Tag Archives: Cornelius

Friends in Joy, Love, and Sorrow (OR Wondering about Mother and Daughter Friendships) John 15:12-17 and Acts 10:44-48

**An Artist’s Canvas by Stacey Zimmerman, A Painting Inspired by Friendship: Birds of a Feather

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on May 9, 2021

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

John 15:12-17 [Jesus said:] 9“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I 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. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

Acts 10:44-48 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

[sermon begins

At some point in high school, my daughter noticed that a lot of people described their moms as their best friend. (A relevant aside, I always ask my kids before they show up in a sermon.) Somewhere in that chat about moms being best friends, she and I talked about our own relationship and whether we would describe it that way. I don’t remember the details, but we both remember me saying something like, “You have a lot of friends, but you only have one Mom, it’s important to me that I’m your Mom more than your friend.” The topic came up again recently as she wraps up college. She asked if I thought my answer about our friendship was different now. My conversation with my daughter is timely as Mother’s Day converges with Jesus’ speech to his disciples about being friends with him. Friendship back in Jesus’ day meant something specific. Friendship in the First Century meant direct speak and bold action absent of flattery or distracting social tics. Ultimate friendship also included a noble death on behalf of the friend in both classical and popular philosophy back in Jesus’ day. John’s readers would have understood this definition of ultimate friendship. When Jesus talked about the greatest love exemplified in the one who would lay down one’s life for one’s friend, he was naming a widely accepted moral claim. Curiously, Jesus is not referred to as “friend” in the Gospel of John. He alternately refers to himself as the Son of Man, the bread of life, the light of the world, the gate, the good shepherd, the resurrection and the life, the way, the truth, AND the vine. He doesn’t say, “I AM the friend.” And his disciples don’t call him friend. He names the disciples as his friends when they love each other as he loves them. He defines the greatest love as being willing to lay down one’s life down for a friend. And then he walks the bold talk all the way to the cross. He launched the disciples into friendship modeled on his own friendship with them. Which brings us to Jesus’ friend Peter in the Acts reading today. Taking place well after the crucifixion and resurrection, this short reading is a fragment of the longer Cornelius’ story, the Italian centurion. Read his full story in Acts 10 and 11 this week. He was a Gentile, a non-Jew, who was a God-fearer associated with a Jewish synagogue. Cornelius invited Jesus’ friend Peter to come and teach at his home in Caesarea, the Roman capital of Judea. This means that Cornelius and his household weren’t just Gentiles, they were really, really Gentiles. And he had invited his friends and relatives to listen to Peter’s teaching so there were A LOT of Gentiles there. According to Jewish custom, eating with Gentiles was prohibited. There are visions and prayers and angels in the longer story that clarify the contradictions. Suffice it to say that Peter was divinely directed to this party. It was a party thrown in Peter’s honor and, like any good preacher, he didn’t waste his opportunity to say a few words. He preached about Jesus’ ministry, his death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit, and the forgiveness of sins. “While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell on everyone listening…” The story says that the circumcised believers who had come to Caesarea with Peter “were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.” It was a wild moment. They couldn’t believe their eyes, nor could they have foreseen that this was where friendship with Jesus was taking them. Except that wasn’t true for everyone. Peter, yes, the same Peter who bumbled his way through many a Gospel story before Jesus’ death, seems to have finally caught up with Jesus’ agenda. Peter’s question about withholding baptismal water from the Gentiles was rhetorical. Of course, the baptisms would happen. But that’s not where the trouble brewed anyway. It’s what happened after the baptisms that got everyone’s knickers in a knot. It’s that last quiet verse in our reading as chapter ten ends. “Then they invited [Peter] to stay for several days.” If we keep reading just a few verses into Chapter 11, we get to the crux of the matter. Peter went up to Jerusalem and was criticized by the Jesus’ followers there – not for baptizing the Gentiles, but for going to the Gentiles and eating with them. Hospitality moved in both directions at different parts of the story. Early on, Peter invited Cornelius’ messengers in and gave them lodging. In our verses today, Cornelius and friends invited Peter to stay for several days. Peter was the kind of friend to Cornelius that Jesus encouraged the disciples to be – walking the talk and boldly widening the circle despite what other people assumed were the natural limits of the circle. I did answer my daughter’s question, by the way. When she asked if my answer about our friendship was different now than it was in high school. I said, “yes,” that as she’s moved into adulthood, it’s become more mutual. Though the truth remains that I’m still her mother. There’s simultaneous mutuality and hierarchy. Before anyone gets antsy, I’m in no way saying that my relationship with my daughter is like Jesus’ friendship with the disciples. I am definitely NOT like Jesus and she would be the first to tell you that she is NOT my disciple. But there is a parallel, albeit limited, in my mother/daughter example that helps us get at the simultaneous hierarchy of Jesus as the Messiah AND the mutuality of Jesus as our friend. Man, I would love to have been in those original conversations with Jesus and his disciples – to see him boldly walk the talk, to hear his instructions firsthand, to wonder about his teachings with the other disciples who were just as lost in his ministry as I was, to hear him call me friend. Not to sentimentalize it, just to capture what those moments might have been like. Imagine that with me. There are moments in various conversations with you all that are hints of what that experience must have been like. The church is, after all, the body of Christ. We are Easter people who support, encourage, and pray for each other when it’s neither easy nor convenient. We hold each other in faith when one of us struggles to get comfortable with doubt. We work together with neighbors on problems in the community hoping that we’re on the right track. In our various ways, we lay down our lives because Jesus first loved us as friends and continues to love us still. The mutuality of friendship is a wonder, located in the middle of Jesus’ farewell to his friends. Made all the more poignant because he’s shared his final meal with them, he’s suffered the betrayal of Judas, and he’s anticipating Peter’s denial. In the midst of sorrow, his command to love, woven with his friendship, is the foundation of joy. Jesus infuses the mutuality with joy in the sorrow of saying goodbye. He said to his friends, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” Love and joy are complete in us through the friend we have in Jesus, and through the friendship by which he widens the circle of his love and binds us together in his name.

