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Sermon for Sixth Sunday in Easter 2018

Acts 10:44-48 Psalms 98 I John 5:1-6

John 15:9-17

A man in church enters the confessional and is pleasantly surprised to see a fully stocked bar with Guinness on tap. On another wall is a dazzling array of the finest Cuban cigars and a high-definition TV set. He say, “Forgive me, Father, it’s been a long time since my last confession. But I must say, the confessional booth is much more inviting these days.” The priest replies, “Wait a minute, you’re on my side!”

As we approach the end of the Easter season and move toward Pentecost, the first lesson from Acts focuses directly on the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church. This passage, which is referred to as the Gentile Pentecost, occurs at the end of Peter’s sermon preached before the house of Cornelius in Caesarea. We are told that during the very course of Peter’s sermon, “the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.” Cornelius and Peter were very different people. Cornelius was wealthy, a Gentile, and a military man. Peter was a Jewish fisherman turned preacher. But God’s plan included both of them. In Cornelius’ house that day, a new chapter in Christian history was written as a Jewish leader and a Gentile Christian convert each discovered something significant about God at work in the other person. Cornelius, a new convert, needed Peter and his gospel teaching and fellowship to grow in his faith. Peter needed Cornelius and his salvation experience to know that Gentiles were included in God’s plan. You and another believer may need each other to better understand how God works. That is another reason to be a part of our faith community – to be there for others in their faith journey.

In First John, this passage relates a favorite theme – believing, knowing, loving, obeying, begetting, and overcoming. The object of believing is the confession “that Jesus is the Christ.” This section of First John gracefully explores the interweaving of faith, love and obedience, centered in Jesus Christ. It examines the combination of love and action required by children of God, the nature of Christian obedience in the world, and the identity of Jesus Christ.”

In John’s Gospel, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” To think that love is more than a feeling helps us better understand this passage – a passage that joins love and obedience. Feelings are not commanded, but love can be, for to love is to be for another person, to act for another’s good, to do something that benefits another with no gain on your part. This is much more than liking a person. To love obediently is to submit to God’s own precedent and call, even if loving costs dearly, as God’s love did. Eugene Peterson says, “Obedience is rooted in love not fear; it is activated by affection not by force.” By placing love and obedience at the beginning of this passage, it is clear that the promises offered are for those who love obediently, not for all.

Easter is the celebration of hope over despair. The tomb from which Jesus rises is the one we call our hearts. Is hope, life, Jesus, dead or alive in your heart now? What would it take for you to rise? The world depends on the Christ rising in us as much as it ever did on the opening of the tomb in Jerusalem. Hope is the certainty that what God must do, God will do – provided we do our part to enable the process.

In Nora Gallagher’s book, Practicing Resurrection, she talks about how we live out our Easter faith. After her brother’s death, she spent time in a monastery to reconnect to God. She heard of others, after three days of worship and silence, having their own resurrection experience. She realized that is what all of us are doing “practicing resurrection” with each decision we make, with each step we take, with each person we love. She was reminded of Frederick Buechner’s words, “The place where God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” In this season after Easter, we work, live, share, help each other piece together how we are to live as followers of Jesus.

Gallagher reminds us that we spend so much of our time in the church “believing” in the resurrection or “not believing.” What if the resurrection is not about the appearances of Jesus alone, but also about what those appearances pointed to, what they asked. It is what we do with those appearances that matter – make them into superstitions or use them as stepping stones to a new life. We are to practice resurrection.

When things are going well, we are elated. When hardships come, we sink into depression. But true joy transcends the rolling waves of our circumstances. Joy comes from a consistent relationship with Jesus Christ. When our lives are intertwined with Christ, he will help us walk through adversity without sinking into debilitating lows and manage prosperity without moving into deceptive highs. The joy of living with Jesus Christ daily will keep us level-headed, no matter how high or low our circumstance.

We are to love each other as Jesus loved us, and he loved us enough to give his life for us. We may not have to die for someone, but there are other ways to practice sacrificial love: listening, helping, encouraging, giving. Think of all those people, or someone in particular who needs this kind of love today.

Because Jesus Christ is Lord and Master, he should call us servants; instead he calls us friends. How comforting and reassuring to be chosen as Christ’s friends. Because he is Lord and Master, we owe him our unqualified obedience, but most of all, Jesus asks us to obey him because we love him. In the Jewish tradition, genuine friendship requires a balance of power – the ability to look one another in the eye as equals.

Consider the possible meanings of the statement, “I do not call you servants any longer…but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from the Father” (John 15:15). Imagine first what it means in the context of the immediate story line: Christ is about to leave the disciples, and he is suddenly announcing a new understanding of their relationship. At the very time when they are feeling the least secure and will soon abandon him, Christ grants them the dignity and responsibility of being best friends, of having heard from God. In the Greek, it is even stronger: they are no longer “slaves” but “friends.” In ancient times, to be called a “slave” of a good master was not denigrating, - it could even be a title of respect. But still “slave” was not on the same level as a friend. A slave’s status obligated him to support a master through difficult times, but a friend would do it freely, for reasons of mutual commitment and affection. I have heard a friend defined as someone who comes in when the rest of the world goes out. Generations later, when the community of John heard this passage, they might have received it as a call to shoulder the responsibility of remaining faithful to Christ their friend, even in the face of persecution and increasing troubles. What, then, does it mean for us today to be Christ’s friends? If we picture ourselves only as his servants, we may be avoiding the greater mutuality that Christ seeks with us as his friends.

Gallagher talks about serving the bread at communion for the first time. She said when a person opened their palms, it was as if a bird had unfolded its wings right in front of her. When she moved to the next person, she had to wait for them to prepare to receive the bread. In opening their hands, each person was giving permission. She wondered if this was what God was doing – waiting, patient, respectful – while we worked on how to get our hands to open – our hearts open. In looking into their eyes and touching their palms, she began to experience serving each other as the body of Christ. We are the body of Christ, we are the bread of heaven.

It is in our sharing the bread and the cup, we know more about the man Jesus. In handing out Christ’s Body, we see Christ’s humility, his compassion, his love. It is Jesus that ties the movements of our lives together and to each other. Communion still calls us out of the boat onto the shore, out of apathy into love, out of indifference to action, out of pain into blessing. We are meant to respond as friends. We are to pick up the load of another. We are to pray for another. We are to care, share and love another. And we are able to do that because God’s love abides in us. The Greek word for abide – means to sojourn, to tarry, to lodge. God lives in us - with us – for us – through us.

I love this prayer written by a nun in Ireland, “For what was, thanks. For what is to come, yes.” We are to trust God’s plan for us and in trusting, we are to love. It is the power of love that brings us together to make a whole, to make the body of Christ. It is out of chaos, out of challenges, out of joy, out of journeying together we have been knitted together. We are here because Jesus abides in us, we are able because Jesus abides in us, we are gifted, we are empowered, equipped and called because Jesus abides in us. Amen.

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