Updated: Jan 30
The last four Sundays we have incorporated a prayer into the service that represents a counting of the Easter Omer. Today is the Sixth Sunday of the Easter Season, meaning forty-three days have passed since Our Lord was offered to the Temple as a sacrifice to God.
Let us pray:
Today is six weeks and one day, as forty-three days towards the Omer – our measure as fruits of the Lord Jesus Christ – which culminates with our receipt of your Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.
Guide us this day to learn from your words and find insight from you … as the Word of Life … so we may be strengthened in our devotion to God our LORD and His Holy Son, through the Holy Spirit.
Last Sunday was named Good Shepherd Sunday.
There is no special name for the sixth Sunday of the Eastertide, but a good name would be “Friends and Family Sunday.”
While it is easy to grasp that from hearing Jesus tell his disciples, “I have called you friends,” it may be more difficult to pick up on the family theme.
Still, that hint of family is in all of the readings today, including the Gospel of John.
Last week we read of the Apostle Philip hearing an Ethiopian eunuch reading from the scroll of Isaiah; and how Philip joined with the eunuch, to explain how Jesus of Nazareth was the one of whom Isaiah prophesied.
You have to be able to see that the Ethiopian eunuch was Jewish, which was how and why he would be reading from Isaiah.
This is not expressly known as a clear detail from history; but many believe the place known as Beta Israel, which is located in Ethiopia, began sometime after Solomon met the Queen of Sheba. Due to Solomon’s wisdom having been proved to her – through her hard questioning – she saw the wisdom of Solomon and converted to Judaism.
The Ethiopian version of what took place then says Solomon and the queen shared the gift of child, while the queen stayed in Solomon’s home; and the child was born after the queen returned home to Sheba.
The only point that I wish to make now – although the history of Beta Israel is very interesting story that is worth investigating further – is that Philip was able to join with the Ethiopian in his chariot because they were both family … as Jews.
This aspect of family was stated by Jesus when he said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Matthew 15:24 NIV) Those lost Israelites … the Jews … were the family of Jesus.
When Jesus was encountered by the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus did not speak directly to her (although he had a telepathic connection with her), such that when his disciples returned from having gone to purchase food, they saw her with Jesus and demanded, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
They wanted the Samaritan woman sent away because she was not family, and Jewish law forbid Jews from socializing with non-Jews … Gentiles.
Samaritans were particularly off-limits, because they had Israelite ancestry, but had allowed themselves to become impure by inter-breeding with their Gentile overlords.
This needs to be understood and firmly grasped, because we are non-Jewish … meaning we do not adhere to the laws that the Jews were commanded – by a Covenant with the LORD – to observe … eternally.
This means – in the eyes of non-Christian Jews today – we are Gentiles; and that means – in the eyes of the non-Christian Jews – that we are unclean – impure – and not part of their family … neither their religious family … nor their racial family.
Now, in the reading from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles today, we only glimpse this “non-family” problem, when we hear read, “The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.”
The reading today comes from the very end of Acts’ chapter 10, which is a wonderful story about Cornelius – a Roman centurion – a Gentile – who was told by an angel of God, in a vision, to “Send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter.”
As Cornelius was obeying that command, sending officers who were like himself – “devout and God-fearing,” having given “generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly” – Peter was having a vision of unclean animals – “all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds” – brought down from heaven on something like a large, four-cornered sheet.
Peter was hungry and awaiting his lunch to be prepared when he had this vision. He saw and then heard a voice say, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
Peter’s response was, “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
The voice then said, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
At that time, the officers of Cornelius arrived in Joppa, at the place the angel said they could find Simon Peter, and they requested to see him. Because of his vision, Peter invited Gentiles into that place he was staying, along with his Jewish followers and fellow believers in Jesus as Christ.
Peter followed the Roman soldiers to the home of Cornelius, in Caesarea, with his family and friends following him.
Upon greeting Peter in his home, Cornelius knelt before him, with Peter telling Cornelius to stand up, because Peter was just a man.
Then Peter said to Cornelius, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.”
Knowing this set-up, we can now see how today’s reading says, “While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.”
It was then that the Jews who accompanied Peter were amazed at what those Gentiles began doing, because the Holy Spirit had filled them.
We read how, “They [the Jews] heard them [the Gentiles] speaking in tongues and extolling God.”
The only way a Jew could know that Roman soldiers were “speaking in tongues” – in languages that were foreign to them – is because the Jews recognized those tongues.
The “tongues” that “extoll God,” which praise the LORD, are the Hebrew scriptures, which may be seen as written in various dialects.
Since the Psalms are specifically recognized as songs of praise to God, and since the Psalms of David were known-by-heart to those of the Jewish family – like an Adele or Taylor Swift song is known by young people today – I can imagine the astonishment expressed by the Jews visiting Cornelius’ house that day was because those burly Roman soldiers were singing Psalms – in Hebrew – while being filled with the Holy Spirit.