Friends, Failures and The Gasp – John 15:9-17 and Acts 10:44-48 (but the whole chapter is worth the read)

Friends, Failures and The Gasp – John 15:9-17 and Acts 10:44-48 {really, go read the whole chapter)

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on May 10, 2015

 

[sermon begins after the two Bible readings]

John 15:9-17 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 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. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

Acts 10:44-48  While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47 “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

 

[sermon begins]

In the reading from John this morning, Jesus is talking to his disciples before he is very soon to be killed on the cross. This is an intense conversation in an intense time.  Smack in the middle of this conversation Jesus says something that likely had his listeners gasp.[1]  You know, the kind of gasp that you do when you’re truly surprised. You wonder if the people around you heard the same thing but you can’t interrupt the flow of the person speaking even to make eye contact with the person next to you.  But it’s hard to keep listening because you’re still back in the moment of what you heard.  This is where the mindful among us would want to coach us about staying in the moment.  But you know what I mean. Staying mindful after a big announcement is truly for the rare, gold-medal mindful.  Most of us averagey-mindful simply are not up to the task.

What does Jesus say to derail the disciples’ mindful listening?  He tells them they are no longer servants, but now are his friends.  He ups the ante on them. The suggestion of mutuality is shocking! This is one of the few places in scripture that talks about friendship.  Especially notable in the story is Jesus saying, “You did not choose me but I chose you.”

Last week we heard a good word preached from two of Augustana’s high school seniors.  Both preachers challenged us with scripture and they also challenged us with their personal stories of what it means to be faithful in their own lives. They opened up the Bible readings for us and talked about Jesus’ vine metaphor.  Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit…” Last week’s scripture reading happens just before Jesus’ words of friendship in our story today.  He is the vine, he names the branches.  And these branches will bear the fruit of friendship.

It’s important to remember that the friends sitting around as Jesus speaks to them are the same friends who deny, betray, and run away in the tough time around the cross.  The friends’ have little ability to stick it out with Jesus immediately following his poetry of vine, branches, and abiding together in friendship. Keeping commandments that are given in a peaceful time are that much more challenging to keep in a difficult time. Dying for one’s friends means something when those friends fail you. Jesus did this in real time days after talking with them about being friends. And Jesus died for his friends to come in the future.

