Sermon–May 6, 2018


Easter 6—B

May 6, 2018

William Bradbury

Acts 10:44-48, Psalm 98, 1 John 5:1-6, John 15:9-17 


God makes a dramatic appearance in the life of Cornelius the Roman Centurion. Before Peter even finishes his sermon, Holy Spirit falls on him and his household and they all start speaking in tongues and praising God and Peter starts looking for water to baptize these uncircumcised pagans. Last week it was an Ethiopian Eunuch and this week it is a Roman soldier and his family, who are powerfully grasped by the knowledge and love of Christ.

Luke, the author of the Book of Acts of the Apostles, gives us these vignettes to show how it is that women and men across the Roman Empire begin to think it is worth everything to follow and worship a crucified Jew.

Of course, to understand what happens to Cornelius we have to know the rest of the story. The first thing Luke tells us about Cornelius is “He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God.”

So long before he has a vision of an angel telling him to send for a “certain Simon who is called Peter” who just happens to be staying nearby at the beach, the God of Israel is working in the life of this Roman soldier. Luke is telling us that God works in a person’s life before they hear about Jesus or visit a church or we even have any awareness that God exists and is up to something.


Some folks will give you a time and date when God showed up in their lives, bringing them into the knowledge and faith of Jesus Christ. As you know, I belonged to such a group for a year at the University of Georgia. I still remember that moment—though not the exact date—when I prayed for God to come into my life.

Later, of course I would acknowledge that God had also been working in my life while I was growing up at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, where I attended church school, youth group and served as an acolyte. It has taken me many more years though, to be able to imagine that God was also working in my life when I was playing hide and seek with the kids in the neighborhood or watching TV. In fact, the Spirit was also swirling around me even when I was doing those things I ought not to have done, but which teenagers think it is their job to do, if for no other reason than to mess with their parents.

Yet even today, to believe God is at work in every moment of every day goes against my default setting. I still hear the voice in the head saying that God is only present when I’m doing so-called holy things and having holy feelings—which is to say, about 5% of the time.

So I am in constant need of playing with the idea that there has never been a time when God is not only sustaining our lives, but also whispering in our souls the best thing we can do next to make our lives more beautiful, true, and good. That in every moment there is the opportunity to hear and then to respond to God’s whisper —and that whisper is the most important thing that is going on in any moment.

Life is a process in which God is seeking to persuade us to go ever more deeply into Godself. We see this process in the gospel reading today: Jesus, after washing the disciples’ feet, once again shatters their too narrow and rigid perspective on life:

Jesus says: “You did not choose me but I chose you.”

In our world, we imagine we are in control of our lives, especially our spiritual lives. Look how we talk about God. Some say, “I invited Jesus into my heart,” or “I haven’t decided yet which church best suits me.”

Either way we see ourselves as the star of our own story, with God playing a minor, supporting role, like the role of the Rudy Slippers in the “Wizard of Oz”—which offer some protection along the way and perform a small miracle at the end, but only after Dorothy and her friends have done all the heavy lifting.

Jesus says, “You did not choose me but I chose you.”

Chose us for what? –A shirts versus skins pickup game? An all-expenses paid trip to Disney World?  No, he chose us to share his ideals, vision, and commitments—or as he says:  “I chose you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last….”

“I chose you to love one another as I have loved you!”

“I chose you to share the life that flows between me and my Father.”

“I chose you to be my friends.” 

He says to us, “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.”

Author Frederick Buechner found his voice writing about the ordinary details of his life, precisely because he believes Christ is intimately working in those details, calling him to move more deeply into salvation, which is to know and to share the Shalom of God here and now.

Buechner writes:  “Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

He tells of having dinner with his mother who was living alone in Manhattan, when he received a call from a friend to say his family had been in a terrible accident in California and he wondered if Buechner would come wait with him at the airport. His mother was furious that he would consider ruining their dinner for such a request, but Buechner said, “….I saw more clearly than I ever had before that it is on just such outwardly trivial decisions as this—should I go or should I say—that human souls are saved or lost. I also saw for what was maybe the first time in my life that we are called to love our neighbors not just for our neighbors’ sake but for our own sake, and that when John wrote, “He who does not love remains in death, he was stating a fact of nature as incontrovertible as gravity.

” Telling Secrets”–This short three chapter memoir is one of my favorites, especially the chapter called “The White Tower”.

“What a friend we have in Jesus”, the old spiritual says—but not like a friend on Facebook where Jesus might grow tired of our foolishness and unfriend us with one click, but like Jesus on the cross where he reveals that his friendship is eternal and will hound us all the days of our life.