Scripture Readings: Acts 10:44–48 | Psalm 98 | 1 John 5:1–6 | John 15:9–17
We have some exciting days ahead of us here at St. Luke’s, Gondola Point. The pieces are now in motion for our Building Restoration Project to begin the needed repair work on the exterior of St. Luke’s Church. Of course, plenty of work has already been going on for years now: our Parish family has long been consulting, planning, and fundraising in order to preserve our beloved building, hopefully for years to come… not only for ourselves, but for future generations.
Admittedly, it hasn’t gone quite the way we had expected. When this Project began, no one had imagined it would be unfolding during a global pandemic. But as odd as it seems, the time is now: the work is much needed, and we won’t delay. And thankfully, we don’t have to shoulder all of the financial burden ourselves. With the help of some grants from Parks Canada, due to our building’s National Historic Site status, we’ll have some significant assistance in raising the necessary funds. I think we can all be grateful that we’re not the only ones invested in the future of St. Luke’s Church by helping to restore it to it’s true essence and shape.
Our Scripture readings today might also invite us to think about Church restoration… that is, not restoring a building, but rather the Christian community. Of coming to recognize what lies at the heart of our life together as God’s children… highlighting the essence, the core of what the Church is, what it is meant to become, and drawing our attention to the necessary work that lies before us.
It should come as little surprise that in thinking about what lies at the heart of the Christian Church, we simply have to begin with faith in Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord. He is Himself the foundation for absolutely everything else. He is the cornerstone of the Church. Without Jesus, and what He’s done, there’d simply be no Church, and from first to last faith in Him is what makes us what we are. The author of 1 John grounds our ongoing connection to the Living God, and our hope for the future in our faith, our trust placed in Jesus. 1 John 5:1 says, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God”, and in verses 4 & 5 it says that “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?” For the author of 1 John, our faith in Christ is top priority.
And in the book of Acts we see the fruit of faith in Jesus… what happens when we hear and believe the Good News of the Son of God. Our reading today from Acts takes place right after St. Peter speaks to his host Cornelius, a Roman army officer, sharing with him and his family this message of hope. Acts 10:34-43, “Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’”
St. Peter sums up the story of Christ with an invitation to faith. We’ll come back to what happens next in just a few moments. For now, it’s enough to say that from it’s very earliest days, the Christian Church has been built on belief in Jesus Christ: who He is, and what He came to do.
But just like a building needs more than a foundation, faith in Jesus is not meant to stand all alone. It’s meant to enable, to give rise to a particular way of life. Faith in Jesus, trust in Him is meant to take the form of faithful love. Directed both to God, and to one another too. “As the Father has loved me,” Jesus said, “so I have loved you; abide in my love. 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. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:9-12).
Far from the self-centred, so-called love all too common in our world, God’s love calls us to set aside our own agendas and care for each other, even if it means making pretty big changes to do so. As one ancient writer puts it: “If we love God, then we must also love those whom God has brought to birth and who have become our brothers and sisters. Loving one another is a sign of how much we love God.”
Again, we can see this love at work in our reading from Acts chapter 10. In verse 48, St. Peter does something truly ground-breaking among God’s people: he embodies God’s love simply by “staying with” these new Gentile believers. Being a faithful Jew, St. Peter was never supposed to even enter the house of a non-Jew, that is until the Holy Spirit led him to do exactly that. And now, after Cornelius and his family all believe, St. Peter breaks down all the barriers between Jews and non-Jews. He accepts their hospitality, shares their home, their meals, their lives. No longer as strangers, but as brothers and sisters in Christ. Just like Jesus embodied God’s love by eating and spending time with Israel’s outcasts, now St. Peter embodies God’s love by entering into the life of Cornelius. In this simple act we can see the Living God at work, forming out of two hostile worlds one new family, united by faith in Jesus Christ, to love God and each other. Love is the structure, the essential shape of the Church community; itself resting secure on the foundation of faith in Jesus Christ.
