Fifth Sunday of Easter

Pastor Eric Deibler

  • Acts 11:1-18
  • Psalm 148
  • Revelation 21:1-6
  • John 13:31-35

Ahhhh. It’s springtime. Finally!! When I was a kid, we used to wait… And wait… And wait… And wait… Until the day finally arrived when the temperature rose to more than 60 degrees! And why was that day so important? Because it meant that spring had officially arrived in the Deibler house! Which, in turn, meant that we could finally put on T-shirts!!! And once we got to the time of year when days were reliably 60 degrees or warmer, then we knew that it was only a matter of time before we started hitting 70-degree days!! Which, of course, meant shorts!!!

More importantly it meant the beginning of Saturdays that seemed to last forever! From early morning ‘til evening, running around. Inside the house. Outside the house. Inside the house. Outside the house. Inside the house. Outside the house. Inside the house. Until finally my mother would warn us, quite sternly, “Look. Decide whether you’re going to be inside, or outside.  But whatever you decide, stop this constant running in and out.

I suppose this was due to the screen door was constantly being opened and then allowed to slam shut. A big resonant wooden door that would be drawn closed with surprising speed by the spring stretched between it, and the door jam. Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Inside or outside. You decide!

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” We’re gathered in the name of Christ. But are we on the inside, or the outside? We speak in the name of Christ about love. We want to be the embodiment of Christ-like love. The kind of love each one of us is called to have. By the grace of God, we possess and share this love, should we in fact be following Christ’s way.

We know the commandments concerning love: We know about who we should love and how we should love them. “What is the greatest commandment”, Jesus is asked. And he replies, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and the second is like it – love your neighbor as yourself.”

But how easy is it, really, to love someone else? Especially if our own experience of love is flawed? Especially if we are unaware of how much we are loved? Especially if we forget about what it means to be on the outside? The story from the book of Acts is a story about being on the inside vs. being on the outside. It affirms that the status quo cannot and will not contain the Gospel. It affirms that the message of the Gospel cannot be contained by our ideas of propriety, no matter how well conceived and no matter how valid they are. And it asserts that we cannot label people as “unclean”. The Gospel doesn’t tolerate drawing lines of distinction. To exclude anyone from the Gospel, based upon arbitrary decisions on our part, is to violate the integrity of the Gospel itself.

At the end of the Matthew’s Gospel we have the story of Christ commanding the disciples to do what we will be doing here today: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Too often, we approach this task from the perspective of “insiders.” We see ourselves as the “chosen” who are sent into the world to help others see the error of their ways, and to conform more to us. But if we listen to the story from Acts carefully, we realize that we are not the “insiders” at all! We are the “outsiders” who have been accepted and allowed, by the grace of God, into the work of the Gospel in the world. We are the new work of God in the world. What we really are is subversives! We’re the subversive element of the Gospel: the salt, the light, the leaven that will transform the world around us.

To really love another, we often need a standard or guide to follow. But even then, we need help – help to not only know what love is – but to know that the love we need is within us; that it is embracing us and has the power to embrace others through us, especially to embrace those others towards whom we may not feel the love.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength and mind. And love your neighbor as yourself. These commands, Jesus said – and all the Rabbi’s agreed – summarize the Law and The Prophets. The same law, which Jesus says, will not pass away until all is accomplished. To that law – that law which can be most difficult for us to keep – Jesus added one commandment, and one commandment only, during the three years of his ministry – the commandment heard in our Gospel reading this morning – the one given by Jesus as Judas departs from the Last Supper to betray him to his death.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” As I have loved you, so you must love another. Which begs the question, “How is it that Jesus loves us?” Is it not by giving himself away for us? By blessing us even when he knows that we are not following – and perhaps will not follow – him. By being pro-active in love – rather than simply reactive?

Look at the cross. Look at this table where the body and blood of Jesus are lifted up, so that we can be fed and reminded. This is the love that wants to embrace us. This is the love that is more than simply our guide and our model. It is the love that, when received, is more than able to pour itself out upon others, no matter how we might “feel” about them. It’s the love of the one who gave himself for us while we were still at odds with God; It’s the freely given love of the one whose faithfulness destroys our death and whose resurrection restores our life.

There was a teacher who was helping one of her kindergarten students put his boots on. He asked for help and she could see why. With her pulling and him pushing, the boots still didn’t want to go on. By the time the second boot was finally on, she had worked up a sweat.

She almost whimpered when the little boy said, “Oops, they’re on the wrong feet.” She looked and sure enough, they were. It wasn’t any easier pulling the boots off then it was putting them on. She managed to keep her cool as together they worked to get the boots back on – this time on the right feet.

He then announced, “These aren’t my boots.” She bit her tongue rather than get right in his face and scream, “Why didn’t you say so?” like she wanted to. Once again, she struggled to help him pull the ill-fitting boots off. Then he said, “They’re my brother’s boots.  My Mom made me wear them.” She didn’t know if she should laugh or cry.

She mustered up the grace to wrestle the boots on his feet again. She said, “Now, where are your mittens?” He said, “I stuffed them in the toes of my boots…”

Ever have one of those days???  We all have! The question is – will we bite our tongues – and do that good thing we desire to do? Will we face the countless little crosses that appear before us each day? Will we willingly take on the burdens that should not be ours to take – despite a lack of appreciation and understanding among those whom we are helping?

This is what love does: It accepts the little crosses, knowing that the large cross has already been taken for us, knowing that because Jesus has accepted us, so we can accept others in his love – that we can trust them into his care, his judgment, his mercy, and his righteousness. And never more so than with those towards whom love is hardest to show: the self that fears the evil within. And the strangers, who stand before us screaming words like “crucify him” and holding in their hands the nails of execution.

Love one another as I have loved you. This means be open to the new and to that which was previously impossible for us to be open to. To be open – as Peter was open, in today’s reading from the Book of The Acts. Open in his imperfect, human, but inspired way, to those he had considered unacceptable; to those that all the apostles had previously thought to be outside of the loving embrace of God. Open to the gentiles, the foreigners, to those viewed by all as unclean: as unholy, as undesirable.

For us that means being to be open to those that our “wisdom” and our feelings tell us are unclean, unholy, unacceptable, and undesirable. It may be someone in your own family who has hurt them beyond words. It may be the nameless homeless people who stand at every intersection. Maybe it’s your employer, someone who owes you something, or some group of people that have done injury to us or our world.

God will judge all people, not us. Blessed be God for that! Blessed be the one whose love never fails – Who wants to give us that love, and who vows to take care of all who follow him, to nurture them and help them to grow and to usher them into the blessedness of his eternal kingdom. God will judge all people, not us. Love one another as I have loved you!

God asks a question of his people through the prophet Isaiah, in the 49th Chapter of the Book of that Prophet.  He asks of his people who are in exile for their sins: Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? And he answers:  Even these may forget.  Yet I will not forget you.  See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me. Christ has inscribed us on the palm of his hands. He does not forget us.

The question of God’s love for us is answered with a promise – a promise that came to pass for Israel, and even now is coming to pass among those of us who are willing to see:

Isaiah continues:  Your builders outdo your destroyers, and those who laid you waste go away from you.  Lift up your eyes all around and see; they all gather, they come to you.  As I live, says the Lord, you shall put all of them on like an ornament, and like a bride you shall bind them on.  Surely your waste and your desolate places and your devastated land– surely now you will be too crowded for your inhabitants, and those who swallowed you up will be far away.

Love one another as I have loved you. God loves us most powerfully. And gives us the power to love others. Know that God loves you – – that God loves you without condition and will make your life full and abundant as you embody that same divine love in the world around you. Amen.

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