Sermon by Fr Peter Wolton, Sunday 6 May 2018, Easter 6, United Benefice of Holland Park

Sermon by Fr Peter Wolton, Sunday 6 May 2018, Easter 6, United Benefice of Holland Park

In the early 1900s a lighthouse was built. It looks just like any Trinity House light house, the sort we see on coastal paths here in Britain. Behind it stand two cottages for the operators and their families. This is a very remote place, a headland below which seals nestle from a massive swelling ocean. On the land above the main population is kangaroos. It’s on an island off the South Coast of Australia, suitably named Kangaroo Island.

When the lighthouse was built, the only communication with the outside world was the fortnightly supply boat.

And the two neighbouring families who lived behind the lighthouse were not on speaking terms.

What a negation of Jesus’s commandment: This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

What a tragedy!

Lives spent in enmity in a landscape of openness and wildness, distant views, and big skies.

The families experienced first-hand Isaiah’s words - that the heavens were higher than the earth,

The thoughts of the families were not God’s thoughts

We too can hold grudges – grudges and anger that consume and suffocate the potential of experiencing the sort of euphoric joy and exhilaration shouted out in our Isaiah reading. The transformative healing provided by acknowledging God:

Today’s readings all call us to consider how we engage with each other.

The lesson (as in teaching) from Acts tells of overcoming perceptions of those who we perceive to be different.

and what happens when the power of the Holy Spirit is unleashed .

The Book of Acts reveals the dawning realisation of St. Peter and the early church that the saving love of God, as manifested by Jesus, was not for the exclusive use of the Jews. In today’s reading St. Peter finds himself sent by God to the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion, and in this house, Peter exclaims “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.”

This breaking down of barriers, this taking forward of God’s plan, had been foretold in Isaiah “See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,  for he has glorified you.“

God wants us not to be divided by race, gender, sexuality, so called social status or anything else. But how do we make this happen?

It happens when the love that comes from the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the world.

This love from the Holy Spirit, which Jesus commands us to display, is a different sort of love from the protective love that we might feel towards a loved one, in say, our family. It is a love which transports us beyond the protective barriers we surround ourselves with – it’s a love that enables us to encounter those who we would not normally encounter.

It’s love for those we find difficult to love – the sort of love that saints might display – people who love those who are perceived to be different, the love that makes a difference – the Mother Teresas, the Leonard Cheshires, the Richard Carr Gomms who founded Abbeyfield and other charities for the lonely and mentally ill, whose grandfather, was chairman of the London Hospital, and befriended John Merrick, known as the ‘Elephant Man’ who was given a home in the hospital.
This love, poured out in the early church revolutionised human relations, drawing together people who would not normally come together. It enabled members of the new church to go and bear fruit, fruit that has lasted. The love of the Holy Spirit enabled people to put aside fear of “the other.”

Protecting the “other” is now enshrined in law by the Equality Act. The Act defines nine protected characteristics – or what for some, might be categorised as “otherness.” (I’m not going to run through them–if you want to know more, look them up and ask who many people you know with protected characteristics).

But how often is it that those with protected characteristics come together as part of a united body? The church is one of those places where this happens. The church as a body has our differences, but we should celebrate that we remain a place where those who are different can come together. 

Let us close in prayer by asking our heavenly Father to assist us in welcoming people in to our lives, especially those who we might think are different to us,
that if we bear grudges like the families of the lighthouse operators on Kangaroo Island, we lay them aside and make peace
and that in our dealings over this coming week, we display the love that Jesus commanded us to show, so that we and those we meet, may bear fruit, fruit that lasts.