Sermon in a nutshell: “We should not make it difficult for the gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:1-21)
Today we are celebrating Promotion Sunday, Graduation Recognition, and Pentecost. When a child is born, not only the parents but also the whole village takes care of the child. All children grow with the love and care of the entire universe. At each step in their lives, therefore, we celebrate their advancement and promotion together.
Some go from preschool to kindergarten. Only God knows how many sighs were uttered and tears were shed to make that happen. Some go from kindergarten to elementary school. Many bruises and spilled bowls of cereals were required. Some go from the preteen years to becoming teenagers. Scary! Some of those teenagers will go on to college! I do not know how much yelling and how many sleepless nights have occurred. So, we celebrate their promotions with all the parents and teachers.
Then, here, we have graduates. As the litany for graduates says, “we give you blessings of good will and love as you journey forth into the world. We thank you for the laughter and fellowship that you have shared with us and pray that as you begin your next journey, remember the times that we all have shared with you. Use those memories as a beacon to guide you on your path…Use those memories to create a new path!”
Schools allow students to graduate not because they are perfect. Graduation simply means that they are now ready to move on to the next challenges in life. In this sense, it is like a new birth. When a baby is born, we do not ask, “Are you perfect?” We simply receive her as she is and nurture her when she is born. When students graduate from school, we receive them as members of our family and nurture them as well.
That was what happened in the Bible passage for today. When Paul and Barnabas preached the Gospel among the gentiles, they then believed in Jesus and became Christians (the followers of Christ). When the two disciples were successful, many jealous Jews criticized them, saying they were too lenient and did not require the laws in the Bible to be followed and did not properly disciple the people. They even argued that they should require circumcision for the new converts according to God’s commandments in Genesis 17. So they held council meetings in Jerusalem.
After many debates, Peter said, “Let us not put on the necks of gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear.” Peter emphasized that everybody was saved by the grace of Jesus. Then, James, the brother of Jesus, spoke also. “Let us not make it difficult for the gentiles who are turning to God.” James suggested that we should accept everybody requiring only minimum guidelines.
How could Peter and James do that? Because they experienced the power and communion of the Holy Spirit, they could trust the guidance and nurturing of the Spirit of the Lord. Even though we may lower the bar to accept everybody, the Holy Spirit will disciple them and train them to be great leaders of God’s Kingdom! That is why we welcome the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and on Promotion/Graduation Sunday. Even though the students are not perfect, the Holy Spirit will teach them how to move on and move up.
Brothers and sisters! Let us not judge others because of their life styles. Our job is to love them with the love of God. The powerful Holy Spirit will awaken any moral or spiritual teachings that each one of us needs in our heart. The Holy Spirit, as Jesus promised, will remind us of the teachings of Jesus and will help us to keep them in their lives.
We are all on the way HOME! We are all fellow travelers. We will find weaknesses in others and we will pray for them. We will see some great characteristics in others and we will imitate them. On our faith journey, we help each other to be more like Jesus.
On this Promotion/Graduation Sunday, let us all grow together. Welcome the Holy Spirit, who is our teacher and guide in our faith journey. Let us bless each other so that we all can finish this journey with joy and love!
- What is the next step that you need to take to be more like Jesus?
- When have you invited the Holy Spirit to be a guide in your life? Would you do that now? Then pray this prayer: “Holy Spirit, please come into my life and guide me. Teach me every day what to do and what not to do to be more like Jesus. Protect me from evil thoughts and empower me to works of mercy to expand the Kingdom of God. I welcome you, O, Spirit of Jesus! Come to me! In the name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.”