Sermon: God has no Favourites

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Preached on 9th January 2011
(Covenant Sunday)
by Revd Paul Cleever-Thorpe

Bible readings:  Jeremiah 31:31-34; Acts 10:34-48; Matthew 3:13-17.

How many years have you got left?

..this was the mildly depressing headline in one newspaper that I read over Christmas, referring to figures published by the Department of Work & Pensions which told us that one sixth of people living in Britain today will reach the landmark age of 100 years, whilst around 8,000 of us may even become ‘super-centenarians' - if you haven't come across this term, then it means that you will reach 110 years!

So, I can look for my age and gender in this table and, based on average life expectancy, it looks as though I have got 34 years and 6 months left!!

As we may know, in the New Testament, there are two main Greek words which are expressive of our own word: ‘time'.

There is ‘chronos' which connotes time in the sense which I have just described: a duration or period marked by certain limits. And so, in our gospel reading set for last Sunday, Herod inquires of the Magi the chronon that the star had appeared in the sky. for he wishes to know the precise hour, the exact time.

By way of contrast, ‘kairos' is the kind of time which is more expressive of God's plan and purpose. The apostle writes in Galatians chapter five:

"at the right time God sent his Son, born of a woman..that we might receive the full rights of sons & daughters."

The words which immediately precede our reading from the book of Acts this morning describe such a KAIROS moment in the New Testament, indeed in the whole of the bible. For in Acts chapter ten verse thirty three we read: "Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything which the Lord has commanded you to tell us."

We can pick up this great sense of expectancy in the air as two hitherto strangers are brought together at the coastal city of Caesarea.

"Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything which the Lord has commanded you to tell us."

Words spoken in faith by a Gentile who, before his profound experience of God two days' previously, would never have expected a Jew to enter his home and, we assume, to share a meal with him.

This is a KAIROS moment: two men, a Jew and a Gentile have both had visions, in places about twenty         miles apart. A journey has taken place and they have now been brought together, both understanding that something significant is going to take place...but what?

Neither have been told -  they have simply listened to God, responded to God, and obeyed God.  A true lesson in faith for us all before we have even reached the crux of this passage... listening, responding, obeying.

THEN PETER BEGAN TO SPEAK... it all becomes clear to Peter:

hang on a minute, what was it that the Lord had said to us?

"You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

Where am I now? I am in Caesarea, at the North-West tip of Samaria, Gentile territory, and looking out into the Great Sea (the Mediterranean).

So this is what Jesus meant!  The good news is not just for our own race, it is for everyone!.. God accepts people from every nation who earnestly seek after him.

A Kairos moment for this is the first time in the New Testament that a Jewish Christian understands the bigger picture of God's salvific plan.

For Peter and for his preaching, Jesus now becomes not simply God's chosen One, as his baptism by John had confirmed, and the mediator of the new covenant for God's chosen people.

No!  Now Jesus, for Peter, is the One in whom all nations should trust. In Jesus, he now can see the fulfilment, finally, of God's earlier covenant made with Abraham: that all people, both Jew & Gentile, might be inheritors of His promises to Israel.

In other words, the whole human race is God's chosen people!

 

The infant church, as we know from New Testament letters like that of Ephesians, found this a hard lesson to understand and to learn, but learn it they did.

The story of Cornelius and Simon Peter is, therefore, a great example of  how the church is called to leap across all those boundaries which can separate people from one another, with the aim, of course, being that all may find their unity as human beings in the one body of Christ.

What huge challenges for us, as churches, then even before we consider the personal commitment and challenge brought to us through the words of the covenant prayer this morning.

Huge challenges...how are we to make connections with people for whom the church is perhaps a prominent landmark as a building in their town, perhaps, for some, a place valued as a community resource and for the warmth of the welcome which they receive... but for the vast majority, a church, and the Christian faith it espouses, which they see as being irrelevant to their lives?

How do we then bridge the divide, understand cultures and sub-cultures, learn new ways of articulating our faith which are eye-catching and heart-warming?

We need to do, as those early Jewish Christians did, catch a wider vision of how God, by His Spirit, can nudge us, into those new avenues of mission and of service.

The words of the covenant prayer are pretty clear are they not?

Let God direct and guide us, even if that means into the unfamiliar and out of ‘the comfort zone', and we are to rely utterly and completely upon the inexhaustible depths of God's grace.

Researchers from the University of Hertfordshire followed 2,000 people who had all made a two-week resolution following the start of last New Year. They found, not unsurprisingly, that those who relied solely on willpower to keep their resolutions failed before the end of the first week.

Also, unsurprisingly, of the 30% who kept their New Year's resolutions, the majority got some kind of support even if this was simply some encouragement by their family and friends!

"Let us make this covenant of God our own... trusting in His promises and relying upon His grace."

Can we each do that this morning? And can we do so remembering too that the covenant is not just about our own individual response to God but is an act which we enter into as a whole community of faith.

We make the covenant prayer as part of the one body which makes the celebration of the Lord's Supper such a significant part of the Covenant Service.

I close with the words of John Wesley's rule (this was actually used at the end of the service before the blessing):

Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as you ever can.        Amen.

 

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