Acts 10:44-48; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17
Could the Gentiles, even the Gentiles, be our friends?
Friends for whom we are to lay down our lives? Friends we are to love like Jesus loves us? If the Holy Spirit pours over the Gentiles, does that not mean that God has chosen them, too? If God abides in them and we abide in God, doesn’t that mean we can’t escape being close to each other?
Jesus reminds his friends that he chose them, not the other way around. Therefore, those whom God has chosen become part of our circle of concern in ways we heretofore could not have imagined. Committee meetings, parties, worship, work, family dinners — everything just got a whole lot more complicated.
When our gatherings include people of different cultures, languages and experiences, very little can be assumed. Have you found yourself in a context where everything was unfamiliar? The attentiveness and energy required exhausts and sometimes overwhelms all involved. I remember visiting my brother on the campus of Gallaudet University. I don’t know American Sign Language. Nothing made sense to me. My brother translated for me, but still I knew I was missing a good deal of the conversations happening all around me. Aware of my deficit, he took pains to include me, as did his friends. Without their generosity and patience and everyone’s extra effort, I would have been a complete outsider.
Often, when visiting church members in large, regional hospitals, I witnessed other visitors struggle to navigate the parking deck, the entrances, the hallways, the various waiting rooms. Which elevator lead to what building? How do you operate the phone on the wall outside the locked doors of the ICU? Could you give me directions to the cafeteria? Bewilderment layered over worry and sadness and stress. So much energy exerted to complete basic tasks.
Equally as often the person in the hospital bed wondered how to work the nurse call button or remote control to the television. A tray of food was left untouched because no one thought to move it close enough or unwrap the silverware. Medical personnel came and went, sometimes letting the patient know who they were and why they were there, other times barely acknowledging that there was an individual residing within the standard-issued gown. Seeing the patient as a person requires extra effort, time and energy.
The word in this Acts text that lingers in my consciousness is “astounded.” Acts 10:45 reads, “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.” The circumcised believers were amazed that God might gift the Gentiles with the Holy Spirit. But the gift was undeniable because the Gentiles were speaking in tongues and extolling God. It seems Jesus chose them too, and the circumcised believers’ friend group just got a whole lot bigger, more interesting and complicated. Intentional effort, extra energy, patience and goodwill will be required by Jews and Gentiles alike.
The one who speaks a different language, the one fumbling to find their way out of the parking deck, the one in the hospital gown or lab coat, the one who eats pork and the one who doesn’t, the one shows up two hours late and the one who always brings extra guests, the one whose sensibilities about personal space are different than my own, the one whose politics and pronouncements make me cringe, the one who doesn’t know “Amazing Grace” or the 23rdPsalm, the one I thought beyond redemption — God choses to incorporate them all into the vine and therefore makes them my friend. Astounding. Jesus says without these friends my joy is incomplete. If I don’t love these friends and am not willing to die for them, then my joy cannot be complete.
Life just got a lot more complicated. I must now slow down, take notice, stop and abide and they must do the same. We can’t just do what we’ve always done. We can’t presume we all know what’s required or expected, hoped for or needed. Once the Holy Spirit gifts us with one another we are called upon to accept, nurture and cherish our new God-given friends. We must be good stewards of our holy friendship. And the only way to do so is to follow Jesus’ commandment and love one another.
I am reading Sally Kohn’s book, “The Opposite of Hate: A Field Guide to Repairing Our Humanity.” Kohn is a liberal commentator who often appears on Fox News. She writes about seeking to connect with people with whom she vehemently disagrees, some of whom have written hateful things to her online. She writes, “I found my answer in my aunt Lucy.”
Her aunt Lucy “lives in the middle of the country and is a conservative Republican. She also loves me and my partner and our daughter and welcomes us with open arms at every family occasion we manage to attend. The few times we have cautiously talked politics, Aunt Lucy has been curious and kind. Aunt Lucy watches Fox News, and eventually it dawned on me that most Fox viewers are probably just like her — decent, curious about the news, intending to learn and do something good with the information. I started to picture my aunt Lucy when I would go on Fox. … It made it easier for me to think and talk and act from a place of kindness, not hate — not to essentialize the invisible people on the other side of those screens but instead imagine my aunt Lucy, someone I love and respect.”
God gifts even the Gentiles with the Holy Spirit. Astounding. Now we are friends. Baptized members of the same family. We have been given the gift of one another with that outpouring of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Life just got a lot more complicated. More interesting. Richer. Better. Harder. Our circle of concern just exploded. Our joy won’t be complete without one another. Loving one another brings us closer to Jesus Christ. Following Jesus, abiding in him, draws us closer to one another. To accept, nurture, steward and cherish the gift of our friendship, we must slow down, take notice and remember not to take anything for granted.
Don’t assume to understand. Gently ask questions of one another. Be generous with honest answers. Plan the meetings, meals and gatherings with care, intentionality, abounding in hospitality that demonstrates the desire for all to be heard, fed and included. Look at each other, face to face. What do you see? Bewilderment? Pain? Weariness? Contentment? Happiness? When you hurt each other, which of course you will, forgive one another as God in Christ has forgiven you. When you struggle to imagine that God has chosen this particular person to be a part of the household of God, picture aunt Lucy, someone you love and respect and act accordingly. Remind yourself that Jesus’ commandments are not burdensome, but light. Jesus revealed all we need to know and promises to give us whatever we need. Unless we love one another, our joy can’t be complete. Astounding.
- Are there people you have a difficult time seeing as friends? Why? How can you begin to change your view of them?
- Is there an “aunt Lucy” in your life? Someone you love and respect but with whom you deeply disagree? How do you hold those two truths in tension?
- When have you had an experience of being an outsider? Were there people who helped you become part of the group? Have you ever been the one attempting to welcome a new person?
- What does it mean that Jesus calls us friends? What does it mean for us to call one another friends?
- Have you witnessed individuals or groups of people brought together by the Holy Spirit?
- When have you experienced an outpouring of the Holy Spirit? What happened? How did you know it was the Holy Spirit at work?
Want to receive Looking into the Lectionary content in your inbox on Mondays? Click here to join our email list!