What are friends for?

Signpost for Sunday 7 June 2015 (Tikanga Sunday): Isaiah 42:10-20; Acts 10: 34-43; John 15:9-17

Apologies to those of you who aren’t from New Zealand this week. The readings we have down here aren’t the same as those in the northern hemisphere or indeed in any other country. I’ve gone with the choice from NZ lectionary because most of you are NZers, though, so I hope no-one minds. I’ve also tried to explain why the readings are different below*.

For now let’s just say that, in summary, Tikanga Sunday could be seen as a kind of celebration of Galations 3:26-28. (Which begs the question why that’s not included in this weeks readings, don’t you think?) That said, there seem to be a few parallels between what was going on in the first century and this Sunday in NZ, particularly when we look at Acts and John.

I think it’s a bit weird to read the reading from Acts out of context (which it will be in most churches this Sunday) because it’s not really about Peter doing what Samuel Marsden did on Christmas day in 1814 – preach the ‘good news’ to a group from another nation (for other nation, read Maori) hoping to baptise them in the near future. I bet that’s the way a few people will see it this week. But have a closer look. The clue is in verse 34. Peter is the one whose world view changes most because of his encounter with this Roman centurion and his household. Less so the other way round (Acts 10:1-2 has already told us that Cornelius ‘feared God’ and ‘prayed constantly’). What seems to be happening here is Peter – who represents the early believers, followers of The Way, to whom Luke is writing – really understands for the first time that the kingdom of God Yeshua had spoken about is not going to be any kind of new Jewish led kingdom at all. Being Jewish doesn’t make any difference any more. That was a big news for first century Jewish followers of Yeshua to swallow: they needed to to see from a completely different perspective as much as anyone else.

So much for the ancient world, what about how our 21st century world affects how we see things today? Well, have a look at John 15:9-17. There’s a lot of beautiful stuff about being chosen, fruit, abiding and keeping commandments. (I don’t think Jesus, by the way, is talking about the Ten Commandments; he’s talking about his new commandment: John 13:34 and John 15:17.) But it is verses 13-15 that are the real revelation. We live in a world full of Facebook ‘friend requests’, BFFs – best friends forever, and never ending re-runs on TV of Rachel, Ross, Monica, Chandler and Joey’s misadventures. For first century Christians, though, friendship was always a very serious matter indeed. It wasn’t just a personal honour to be called someone’s friend, it meant you had to treat each other as family, literally. It entailed serious obligations. To be a friend meant to look out for the welfare of the other person and their family; to see the other’s needs as being as important as your own. Equally, first century friendship meant you could count on your friend to return that same level of concern and care for you and yours.

One minute you think you’re a servant (taking orders), the next you’re not. Big stuff.

[* Offically being the three tikanga church in NZ means that the “Church of the Province of New Zealand became The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia” in 1992. Most people, though, see this Sunday as a celebration of a unique way of worshiping – embracing three different world views, customs, cultures and protocols; those of Maori, Pacific Islanders and Pakeha (European settlers). It should affect how we welcome people, how we speak to each other, how we approach funerals and much more. Each culture has its own way of doing those things that have developed over time and each way of doing things is respected and accepted as a valid part of official worship in New Zealand. Well, that’s my take on it anyway.]

Paul

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