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6th Sunday of Easter - “We Proclaim His Favor!”

Acts 17: 22-31

Psalm 66: 1-8

1 Peter 3: 8-20

John 15: 1-8

Our theme for this Sunday is “We Proclaim His Favor.” We proclaim God’s favor to all men because His favor, His love, His mercy, and His grace is for all. He’s the Savior of all men; not just the chosen few, but all men.

Last week, from our gospel from John 14, Jesus said that He was going away to prepare a place for us, so that where He is, there we may be also. He wasn’t talking about a certain location, but He was talking about a status for us – a relationship with His Father on our behalf. Righteousness means right relationship with God. In John 14:19, Jesus said, “Because I live, you will live also.” Jesus is the standard. The Bible says that He’s the firstborn from among the dead. He is just the first of many who will rise from the dead as well. He is now a new creation and we are all to follow in the fullness of that new creation, so that what He is, we also will be. He is what the life of the world to come looks like. He’s the sneak preview of things to come.

In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, he said that God predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son. Because He lives the Divine life, now, the fullness of that eternal life we also will live. We also will follow Him. Jesus is the first fruit of many brothers. In Acts 17:31, in the PHILLIPS translation, it says, “God has fixed a day on which He will judge the whole world in justice by the standard of a Man whom He has appointed.” Jesus is the standard. God will judge the world in justice, meaning, He will set the world right according to the standard of this one Man. “That this is so He has guaranteed to all men, by raising this man, Jesus, from the dead.” Jesus is the guarantee that God will set all things right because Jesus is the beginning of all of these.

In the Message translation, it says, “He has set a day when the entire human race will be judged and everything will be set right.” People have the negative connotation of judgment. Psalm 96 says that the trees of the forest will rejoice, all creation will rejoice in anticipation of God’s judgment because He will judge the world in uprightness – in justice. God will set all things right, according to what Jesus has done, and according to what Jesus has won; that is, He has won victory over death. Today, we still see some traces of death, but God is at work and He’s setting all things right according to the victory of Jesus over death.

We then have a reason to hope, and to rejoice in anticipation of that hope. St. Paul also said in Ephesians 2:15 that Jesus created in Himself one new humanity. Before, there were the chosen people and there were the condemned or so-called rejected ones: the Jews and the Gentiles; the blessed and the cursed. Jesus destroyed the wall dividing them and He created in Himself one new humanity; one new human race; and therefore, making peace. Jesus’ work is all about uniting and reconciling together, gathering everything to Himself so that He can fill all in all.

The opposite is the enemy - the devil. His name is diabolos, which means “to divide into two.” This results in enmity, conflict, animosity, hostility, and hatred. Hence, do not be misled. Do not be manipulated. Do not be deceived. Awaken! If we allow ourselves to hate a brother, and to think that they are the “them” and the “us”, then we are being deceived by the enemy. This is the enemy’s work. However, Jesus’ work is all about unity; oneness. He created in Himself one new human race and we’re all in it. We’re all included. Don’t think that God is on our side and is against another. Don’t ever think that when we have a point and God agrees with us, He hates whoever we disagree with. No, because He proclaims His favor to all men.

St. Paul continues in Acts 17, “In Him, we live and move and exist.” St. Paul was talking to pagans, to the Greeks who were non-Jews – the Gentiles. All of us live and move and have our being. “As even some of your poets have said, ‘For we [pagans] also are His children’.” St. Paul, one of the greatest Theologians says that we are all His children, including non-Christians and non-Jews.

In Amos 9:7, the prophet said, “Do you Israelites think you are better than the far off Cushites or Ethiopians who are Gentiles? Am I not involved with all nations? Didn’t I bring Israel up from Egypt? Didn’t I also bring the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Arameans from Qir?” God did not just do something good for the Israelites, but He did, too, for the Gentiles. He proclaimed His favor not only to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles. In other translations, God asked the Israelites, “Are you more important to Me than Ethiopians?” He said, “The Ethiopians are no less important to Me than you are. You are no different.” It just so happens that Christians have been chosen ahead and have been given the favor ahead of others. God’s intention is to use us to proclaim His favor in reaching out to others. We are not more special than others. We are not more important than others. God loves us equally – all of us.

