... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Easter 6 Year C
Message May 05, 2013

Universal Salvation: Spread Begins

Text: Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10,22-22:5; John 14:23-29

Easter 6 Year C Text: Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10,22-22:5; John 14:23-29 Date: May 5, 2013

Last week we witnessed how God’s universal plan of salvation was revealed in Peter’s vision and actions at Joppa, and this rolled out for the early church leaders residing in Jerusalem. We saw how this was a necessary step which would provide validity and authority for Paul’s mission to the Gentiles. This week the universal nature is again laid out with three of the readings explicitly looking at the cosmic scope of God’s love and a focussing on the theological question of “why us?” The ultimate realization in all of this is the truth that God has come into the midst of creation but is not to be bound thereto or therein by human construct.

The author of Psalm 67 draws on the priestly benediction of the Mosaic era to show the love of God going from the select chosen of Israel in the wilderness to encapsulate the entire world…”that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations.” The gracious blessing of God on the children of Israel was to be a beacon of what God offers for the world. The universal openness of God’s favour is witnessed not just by the freedom from slavery for a chosen people Israel, but by the bounty and fruits of the land by which all might live. The reader of this psalm is drawn not only into the broad spectrum of God’s beneficence but also into the meaning of creation as recounted in the Book of Genesis and the promise of God to Abraham to bless all the families of the earth (Gen. 12:1-3)

This same intention on God’s part is to be found in the final aspect of John’s vision in Revelation where the kings of the earth, the tree of life, the river of the water of life all speak of the inclusiveness and universal openness of God’s blessing and design. All the nations will belong and all the people save those who choose not to obey or to choose a path of falsehood. This loophole of exception to the universality of God’s plan has always been a catch in understanding the place of Christianity in the process of salvation. Many scholars throughout history have struggled debated and agonized over it and tried to understand how God works in the human comprehension. Perhaps the answer lies in Judas’ question to Jesus in John 14:22, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?”

Jesus’ answer is, in part, the gospel reading for today, and in some ways creates and holds a tension between the inclusive and exclusive nature of God’s relationship with humanity. Typical of John’s writings we see here a multi-levelled theological framework. Judas’ question asked in the physical and present plane is responded to by Jesus on a theological spiritual and eternal level. It might just as well have been asked why God chose Abraham rather than someone else, “Why us?” That is perhaps a question each of us needs to ask ourselves and in the answer to see not a place of privilege but a place of responsibility. The answer will be humbling and exciting. It will be frightening and at the same time freeing and it will be stressful yet strengthened by a peace beyond self.

Judas in asking his question might well have done so wondering what the three years of ministry was to mean in the face of Jesus’ imminent departure from them. In reply Jesus opens up a realm of futurity in which the responsibility of the spread of the Gospel entails a human undertaking to go where strife and prejudice abound, where ignorance and bigotry will surely face them and where persecution of contempt will confront their every moment. But into this will come a sense of otherness, security and tranquility. An advocate will be present to guide their speech, their deliberations and open to them a new and alternative understanding of the world. That newness would free them strengthen them and give them a tranquility and peace not experienced by others. In other words God and Christ would be with them dwelling in them in a new presence and that would be the gift to the world.

While they the disciples would be unique in that they had experienced the living Jesus and the resurrected Christ, their experience was to be the bearer which would draw all people to the knowledge of God and an understanding of universal salvation in the life of the world. Despite this exciting prospect the answer also made crystal clear the reality of the human condition – not everyone would flock to the cause. In fact when this gospel was written the young church was facing the full onslaught of the Roman persecutions on one side and the shunning by the Jewish synagogues on the other. Jesus’ words were having a full impact on that early church – “Those who love me will keep my word”…and “whoever does not love me does not keep my words…” A universal call indeed but one tempered and responded to by human free will.

It would be this human free will which would grow or destroy God’s offer of love and in the Acts we witness what Peter had enjoined and validated be put into practice as the first European convert is baptized. Having Peter’s witness open the possibility for a Gentile mission we now hear of Paul’s call to Macedonia – the birth place of Alexander the Great who some 350 years previously had conquered the then known world. This eastern European site would be the initial mission for Paul to the greater world and the impetus was a divine vision. This vision forced a change in travelling plans for Paul and while we in the 21st Century might not appreciate the implications of such a change in the travel detail offered by Luke as to Paul’s course, continually points to an onerous undertaking – from Troas to Samothrace to Neapolis and onto Philippi.

Uncertain as to the identity of the “man of Macedonia” or where he might be found Paul and his companions allow themselves to be open to the working and words of God. They preached as they were directed and allowed themselves to be open to what might result. This openness is a frightening experience because you don’t know and cannot usually anticipate what might happen.

A week they spent in Philippi and on the Sabbath they went to find a quiet place of prayer. Here they met Lydia, a woman of means and a worshipper of God. We are not told if she had heard them during the week in the synagogue or had just happened on them at the place of prayer outside the city gates. The matter is of little importance to the main point that she believed and was baptized along with her whole household. The grace and gift of God in Christ Jesus has now moved beyond the confines of the Middle East and the world wide spread of the gospel has commenced! The words of Jesus’ reply to Judas ring in this story for the words of Jesus were preached heard and kept and the Spirit, the Advocate, did indeed come and dwell in Lydia and her household and in every person and household from that point to today who have accepted Christ’s invitation and the Father’s gift.

Exciting humbling frightening awe-inspiring, anxiety provoking? Definitely yes! But it also filled with a sense of responsibility and a large measure of hope and peace. May each of us so live as to keep Christ’s words, and experience God’s love, now and forever.