Deacon Cornell’s Homily


Acts 10:25-26, 34-35,44-48
1 John 4:7-10
John 15: 9-17


May 24-25, 2003, Sixth Sunday of Easter, Cycle B

These past few weeks leading up to the Ascension and Pentecost we have been hearing readings from the first letter of John and the Gospel of John. These readings come out of a community we call the Johannine after its leader, the Beloved Disciple we call John. This community had a very different view of church and community, and a quite different theology from the communities associated with Paul or the other three Gospels. This Johannine approach to church did not survive in the evolution of the church but despite their short lived history, this community left us a wonderful gift in these books of the Bible. One of the important aspects of the Johannine writings is that they cut through the many complications we humans like to add to our activities, and focus on the essential simplicity of our faith and what it means to be a disciple. For instance, a constant theme in these writings reminds us that we have only one commandment as Christians: to love one another, as Christ loves us. Another important aspect is that they constantly ground theological and philosophical concepts in the reality of living here in this world.

These are particularly appropriate readings for Memorial Day weekend. On this holiday, we remember those who gave their lives to establish and then protect our American ideal of freedom. As we reflect on those who made the ultimate sacrifice, we are reminded that freedom is not a disembodied philosophical concept. It has no value unless people are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to ensure freedom. When we boil down the various ways that people use to describe the reasons for making these sacrifices, patriotism, love of country, concern for the welfare of family and friends, the reason is love.

Today’s readings remind us that love is not just a disembodied philosophical idea. The sentence “God is love” we heard from the second reading is often quoted but out of context. The author of letter emphatically defines what he means by this statement: God is love specifically and particularly in the act of sending “his only son into the world so that we might have life through him.“ Love is of no value as an idea; it only has value when expressed in real action. The Gospel reminds us that this action for us is to love one another specifically and particularly in actions of self sacrifice for others, as Christ loved us. And we are to act this way, not as individuals, but as a community that remains in Christ, as branches on the vine.

You might be wondering what the story from Acts about the conversion of Cornelius has to do with this message of love being defined by action in community. I know I did when I first started looking at today’s readings.

Cornelius was a Roman centurion, which means he was a Gentile. But Luke describes him as a God-fearing man who prayed to the God of the Jews, and embodied his love for God in almsgiving. One day an angel appeared to Cornelius and told him that God had taken notice of his prayer and almsgiving. The angel continued by telling Cornelius to send for a man named Simon, also called Peter, who was staying in Joppa, and to listen to what this Simon Peter had to say.” So Cornelius sent 2 of his household along with one of his trusted soldiers to Joppa. The next day, as they were approaching the house where Peter was staying, Peter was up on the roof saying his noon prayers, waiting for lunch. He went into a trance and had a vision of this huge tarp being lowered from heaven, and on the tarp were all kinds of creatures, including many that Mosaic Law defined as unclean. Peter heard a voice telling him to take these creatures and eat them. Peter replied, “There is no way I will eat unclean food.” The voice responded by saying, “Who are you to call unclean what God has declared to be clean?” This repeated it self a few times and then the tarp was taken back up to heaven. As Peter was pondering the meaning of the vision, he heard a voice telling him that three men were looking for him and that he should go with them because God had sent them. So Peter went down and told the three men who had come from Cornelius that he was the Simon Peter they were looking for. He invited them in to eat and stay the night, and the next morning Peter and a few of the Jewish Christians from Joppa went off to Cornelius’ house. We pick up the story as Peter comes into Cornelius’ house. Peter tells Cornelius and the whole throng of his household that had gathered, that it is usually forbidden for a Jew to enter into a Gentile house and mingle with them. But Peter now realizes the meaning of the vision he has had: that God’s ways are not limited by our understanding of God. So Peter begins to tell them the Gospel, the good news of Jesus the Christ. He is not even finished when the Holy Spirit comes on the whole household. The brothers from Joppa are amazed that the Spirit was given to Gentiles and also that it was given before baptism. Again, inspired by his vision, Peter instructs them to baptize all.

One of the first things that people pickup on in this story is that the Spirit blows where she will; in other words, God is not limited to organized religion. But often people extrapolate that revelation to mean that this shows that the church is not important. I suggest that this ignores the reality of this story. The action of the Spirit in this story is not in opposition to the church or even along side it. It is to inspire the church, represented by Peter and the Christians from Joppa, to be even more inclusive. It reveals that God’s plan is to bring all into this community God has chosen to be his body on earth, the church.

As Fr. Butler has been reminding us over the past few weeks, it is a good time to reflect on our response to all sorts of things that are happening in the church. But to do that reflection in the context of what our readings tell us today. God’s plan is one that centers on unity, communion as branches on the vine, in this body of Christ we call church. God is love in this specific act of sending his son into the world for the life of the world. While this is a singular act, it is not limited in time or space. This act of sending Christ into the world extends from the beginning of creation through today to the end of the world. It is God’s plan that his act of love of sending his Christ into the world continues today through the concrete actions of the body of Christ, those he has chosen through baptism.

So as we remember the people whose acts of love bought us our freedom, let us also remember that God’s plan for our freedom and life calls us to come together through baptism as the body and blood of Christ here and now.

homily index