Sermons 22nd May



“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them and we will come to them and make our home with them. “

The opening words of our gospel reading today from Jesus’ final words to his disciples, following last weeks command to love one another which we considered.

And again, Jesus follows by speaking of the Holy Spirit, the advocate who will also be with us to teach and remind us of all Jesus said.

The “we” that would come to the disciples and make their home with them was the “we” of  Father, Son and Holy Spirit, those three distinct but united mysterious persons of the one God.


If you remember last week, we considered that our love for one another should be indiscriminate, there should be no more “us or them”, but “we”, and all of today’s readings emphasise that togetherness, that need for a community of love, that triune community of God, the indiscriminate blessings of God. Our psalm transforms the singular or directed blessing of the familiar blessing in Numbers from “God be Gracious unto you”, to “God be gracious unto us”, “God bless us”, “all the nations praise”- it’s God’s community that is blessed and praises him- yes personally, but in relationship with each other, as a community.


It's a reflection, if you like, of John’s exposition  of the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the three, despite their distinctiveness, are in perfect relationship with each other, so perfect that they are as much one as three, the perfect example of relationship for our own relationships. And that “three in one” God seeks to find a home with us, Jesus says.

Home, that familiar place where relationships are open, where love is intimate, where stories are shared, disagreements aired (and hopefully solved), where families live- individuals that make a single family. We, us, home. How would it be, if the church appeared to the world, as one, in perfect relationship, distinctive in its individuality but perceived as one, one to glorify God, one to love all others indiscriminately. And somewhere people could be drawn to, as if coming home.


Let’s come to our reading from Acts; we start with Paul, in the night, seeing a vision of a man from Macedonia pleading for help. And then, as the story unravels, the text changes from “Paul had a vision” to “we set out; we travelled; we stayed”. Paul had the vision, but it was the small community around him that together, as we, began to seek the consequences of that vision. And they didn’t find a man, instead they found a group of women, praying together by the river. Together, in community. And it wasn’t just Paul who spoke with them “we sat down and began to speak to them” the text reads. And one woman, Lydia responds, believes, urgently wants baptism into this new revelation of her faith- and not just her but all her household, her community, her “we”. And all were invited to her home, to enjoy her hospitality, to learn more of their faith, to build relationship which bore fruit in a new church at Philippi and later at Thyatira. All were invited to her home, she persuaded them, the text reads.


Community, relationship, togetherness in our individuality. Family. We, not I. Us, not them.

It’s a thread that runs from the psalms, through Jesus’ teaching, through the very nature of the triune God, and into the beginnings of the early church.

 It’s a message for all Christians throughout history, that God desires us to be unique, but made in God’s image, to know the power and strength of relationship of being we. And why? Because it echoes and reveals God’s very nature, the nature of love. His love for us and his command, in turn, to love one another, indiscriminately, as we spoke of last week. And that love builds community, relationship, it makes us “we” not “I”, it makes us “us”. It is what church should be, should strive to be, and then should seek to reach out with that relationship of “us” into all our communities, until, ultimately, all are united in the purposes of God, of love, of peace, of hope and of joy. It makes people feel they have found a family, a home. It shows, it lives out the gospel message that God loves all the world, not just a select bunch of people gathered on a Sunday morning.


But bear with me a little longer. Because I want to go back to Lydia. Biblical times were pretty misogynistic, -on the whole women were secondary to men. Men had all the positions of power, the genealogies we read always “read son of” etc.  Women in the bible are almost always referred to by reference to men even God referred to as “Father” is so ingrained into our belief that should we also refer to God as Mother some people take offence, as if God could ever be one sex or another; Eve was, drawn from the rib of Adam, Sarah- Abraham’s wife, Mary, betrothed to Joseph, the woman at the well, Peter’s wife – she is not even named, the only mention of her is when Peter’s wife’s mother is healed- neither  are named.


Lydia, however, is named, with no reference to a man. We can infer she was single perhaps, and a successful business women, dealing in prized and expensive purple cloth. And she was in Philippi, a powerful Roman outpost, a miniature Rome.

Controlled by military men and holding strongly to the values of the Roman empire and the deification of the emperor. And in the absence of enough men capable of forming a Jewish synagogue there, Lydia met with other Jewish women for prayer by the river, a community of faith, in a hostile environment.


And this is the community Paul and his group of friends found as they first ventured east into Europe, stimulated by Paul’s vision. And this independent woman of faith listened, and the Holy Spirit opened her heart. And such was the respect she was held in and her influence that other’s, in the light of her conversion were converted too. And from that community of women praying, she insisted all came to her home, the family of God gathered, and the first church in Europe began. And over the first few years Philippi became one of the key centres for Christianity in Europe. Because of one woman, and because of her sense of community, her love for others, her selflessness and generosity of her wealth, and her encouraging others into her home.


It's not always the people we might expect who bring others to faith. Sometimes it may even be those who society disregards or shuns. And yet the Holy Spirit, indiscriminate in love, can touch any heart that is open, and inspire there that deep love that leads to the selfless love, the desire for relationship, the building of community, of family, which is the church Jesus began and God desires.


We are all different. We are all individual. We all have different ideas, desires, understandings, loves and beliefs. But for those whose hearts have been touched by the Holy Spirit, we become one in Christ, we become community,

Family. together despite our differences, reflecting the relationships we find in the triune God, the relationship of love.

And yes, like any family, because we are human and imperfect in that love, sometimes there will be disagreements, sometimes it may even seem hard to live together in one home, but if, with the Holy spirit’s help we seek to love more perfectly and we desire to be in God’s family, then like Lydia, we can invite others into our home, or even, as she did, persuade them to come in, because we know that here they will find a love which reveals to them the perfect love of God for them.


Isn’t that what we’re here for? I believe it is, and, as I said at the end of my report to the AGM this Friday, I look forward to us fulfilling God’s mission together in this community. For God’s glory. Amen.