faith from childhood onwards.  There is no right or wrong way to come to Jesus – all that matters is that we do.  But its worth taking time, now and then, to reflect on our journey so far; what we have learned, the key moments, the people who have walked with us.  It’s an opportunity to say thank you to God.  It’s also an opportunity for new growth to begin.  Sometimes in looking backwards we see a new path to go forwards.  Sometimes in looking backwards our whole journey suddenly makes more sense.

The wonderful thing is that God is a faithful God.   He is always there with us, even when we don’t necessarily feel him.  His promises are trustworthy and true, and will last for all time.

However we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that means that God is limited by what has happened in the past.  If the Easter story tells us anything it is that nothing is impossible with God. All three of our readings today remind us that God, the one who does not change, can do still do exciting and new things.

In the reading from Acts at first sight it appears that the purpose of Peter’s vision to change the dietary requirements of the law.  Peter, a faithful Jew, initially refuses to eat anything considered unclean.  It’s worth noting the context though: Peter has been criticised for eating with Gentile followers, and thereby breaking food rituals.  After he receives the vision (3 times – perhaps Peter always has to hear something three times before it truly sinks in, like so many of us) he is immediately called upon to go to Caesarea “and not to make a distinction between them and us.”  

God is doing something new here, for salvation is being offered now beyond the Jewish people to the Gentiles.  It does not diminish or negate what has gone before; rather it broadens the opportunities for eternal life to all people.  As John writes of his vision in the Book of Revelation, God tells him “See, I am making all things new.”  

This is the journey we make from non-Christian to follower of Christ.  We move from the old life to the new one.  And how do we live this new life?

Well, we can certainly look to the Law and the Prophets.  There is a lot of good stuff there about how to treat the weak and the vulnerable, the poor and the alien, the widow and the orphan.  The Ten Commandments remain a pillar of Christian behaviour – recited in the Book of Common Prayer Holy Communion service (even if only at Advent and Lent), and often churches have them engraved on a stone plaque somewhere near the altar.  Jesus himself said in Matthew 5.17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

And yet at the Last Supper he also said these words: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.”  This commandment is so important to the Christian life it appears 11 times in the New Testament: 3 times in John, 5 times in John’s letters, twice in Paul’s letters, and once in Peter’s.  

Love is a verb – it is an action.  This is underpinned by the fact that Jesus gives this command after he has washed the disciples’ feet and shared his last meal with them.  Even when we cannot feel it, we are called to do it.  That means when we are confronted by someone we don’t get on with, don’t really like, and we ask God ‘how am I meant to love this person?’, the answer is think about how to do loving acts towards them.  Acts of mercy and kindness will be the route to loving our neighbour, and in loving we will be transformed anew into the imitation of Christ.  

As John said in his epistle, “We love, because he first loved us.”  Once again God does something new and transformative, and the result is life giving.    Amen.