A sermon for the Eucharist on the 6th Sunday of Easter, preached on Sunday 9 May 2021 by The Reverend Christopher Huitson. (Acts 10: 44-48; John 15: 9-17)
I have been reading recently about the Hittites. They are mentioned in the OT but are generally lumped together with minor nations like the Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and so on which was a bit unfair to the Hittites who were so powerful at one time that they were on a par with the Egyptian nation and engaged in battle with the Pharaoh. The land of Egypt was to the south of Israel and Judah while the Hittites occupied land to the north just below the Black Sea.
The religion of the Hittites was much like that of their neighbours. The gods were thought to be invisible and immortal and were associated with particular places. But in other respects – in their needs, interests and relationships with their worshippers – they were pictured as being quite human. That relationship was like that of a master to a slave. The god had to be fed, tended, appeased and even flattered. Even after all that, he could not be relied upon to be looking after his worshippers’ interests. Part of his time might be spent in amusement or travelling; sleeping or attending to other business and at such times his worshippers would call in vain for his help – as, for instance, did the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Elijah mocked them: “maybe he is deep in thought or engaged or on a journey; or he may have gone to sleep and must be woken up”
The Hittites used magic to encourage their gods to answer their requests – paths were laid and honey, oil and other pleasant substances placed on them to attract the gods.
The children of Israel saw things very differently and their perceptions were in tremendous contrast to the beliefs of the Hittites and their neighbours generally.
In the OT God revealed himself as the one and only God, a personal God, one who related to his people and could be relied upon. He entered into covenant agreements with the people. In due time a prophet like Hosea writing some 700 years BC could say to the people: “Let us strive to know the Lord.” “His justice will come to us like showers, like Spring rains that water the earth.” “Loyalty is my desire, not sacrifice, not whole-offerings but the knowledge of God.” And even “After 2 days he will revive us and on the third day he will restore us.” Of course, those latter words were immediately remembered by the followers of Jesus who suddenly found that it fitted in with the resurrection of Jesus, but perhaps more importantly these quotations speak of the relationship between God and his people being one of love and care. God is reliable.
So the best of the OT thinkers saw the personal nature of God and his desire for love from those who followed him. But it was not until the time of Jesus that this was made startingly clear. Jesus lived his life in such a way that God’s love was brought to the attention of all. His stories and parables and healings all pointed to a God who loved and who wanted us to love him. Jesus himself tells his disciples (in the gospel reading) that he sees them as friends not servants. We are called to show in our lives our love and worship of God.
And the crown of all this is the promise of resurrection for this is at the heart of the Christian gospel. It shows God loving his people as individuals. Each one is to be raised by God to new life and each will be the unique person that he is. None will be exactly the same as another but all will be different in infinite variety. We know little about what this new life will be like. Instead, we are given pictures – descriptions of a banquet – a happy time of feasting and good company. We are told of there being “many rooms in my father’s house”; we are given a description of what Jesus was like after he was raised from the dead – like his old self in many ways but very different in others. Even that seems to have been exceptional – a necessary showing of himself to convince the disciples that he was alive again through God’s power.
St Paul writing about the resurrection talks about change. He compares that change to what happens to a little seed – small hard and dead looking and certainly not particularly beautiful and yet capable of growing into a magnificent plant. Each seed grows into its own plant – flower or shrub or crop of wheat or vegetable – a worthy theme for Rogation Sunday. But St. Paul sees this as giving us a picture of the raising of the dead. In the same way the new life of resurrection bears no comparison with our present existence just as a plant looks not a bit like the seed from which it sprang. And yet, of course, there is a link. Without the seed there would be no plant. In the same way it is the people we are here in this life who are the beginnings of the spiritual beings we will become in the next life.
For our part we are to trust God. We are to deepen our relationship with him. “Be alert,” writes St. Paul, “stand firm in the faith, be brave, be strong. Do all your work in love.” And Jesus says in today’s gospel reading: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”