Blood is thicker than water:
It doesn’t matter what you know – it’s who you know that matters.
These and other sayings highlight the reality that there are privileges that are often granted to family members.
Sometimes that’s a positive thing, especially when it’s continuing a family business.
But sometimes it’s not such a positive thing when it excludes people – a job for the boys.
When favouritism means that someone is not chosen because of some form of bias.
In today’s first reading this was one of the first and biggest challenges to face the new church – the followers of Jesus.
That this group of Jewish followers of Jesus who had been waiting for so long for God to send his promised King were now being asked to allow these foreigners in.
This Jewish clan had been waiting for hundreds and hundreds of years for God to fulfil his promise to send a new King to sit on David’s throne.
Their ancestors had been through hell:
400 years in hard slavery in Egypt.
They had fought battle after battle losing thousands upon thousands of gallant men defending their homeland Israel.
Their ancestors had been sent into exile in foreign lands mistreated the Babylonians, Assyrians and Philistines.
And now these outsiders – these “Johnny come lately” known as Gentiles, think they can just be Baptised and receive the Holy Spirit like that!!
What this encounter shows to us is that our mission is always to look for inclusions into our faith community rather than exclusions.
And sadly, sometimes, in order to protect our faith we have made people feel excluded rather than included – like outsiders rather than insiders.
Some of you can probably remember when it was incredibly exclusive to break into our Lutheran church.
When a Lutheran married a Roman Catholic – that was frowned up and some were disowned not just by the church but by family members.
When a Lutheran married someone from “the other Synod”.
Some of you may not be familiar with those exclusions – because the Lutheran Church evolved from a dispute between Martin Luther, previously a Catholic Monk and the Pope.
And as a result there had been an air or suspicion of anything too catholic in the church.
And it’s only been in recent times when the Lutheran Church has come out and rescinded its previous statement of the Pope being the Antichrist.
And prior to 1966 the Lutheran Church was divided between 2 Synods and the hostility was rather fierce.
In our first reading today we see that challenge in the faces of Peter and his companions.
They have been invited to the house of Cornelius – a Gentile – a Roman Centurion – from the same Roman community that sentenced Jesus to death by crucifixion.
And while they are there they see something unbelievable happen.
They see the Holy Spirit of God given to Cornelius and his people.
And not just given – but “poured” out onto them.
And they were astonished that the Holy Spirit was given “even to Gentiles” and they began to speak in tongues and praise THEIR God.
And now Peter wants them to be baptised.
But hang on – what do they know about Jesus – what do they believe?
Shouldn’t we examine them first?
This is mind blowing – are we letting just anyone in?
What next – who will we let in next?
Maybe we should let that person arresting Christians, burning down their churches and approving the killing of Christians – what’s his name? Saul?
Well, imagine how Ananias felt when God appeared to Ananias and told him exactly that.
“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go!
Sometimes we need to do a check on ourselves to see if we have become an exclusive organisation rather than inclusive community.
We might be horrified to feel someone felt they didn’t feel welcomed when they visited our church.
We should be looking for ways to include rather than exclude.
That was Jesus’ mission as he looked to include the outsiders.
When the law commanded the death of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus freed her by the very same commandments that were being used to put her to death.
He didn’t deny that the commandment of Moses justified her death but called on her accusers to examine their own lives first and the one without sin could still cast the first stone.
Or Zacchaeus – the very behaviours that excluded him from friendship of his people – the theft and dishonesty – Jesus was able to overturn by including him rather than excluding him –
Zacchaeus said: Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.
Again John’s focus is on love – but not just any type of love but a love that is generated by and from our inclusion into the family of God through Jesus Christ.
He says – everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.
By this example John is saying that if we love God then we will love what comes from God.
If we love the parent we will love the child.
And as we confess God as the creator of all people then we love all people.
And this is no ordinary love.
When we show the love of God then John says that we can change the world.
We live in a world that sadly is not a great example of love.
We only have to look at the way people have been treated during this pandemic with border bans not just internationally but even among our own states.
Now I can understand why we have travel bans but the way they are done there is this instant reaction to cut off and protect ourselves first rather than reach out and help.
But look how John speaks about the love of God and the power that exists in it:
Whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
Can you imagine a world where we were not divided by anything?
Can you imagine if our first response was like the Good Samaritan who stopped to help a person from a race of people who had excluded while his own people crossed over to the other side of the road to avoid helping?
Jesus said – go and do likewise.
Or think of the Samaritan woman at the well.
She was astonished that Jesus, a Jewish leader would talk to her – a woman and a Samaritan.
And what does she do in response – she goes and tells her entire community who then come out to see Jesus and believe.
This is what Jesus asks of us who know all about God’s love;
That you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
What a beautiful image we have of our relationship with Jesus that we are his friends.
That even though it was his own people who cried out for his death, he could put that aside and still call them his friend.
I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.
Can you imagine a world where we treated one another in the same way – as our friend?
That’s what Jesus asks of us.
But he does that because he knows how much joy that brings not only to the world but also to us:
Jesus said: I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
Compare the person who has anger and resentment in their heart and a person who has love and joy in their heart.
That’s what God offers you – to know his love and experience complete and fullness of joy.
Yes there are benefits to belonging to a family and we belong to the most privileged family of all – the family of God with the greatest benefits one can imagine – eternal life in heaven.