Acts 11:1-18 Psalms 148 Rev 21:1-6 John 13:31-35
A little girl was sitting in her grandfather’s lap as he read a bedtime story. From time to time, she would take her eyes off the book and reach up to touch his wrinkled cheek. She was alternating stroking her own cheek then his cheek again. Finally, she spoke up, “Grandpa, did God make you?” He answered, “Yes sweetheart, God made me a long time ago.” “Oh,” she paused, “Grandpa, did God make me too?” “Yes, a little while ago.” Feeling their respective faces again, she observed, “God’s getting better at it, isn’t he?”
The essence of this story is that God made us. The child’s perspective, while funny, is quite endearing. And it helps reveal the fact that God is love, and God makes us in love. That means that love is part of our identities. Christ reiterates this to us often, but especially in the farewell discourses.
Today is the fifth Sunday in Easter. Eastertide 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 our hearts now? What would it take for us 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 parts to enable the process.
In the Gospel reading, Judas had gone out. The hour had come. There was no turning back. The betrayal had been set into motion. It could not be stopped. Judas had gone out and Jesus knew what it meant. He also knows that his disciples don’t get it. Although it is too late, the disciples are going to fight and resist and eventually run away. This is Jesus’ last opportunity to say what he wants to say. Instead of lecturing them like students, he addresses them with intimacy. It is a special moment in their journey. “Little children,” he says to these grown men who had been with him from the beginning, “listen to me now. I am getting ready to go to a place where you can’t come, so it’s important that we have this time together now.”
Many of us have experienced something similar – a final and intensive conversation we have with a loved one. During the last months of my brother’s life, I talked with him, laughed with him and shared stories with him. Near the end, he did not respond, but I know he knew that I was there. It was holy time, sacred space that I will remember for the remainder of my life. In the same way, we are meant to remember these words that Jesus spoke.
Jesus has decided to get right to the point, no time for beating around the bush. Putting aside his usual use of parables, he decides to tell it like it is. “I give you a new commandment,”he says, “that you love one another.” That’s it. Simple straight-forward. Not hard to understand. Easy to memorize. But so challenging to live into. There is always that one person who gets on your last nerve. Maybe it is qualities in ourselves we loathe that drives us crazy in that person. Maybe they are insensitive, judgmental, disrespectful, and shallow. Maybe they are like us.
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” How embarrassing it is for many of us who claim to be Christians. Can’t I just tell people I love them and keep my distance? Can’t I just write a check so I don’t see the face of those in need? Can’t I just keep my head down and act as if I care? Jesus wanted to make it easy for us. We don’t have to solve a complex equation, we have to love. We don’t have to save the world or move mountains, we have to love. Jesus wanted to make it easy for us, so that we could put all our attention into this one thing – love.
But, it’s not easy. It is a challenge that we are called to live into every day of our lives. Sometimes, it stops us in our tracks when we are called to love a family member who has caused us pain or done us wrong. Sometimes we are offended by a stranger.
But, Jesus doesn’t focus on Holy Scripture or the Creeds of the church to help define us as followers of Jesus. The New Testament wasn’t written until years after Jesus’ death. The Nicene Creed was hammered out at councils for the next 350 years. The Bible and the Nicene Creed have been very important to us over the years, while the one thing most important to Jesus gets lost as Christians wrestle with power and authority.
What Jesus wanted us to know, was that even though people fight wars over who held the correct beliefs, this was not Jesus’ primary concern. Jesus’ way was the way of little children, not the way of learned theologians and intelligent preachers. “Little children, I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” The commandment is not about what we believe, but it is about how we live.
If you have ever tried to forgive and love someone who had hurt you badly, you know how hard it is. You know you can’t do – can’t do it by yourself. You have the choice of forgetting about it or turning it over to God. With God’s help, we can be transformed, recreated and reformed in the image of love – the image of Jesus. In praying and pondering on how that can happen – three things came to mind. Praying, it is in prayer that we become more sensitive and more sensible. Attendance at weekly Eucharist feeds us and comforts us. Being an active part of the community of faith brings out the best in us to offer to others.
Prayer is one of the many things we do to live a full and mature Christian life. If we are serious about living our life of faith, then we should be willing to give time to prayer each day. Then prayer becomes a very important part of our lives.
But when the apostle Paul talks about prayer, he uses a very different language. He doesn’t talk about prayer being a part of life, but as all of life. He doesn’t mention prayer as something we should not forget, but states it as an ongoing concern. He doesn’t ask us to spend some of every day in prayer. Paul asks us to pray day and night, in joy and in sorrow, at work and at play. For Paul praying is like breathing.
Henry Nouwen says, “Prayer leads you to see new paths and to hear new melodies in the air. Prayer is the breath of life that gives you freedom to go and stay where you wish and to find the many signs that point out the way to a new land. Praying is not simply some necessary compartment in the daily schedule of a Christian or a source of support in time of need, nor is it restricted to Sunday mornings or mealtimes. Praying is living. It is eating and drinking, action and rest, teaching and learning, playing and working. Praying pervades every aspect of our lives. It is the unceasing recognitionthat God is wherever we are, always inviting us to come closer and to celebrate the divine gift of being alive.”
Holy Eucharist is an important part of our learning to love. In the breaking of the bread together, we reclaim our own brokenness. We become more aware than ever that we are taken, set apart as followers of God; that we are blessed by words and acts of grace; and that we are broken, not in revenge or cruelty, but in order to become bread which can be given as food to others. When two, three, ten or a hundred eat the same bread and drink from the same cup, and so become united with the broken and poured-out life of Christ, we discover that our own lives are a part of that one life and then we recognize each other as brothers and sisters.
Being an active member of a community of faith, requires us to show up, sign up and speak up. By forgetting to make our individual differences about competition and seeing these differences as potential contributions to a rich life together. Your strengths can balance out my weaknesses. In and through Christ, people of different ages and lifestyles, from different races and classes, with different language and education can join together and witness to God’s amazing presence in the world. When we form a Christian community, we come together not because of similar experiences, knowledge, problems, color or gender, but because we have been called together by the same Lord.
Only God enables us to cross the many bridges that separate us; only God allows us to recognize each other as members of the same human family; and only God frees us to pay careful attention to each other. This is why those who are gathered together in a community of faith are witnesses to the compassionate Lord. By the way we carry each other’s burdens and share each other’s joys, we testify to God’s presence in our world. And they will know we are Christians by our love!! Amen.