Fifth Sunday of Easter: 15th May 2022
Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticised him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, `Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, `By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, `What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, `Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, `John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
Praise the Lord from the heavens; *
praise him in the heights.
2 Praise him, all you angels of his; *
praise him, all his host.
3 Praise him, sun and moon; *
praise him, all you shining stars.
4 Praise him, heaven of heavens, *
and you waters above the heavens.
5 Let them praise the Name of the Lord; *
for he commanded, and they were created.
6 He made them stand fast for ever and ever; *
he gave them a law which shall not pass away.
7 Praise the Lord from the earth, *
you sea-monsters and all deeps;
8 Fire and hail, snow and fog, *
tempestuous wind, doing his will;
9 Mountains and all hills, *
fruit trees and all cedars;
10 Wild beasts and all cattle, *
creeping things and winged birds;
11 Kings of the earth and all peoples, *
princes and all rulers of the world;
12 Young men and maidens, *
old and young together.
13 Let them praise the Name of the Lord, *
for his Name only is exalted,
his splendour is over earth and heaven.
14 He has raised up strength for his people
and praise for all his loyal servants, *
the children of Israel, a people who are near him.
I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.”
At the last supper, when Judas had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 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.”
The reading from Acts describes how Peter had to completely change his understanding of God and the world. All the principles and practices on which he had based his relationship with God, all that bound him as a member of the Jewish community, were being challenged. Perhaps one might even say, undermined. No longer was there a code that distinguished between what one should or should not eat – and by extension how one should shop, how and with whom one should dine; perhaps even who one should invite into your home. No longer was there exclusivity in being one of God’s people. No longer was there a them and us.
And yet not everyone understood that this was God’s way. Not everyone understood that what God had achieved through Jesus Christ, the salvation that had been wrought, was for anyone and everyone with no restrictions. The challenge Peter is facing in this passage is not just that of coming to terms with the turning upside down of his religion, but also of having to explain this to his contemporaries – most of whom did not see it the way he did. Did Peter feel perhaps as many of us feel about the climate crisis? Did he struggle to work out how he could explain to his contemporaries that everything was changing, that the rules were going to be different, that how people went about their daily lives was going to have to change, that sticking with the old ways, the traditional ways was not going to help?
For the Christian climate activist the challenge is how to persuade people that the climate crisis is real and pressing, that we cannot continue with our old lifestyles and expect to cope, that we cannot ignore the plight of the vulnerable – those affected by rising food prices and or starvation, those affected by droughts and floods, wild fires and heat waves – and that we must make our voices heard when governments and big businesses pursue policies that increase their vulnerability. Like Peter, we have to find a way of winning over hearts and minds in persuading people to accept the new situation in which we find ourselves. We have to speak eloquently and calmly, yet with determination.
If the reading from Acts is telling us that God is the God of both Jew and Gentile, then today’s psalm is telling us that God is the God not just of people but of all that lives and moves and – even – just exists in creation. We are all of God’s making, are all valued, and are all called to praise God. The reading from Revelation presents us with the hope of a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and first earth will have passed away. Are we to expect this physical earth to be replaced with a new physical earth? Or is it that we are to expect the first way in which the earth existed will be replaced with a new way of doing things? Maybe as a hotel might be re-created or re-formed under a new management?Just as Peter was invited to see his old world of kosher and non-kosher practices as having passed away and replaced with a new world diversity and inclusivity? Is this new order not what climate activists are hoping for? A new earth in which all of creation is respected and cared for in ways which God desires?
‘Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another’ says Jesus. We are called to follow Jesus’s example, his at pattern of living – for that is the way by which a new earth and a new heaven will come into being. As Peter experienced, following a new way means leaving behind the old way, allowing that first earth to pass away. Letting go of the past is not easy; it can feel like stepping into the unknown. But we are not alone, we are not without an example to follow, we are not without God”s presence to both heal and strengthen us.