Faith and love. To indispensable elements of the Church. The heart of our life together as the family of God. So easy to talk about, so much harder to put into practice. Thank heavens we don’t have to try to be the Church all on our own: this community, this way of life is God’s gift to us in Jesus. It’s the presence and power of the Holy Spirit that makes it possible for us to truly trust in God and share in His love. The Living God Himself has been building and re-building His Church, doing things with us that we would never have imagined.
We can see the Spirit of God at work doing this all through the book of Acts, as the Church community keeps on growing in surprising ways. Today we heard, in Acts chapter 10:44-48, through St. Peter’s message the Holy Spirit of God strikes again. “While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 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, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” Long before St. Peter stepped into the house of Cornelius, the Living God was preparing to share His Good News with all peoples. Though St. Peter and those with him could not have imagined where the Holy Spirit was leading them, and the world-changing story they would take part in, God was at work through them building His Church big enough for the world. The Spirit drew these strangers together, the Spirit helped St. Peter find the words about Jesus, the Spirit helped Cornelius hear and believe, and this same Spirit came to dwell in them all, uniting them in God’s great love. If faith is the foundation of the Church, and love is what’s built up on top of it, the Living God is the architect, the builder, and what holds it all together.
It can be tempting at times to get discouraged when thinking about the Church… about how far God’s family seems to have strayed from our true essence… from the faith and selfless love that’s supposed to shape all that we do. Just as our Church building here in Gondola Point stands in need of some restoration, so does the Church community all over the world today. But instead of pointing our fingers at our brothers and sisters in Christ that we suspect are messing things up, let’s humble start with ourselves.
Is our life together as Christians firmly rooted in our faith in Jesus Christ? Are we seeking to trust Him in all areas of our lives? Not only our eternity, but our every day?
Does our faith give rise to active love? To caring for one another? Are we embodying the way of Jesus in how we treat those in our lives? Our families? Our friends? Co-workers? Neighbours? Strangers? Enemies?
I suspect both as individuals, and as a Parish family, there’s likely a fair amount of restoration work ahead of us, work which we dare not delay. But the Good News is we’re not bearing the burden of this work alone! The Living God is deeply invested in the life of the Church, found both here at St. Luke’s, and all throughout the world. God is at work restoring and extending it far beyond anything that we have yet achieved, or imagined. Not simply returning to the past, but making all things new. Not crafting our community into what we might want it to be, but letting it be re-created in line with the LORD’s designs. Of course, we don’t have to be open to this restoration work. We can resist the Spirit of God, and try to go our own way. But the Gospel hope… for St. Luke’s, for the wider Church, and for the world… lies in humbly saying ‘yes’ to the work of the Living God. Echoing the words of our Saviour: “not my will, but yours be done.”
In two weeks time, at Pentecost, I hope to start something new here in our Parish: a Mission Visioning group for our St. Luke’s community. It won’t be a formal committee, but simply a group of us here at St. Luke’s who want to commit to praying together, listening together, and trying to discern God’s will both for our Parish life, and for our role in His mission outside of our walls. If you feel draw to take part in this Visioning group, or simply have questions about it, please come and talk to me.
But whether or not we’re a part of a group like this, or a more formal leadership role, all of us as brothers and sisters in the family of God have a part to play in God’s ongoing Church Restoration Project. We’re all called to be open to the Holy Spirit’s voice: His assessment of our current situation, and future direction. We’re all responsible for nurturing a living faith in Jesus Christ the Risen Lord, and building our lives on the Gospel. We’re all to take up the call to embody the self-giving love of God, so that He might move through us and draw all people into His family.
We have some exciting days ahead of us here at St. Luke’s. The Living God’s at work in us to build up His Church. Let’s not delay, and invite Him to start His restoration in us… not only for our own good, but for all who follow after. Amen.
 Theophylact, Commentary on 1 John, in Thomas C. Oden and Cindy Crosby, eds., Ancient Christian Devotional: A Year of Weekly Readings: Lectionary Cycle B (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2011), 127.