THAT is what happened to the disciples of Jesus, after spending an Eastertide with their Lord and Master, such that on the Day of Pentecost they too spoke in tongues and extolled God.
The family aspect then comes after Peter heard and witnessed that miracle, which caused him to say, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”
When Peter ordered those Gentiles “to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ,” the symbol of baptism by physical water is then seen as that which denotes conversion to the form of Judaism that recognized how the promised Messiah had indeed come, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth … the Christ.
This means the baptism by water separated non-Christian Jews from Jewish Christians.
BUT … faith in Jesus of Nazareth, as the Messiah, was not a simple act of saying, “I believe in Jesus Christ, the only Son of God.”
FAITH in Jesus as the Son of God can only come from the enlightenment of understanding that comes from the Holy Spirit … where the prophecies of Jesus in the Old Testament – the Torah, the Psalms and the Prophets – bring about UNSHAKABLE BELIEF in that TRUTH.
We saw the Ethiopian eunuch filled with the Holy Spirit first, as he heard Philip explain the meaning of Isaiah – and then Philip baptized him with physical water, converting that Ethiopian Jew into a Jewish Christian.
We are part of that family by our faith and belief, such that the original Covenant that binds God’s chosen people to the One God, as His servants and His priests is amended to include that faith in Jesus as the Christ, as the Son of God, who was sent to lead all who believe in him to heaven.
In this way, each one of us is expected to be like those Roman soldiers and do exactly as David sang in Psalm 98:
“Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things.”
We each are – ourselves – a “new song,” ones that “sing praises” to God because of the Holy Spirit within.
After Philip left the Ethiopian eunuch, he continued on his way, “rejoicing in the Lord.” He was extolling God, just as were the Jewish followers of Peter along with the Roman centurions of Cornelius.
The all sang to the LORD as new song as part of a new family of God’s servants.
Likewise, Peter and his Jewish companions, who had been forbidden from associating or visiting a Gentile, then accepted Cornelius’ invitation, “to stay for several days.”
After all, they were evidently all family in Christ then … made pure by the Holy Spirit of God.
Now, in the Gospel we see how Jesus told his disciples, “I have called you friends.” You have to see “friends” as the extension of family, where “friends” are those of the same “blood,” where “friends” share your religious beliefs, because they share your spiritual connection to God, through Christ.
The law Peter reminded Cornelius of meant, “Servants of God do not associate with those who do not believe in the LORD of our family of faith, but God has told me not to follow an external commandment that has me avoid association with all Gentiles, because God will lead me to befriend those Gentiles who have also been purified by His Holy Spirit.”
As such, we read how Jesus told his disciples (which included Peter), “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” This is that connectivity to God, where the Holy Spirit is sent to us by belief in Christ, which then commands us to be the reborn as Jesus – in our actions.
A “friend” of Jesus is then one who presents Christ to others, so that all who hear the word can be filled with the Holy Spirit … even Gentiles.
If you know the story of Cornelius and his officers who prayed to the One God and gave to those in need, you have to understand that unknowing Gentiles can see Christians ACTING and they can hear Christians TALKING … such that the Holy Spirit can fall upon all who hear what it takes and believe that is the right way to be.
This is why Jesus told his disciples, “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing.” Through the Holy Spirit a Christian instantly knows “everything that [Jesus] heard from his Father.”
They know that because they too hear the Father speaking to them … and they do as the Father commands.
This naming of God as “the Father” is where we all become related, all as family, all as friends. This familial relationship is then extended through the ages, because it is as Jesus said, “I appoint you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”
The “fruit that lasts” is demonstrated every time someone comes to a “friend of Jesus” – an Apostle – without the lasting presence of the Holy Spirit, but then leaves that encounter “rejoicing in the LORD,” baptized by the Holy Spirit.
Thus, as John wrote in his first open letter to all Christians – Jewish and Gentile – “Everyone who believe that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God; and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.”
We are all family as children of God, as known that “we love the children of God,” by the way “we love God and obey his commandments.”
The family of Jews had the Law etched on stone tablets … stored in a powerful Ark … which lore has it was stolen by the son Solomon sired with the Queen of Sheba … meaning those of that faith lost their EXTERNAL power, from the presence of God in a building.
The family of Christians has every law known by God written on each individual’s heart – the seat of love – so obedience to those laws in never burdensome.
Christians LOVE doing whatever the voice of God commands … as Peter did, after his vision and conversation with God.
Jesus said to his disciples, which means he is saying to you – always – “I am giving you these commandments so that you may love one another.”
You are commanded to love your family, friends, and neighbors as you love yourself, because you are all of the same blood in Christ.
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