The Sixth Sunday of Easter
The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean
Acts10:44-48; John 15: 9-17

 


A lovelorn man was walking along a California beach one day, deep in prayer. After years of the single life, and no significant other, he wanted God to know he was in need of a partner—someone to love and to share with.

Suddenly, the sky clouded above his head and in a booming voice the Lord said, “Because you love me and because you have TRIED to be faithful to me in all ways, I will grant one wish—your heart’s desire.”

The man, faced with this opportunity, suddenly forgot his emotional need and blurted out, “Build me a private bridge to Hawaii. I love Hawaii and this way I can drive over anytime I want.”

The Lord, disappointed, said, “Your request is very materialistic. Think of the enormous challenges of that kind of undertaking. The supports required to reach to the bottom of the ocean. The concrete and steel it would take. I can do it, but it’s hard for me to justify your desire for worldly things. I want you to take a little time and think of what you really need, –a wish that you think would be good for you and, at the same time, honor and glorify me. What were you just praying to me about?”

The man thought for a minute and finally said, “You’re right. Here’s what I really want. Lord, I wish that I could understand women—really understand them. I want to know how they feel inside, what they’re thinking when they’re quiet. Why they cry at the least little thing, happy or sad. I want to know what they mean and how to respond when they say, ‘never mind’ or ‘nothing” or ‘it doesn’t matter’ or ‘you wouldn’t understand’ I want to understand! I want to know how I can make a woman truly happy.”

And God said, “You want two lanes or four on that bridge?”

We use the word “love” in many different ways. It can refer to emotions of liking, of affection or sentiment. It can refer to desires and urges for sensory pleasure or sexual excitement. It can refer to loyalty and trust, to family and even ethnic or national relationships. Or it can simply mean trying to understand better our neighbors and others close to us.

Most often, in a popular religious context, the word “love” brings to mind a kind of pervasive, sometimes sentimental feeling of tolerance for the lives of other people. But in this morning’s Scripture readings, we encounter another way of using the word “love.”

In both the letter of John and the gospel of John, the word “love” means specific, concrete actions toward others for their benefit. Now, it might on some occasions be accompanied by feelings or emotions as well, but those feelings are not essential to it.

This season of Easter is a good time to reflect on our Baptism. That’s why the Paschal Candle is moved to the front of the church during the Great 50 Days—as a visual reminder for us to reflect on our Baptism and Christ’s resurrection and the effect our initiation into the dying and rising of Jesus has had, and is having, on our lives, on our living.

When we were baptized, we promised to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and to strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being. And we renew those vows, this covenant with God, at least four times a year: these promises that are a description of exactly the kind of love talked about in our readings to today.

The call from God is to live with all people in the same love which characterizes the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—in the same love which characterized

Jesus’ willing acceptance of death on the cross for the human race. It’s not like we’re irresistibly loveable or deserving of God’s love, but we got it anyway. We get it anyway.

God, as revealed in the Scriptures and through our own experience, calls us not just to a general feeling of good will toward people but to love them. And to love them in a Christ-like way, through love in action.

Today’s story from the Acts of the Apostles is an example. This is one of the great breakthroughs in the early days of the church, the opening up of the church in love and acceptance. Because at first, you see, all Christians were Jews; and like human beings of every kind, they initially assumed that the benefits of the gospel were only for them and their kind (people just like them).

Now, certainly, from the beginning, others were attracted to the gospel. But the only way one could become a Christian was to first become a Jew. It was at Caesarea in Palestine that such categories and classifications of people, at least within the church, began to break down. A new thing was taking place.

We are told in the reading that “while Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon” the Gentiles. And the Jews who were there were astounded at this. In other words, it just didn’t compute that God would include these who were not among the special, chosen children of God.

But there was no doubt, for they were speaking in tongues and praising God. And Peter made the challenge that changed the church for ever. “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” Can anyone of us withhold God’s love or our own for these our brothers and sisters in Christ? The answer was no, and God’s covenant with Israel was opened to all people for all time.

A love—a Christian love—overcame and overpowered what Jews and Greeks were supposed to feel about each other. And a church was born.

In this story we find people moved by God to act generously to benefit others for whom they had no disposition to care for at all; To do specific things to help people in spite of how they feel about them. We find people overthrowing their society’s conventional attitudes and relationships for new attitudes and relationships.

“This is my commandment,” Jesus said, “that you love one another as I have loved you . . .No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Just as those first Christians were finding themselves reshaped and their understanding of their relationship to other people, different people, redefined, so you and I are in the process of that same kind of discovery, I think. I hope.

Our Baptism into the dying and rising of Jesus, which we celebrate today and every Sunday, has opened us (if we’ll have it) to a continual growth in and understanding of who we are and what God intends us to be.

The first Christians found a new life and a new identity as they lived in their baptismal life, fulfilling their baptismal vows. It made a lot of different people one people, a new people, a family whose life transcends all other categories of human identity.

Today the church is continuing to find that old identities, old categories and classifications and the feelings that go with them, are being transformed. God is doing a new thing, again. And we, with all human beings, are even now being converted into the family of God, into the people of God’s kingdom.
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.