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5th Sunday of Easter

06 May 2022

15 May, Acts 11.1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21.1-6; John 13.31-35

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ONE key factor in the survival and spread of the Christian faith is also the source of a potential flaw. Peter and the Jerusalem Christians, Paul and the diaspora Christians, John of Patmos and his churches — all survived the dangers of being a new faith, and conflicts with their neighbours, and opposition to some of the authorities of the Roman Empire. They did so by being courageous and constant, and by knowing what they stood for and believed in.

That cohesiveness grew from a sense of common purpose — an exalted purpose, too: nothing less than co-operation with the salvific plan of God. But the first Christians had a problem. Were they a new form of an old faith, or a genuinely new faith? Luke meets the problem head on, with Peter as the hero who cuts the Gordian knot.

Peter’s vision is so important that Luke tells the story twice. He did not have to do so. In the scriptures. we come across stories in which a conversation takes place, and then takes place all over again — in full — when it is reported to someone (Genesis 13.32-4 is a good example). The lectionary tends to disguise this by leaving out the repetitions. But there is another way: summarise the contents of a reported conversation. Matthew finally resorts to this, at the end of the parable of the sheep and the goats (25.44).

Luke’s repetition of the story has two aims. First, he simply wants to reinforce the teaching that it contains. Second, he wants to send the reader a message: by the time Peter tells his vision in direct speech, Luke the narrator has already reported it as a historical fact (10.9-16).

The Jerusalem Christians had initially been shocked at Peter’s mingling with Gentiles. With this careful groundwork, though, they accept without further questioning — and even with celebration — the inclusion of those Gentiles in the new covenant of God’s grace. There are still plenty of details to be worked out, as the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 makes clear. But the principle has been established. God’s grace is no longer to be confined in racial or social boundaries.

And now we come to the potential flaw. Thanks to Luke’s narrative skill, we never doubt that Peter will succeed in his argument. But we are also aware, from our contemporary experience of church life, how easily disputes rooted in differences of religious behaviour can intensify and divide.

If the faithful in Jerusalem had behaved then as some Christians do today, Christianity would have shrivelled into oblivion. It makes good sense for churches now to put thought and effort into mission at the door; to make people feel welcome, valued, and affirmed. But still the dark side of our strong identity is constantly challenging that outward-looking Easter faith. Pull up the drawbridge! Circle the wagons! Bar the outsiders who want to downplay our hallowed traditions!

In the Gospel, John’s Jesus does not straightforwardly support Peter’s vision in Acts. In chapter 13, Jesus’s teaching takes on an urgent quality, because the moment of his arrest is at hand. Time is short. God is going to “glorify” him “at once”. At this moment of high tension, when outward appearance (a conversation among friends) is at odds with inner reality (isolation, fear, incomprehension), Jesus gives the disciples an extraordinary gift: not an object, but a principle. It is a principle that we take for granted (“Of course we ought to love one another”), and so fail to notice the shocking description: “A new commandment? How can this be?”

There have been no new commandments for centuries. There have been interpretations, and clarifications, of the 613 commandments in the Mosaic law. There has been Jesus’s own summary of the law (Mark 12.28-31). But this is different: it is specific to those in the community of faith; for they are to model their love for one another on the love that Jesus has shown to them. If people want to know who is a Christian, this love is what they will be looking for.

The people who followed Jesus have been revealed as a new faith. The new faith has a new commandment. And it has a new holy city, too: “the new Jerusalem” (Revelation 21.2), given by the Lord. For he is not the guardian of what is antique, but the one who makes all things new (Revelation 21.5).

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Clerical

Priest in Charge (Rector Designate)

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Our suburban parish on the border between the London Borough of Croydon and the lovely Surrey countryside and with a spacious modern Rectory, is seeking a Priest-in-Charge (Rector Designate) to lead our church as we seek to fulfil our mission to proclaim Jesus, change lives and serve our community.   We are looking for a leader who, with energy and dynamism, who will develop the vision for the church to enable the children and families work to be a priority in order to grow the church both in numbers and spiritual maturity. In addition, the new person will care and tend for the existing ageing congregation many of whom have ¬faithfully served the church for many years.   The person we are looking for should have: strong communication skills, the ability to engage and encourage people across the age ranges and to convey the church’s mission, vision and priorities; a commitment to preach the Word of God in thoughtful and stimulating ways; an energy and dynamism probably more extrovert than introvert; a pastoral heart, showing empathy and good listening skills, the ability, willingness and experience to help us to develop and enjoy a variety of worship styles, including a wider range of musical worship and a deeper corporate prayer life -whilst recognising and valuing our heritage;   For further information and to apply, please click the 'apply for this job' button below.   For an informal conversation with the Archdeacon of Croydon, please contact the Archdeacon’s PA Kathleen.bailey@southwark.anglican.org to arrange a time for a phone conversation.   Closing Date: Sunday 12 June 2022 Parish Visit for shortlisted candidates: Monday 11 July 2022 Interviews: Monday 11 July 2022   Please note we have a policy in Southwark Diocese that to be appointed to an incumbent status post, a priest must have served a title in an Anglican church in the British Isles.   This post is subject to DBS enhanced disclosure

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