We might ask, “In John 14:6, Jesus said, ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father but through Me,’ so does it mean that only those who believe Jesus can come to the Father?” This is very true, but in Ephesians 2: 18, St. Paul says that because of Jesus, all of us can come to the Father by the Holy Spirit. All of us can go to the Father, through Him now, by way of the Holy Spirit. God reconciled all, the whole world, to Himself in Christ.

Jesus said, “If I am lifted up, I will draw all of them to me.” Some of us may be drawn first, but His intention is for all to know Him and to be drawn to Him. His favor is for all men. He doesn’t favor one and reject the other. His will is not to let one thousand fall our side and we be spared. This is not Christ’s will. His will is for no one to perish. Sometimes, we don’t understand; sometimes, we fall; sometimes, we perish. Sometimes, we experience a global pandemic. God’s favor, which is greater, is still with us; and the most important is that God’s favor is greater than anything the world can throw at us, and we will overcome because we are a people of hope.

At times, we may see the bad in people but God sees the good, just like He saw the good in us. He sees the good in others as well and He’s waiting for them to respond to His kindness so that they, themselves, would know Him and receive His favor. Again, Jesus said, “So that where I am there you may be also.” He wasn’t talking about location. He was talking about our status with the Father – our relationship with Him; but He also is talking about a stage of maturity. He’s talking about the process of us being conformed to the image of the Son of God, so that we would also reach His stature. One day, we will see Him because we will be like Him, and this is what we refer to as sanctification. God is at work in us; the Holy Spirit is at work in us; and Jesus is at work in us – to mold us into the image of Jesus until we will become like Him.

One line from a famous hymn entitled “The Church is One Foundation” says, “And the great church victorious shall be the church at rest.” I hope we don’t misunderstand this to mean that eternal life is a heavenly or celestial inactivity or idleness. We might be thinking that we are likened to angels doing nothing in heaven. Actually, one preacher said, we should change this to say that the great church victorious shall be the church at work. Eternal life is an active participation in the Divine life of God, as we see Jesus living.

Jesus said, “Because I live, you will live also.” We will live that active, Divine life. We will go about doing good. In fact, Jesus said, “Greater works that I have done, you shall do.” I’m not just talking about science and wonders and miracles; I’m talking about the godly works, the divine good works that He did – the mercy that He showed people, the hope He brought to those who were hopeless, the forgiveness He gave to those who were guilty, the life He restored to the death, and the encouragement He gave to the people. Because He lived this kind of life, we also will live this kind of life. The potential is in us because the Holy Spirit is at work in us.

Greater things, greater works, these we shall do. St. Peter tells us what we need to do starting now: like Jesus or according to the life He lived, do not repay evil with evil. Do not insult, or do not repay insult with insult. Instead, repay evil with blessing because to this we were called. (1Peter 3:8-9). Because Jesus lived a righteous life, we will also live a righteous life. This is our calling. We need to heed His words on the Sermon on the Mount and to follow the Summary of the Law, that is, to love God with all our heart, soul and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

1 Peter 3:13 encourages us, “Who will harm you if you do good?” Some will harm us or many will harm us as they have already done, but St. Peter says, “But even if you should be harmed, or even if you should be persecuted, you are still blessed.” With God’s righteousness, it is a no-lose situation. Continue to do according to Jesus’ righteousness. Jesus has set an example for us; He suffered for us – the just for the unjust – for the purpose that He might bring all of us to God; and that He may show all of us His favor.

This is the God’s ultimate purpose. This is the will of God. This is our calling, and this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.

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