The bridge between Jesus words of friendship then and now is a crazy thing called death and resurrection.  This Easter season we’ve been asking the question, “What could this rising from the dead mean?” Asking the Easter question in this way keeps our feet connected to the ground while we, quite literally, speed through the cosmos.

For Peter, this rising from the dead means that he ends up in Cornelius’ home.  Cornelius is a Caesarean.  More specifically he is a centurion of the Italian cohort.  All of that is to say the BIG thing – that he is a Gentile. A short-hand way of saying that he is not part of the Jewish sect following Jesus.  Just as Jesus ups the ante with the disciples by calling them his friends, the Spirit ups the ante by instigating Gentile baptisms.  Baptizing Gentiles in the name of Jesus, into his death and into his new life. For Peter and the circumcised believers with him, this is a cosmic shift…on the ground…with actual people.  This is enough of a cosmic shift that Peter wonders about whether anyone can withhold the water for baptizing people who have received the Holy Spirit.

From time-to-time, I get calls to schedule a baptism. There are details to scheduling in terms of picking a date and worship time for the baptism itself and setting a date to meet with me at some point before the baptism. I get to know people, a little about their families and their faith. In turn, people in baptism meetings get to know a little about me.  These conversations are good.  In fact, some of the staff can verify that I say out loud that, “I love baptism meetings.” While it’s fun getting to know people, what I really love is reveling in God’s promises.  And as several of you can attest, there is a place in the baptism conversation about the promise that the congregation makes to the baptized on behalf of the whole church catholic and the communion of saints in every place and time.  You know the one.  You hear the words, “People of God, do you promise to support the baptized and pray for them in their new life in Christ?”

People of God.  It has a nice ring to it.  It’s both cosmic and personal. Cosmic because we’re talking about God.  Personal because we’re talking about us. The ‘People of God’ label is also quite relevant given the Bible readings from both John and Acts today.  The book of John begins cosmically with the mysterious Word existing before time and immediately becomes personal as the Word is made flesh in Jesus. Our particular reading from the book of John get even more personal as Jesus calls the disciples friends. In the book of Acts, the mysterious Holy Spirit gets personal quickly, acting on Cornelius and his household as Peter and the circumcised believers gasp and start baptizing.  Peter stays with Cornelius for a few days afterwards.

The story talks about Peter staying a few days almost as an afterthought. But could this be the fruit that the disciples are told they would bear?  It’s also one answer to what this rising from the dead means.  These two people, so different, both bringing past failures and prejudices to their time together.  Now they are both people of God – friends of Christ and each other through baptism.

Baptism brings the baptized into the body of Christ also known as a congregation.  A congregation is simply a collection of baptized people who remind each other through worshiping, communion, baptism, preaching and each other that God’s promises are for them.  I imagine Peter and Cornelius and the household reminding each other of God’s promises as Peter visited with them for several days. In a similar way, it’s what we do here as the congregation of Augustana.

As part of the body of Christ of Augustana, we bring along with us our failures, prejudices, and differences to our time together much like Peter and Cornelius. The Holy Spirit ups the ante and brings us together as friends of Christ.  This happens every time we get together in the many ways we get together. Whether it’s women’s circles, health ministries, choir rehearsal, Sunday School, Over the Top giving parties, staff meetings, Chapel Prayer, Middle School drop-in, Senior lunches, or some other group of people connected through Augustana.

The Holy Spirit gathers us as friends of Christ in worship, too.  We confess sins that include failures and prejudices at the beginning of worship and hear God’s forgiveness pronounced; and we sit next to each other reaching through our strange differences to another friend in Christ.

People of God, Jesus just called you friend. [Gasp] It couldn’t be more personal. We live in the cosmic strength and in the human frailty of this friendship together here this morning. Now strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit through Christ’s friendship with us, we live it in the world this afternoon.  Thanks be to God.

 

Hymn of the Day, sung together after the sermon: ELW 636 How Small Our Span Of Life


[1] Matt Skinner, Associate Professor for New Testament, Luther Seminary,  for Sermon Brainwave – John 15:9-17, May 13, 2012. http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=293