Get Past It
Updated: May 17, 2022
Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C, RCL, Acts 11:1-18, Revelation 21:1-6, John 13:31-35
It seems so simple. So easy to do. Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. Jesus continues, “by this, by this example, by your example, everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” These few words that we hear are so difficult to live out.
I pray that it is true, that this group of people can look around the room and say we love one another. And I pray that we do love more than most other people. And even if we could somehow quantify our love and prove that we truly do love more deeply than most, we would need to be extremely cautious; for I am sure we have not arrived yet. I think if we look within ourselves, we will know that we do not love everyone the way Christ loves us. For if that were true, we would be living in the new creation, the new world.
In Revelation, John of Patmos has a great vision. The vision reminds me of fall and winter when plants die back, seemingly lifeless and dead. Some plants lose everything, there is nothing to see of its existence unless you dig for the bud of life, dormant under the ground. With the warm sunshine of spring, new growth begins. Plants send out shoots and leaves. They bud and flower, even bigger than the year before. For John, after the tribulation and all evil is wiped out, the entire earth has passed away. Yet through the love of God and Christ, what was old becomes new, reborn into a new creation.
In this vision, the new creation is not other worldly in a heaven far away. No, the new creation is right here. This very planet is reborn. The new Jerusalem, the heavenly city, comes down from heaven and merges with the earth, consummated like a bride and her husband in marriage. We find that God’s home is no longer transcendent in some heaven far away but immanent here with us. It says the home of God is among mortals and He will dwell with them. Think of the Garden of Eden in which God roamed the garden with Adam and Eve. They could call out to each other, and no one was ever too far away. John says, in the new creation, no one cries for what was lost, for what was lost isn’t truly gone but has been transformed into perfection. This is the promise that we have through Christ. Christ is the firstborn of this new creation; a new creation that has already begun. A promise that says we and our loved ones will become a new creation, made perfect and live in perfection for eternity. It is because we have not arrived at this perfection and are in the process of making new, that I can confidently say, none of us, as of yet, love one another like Christ loves us. And this is what we read in the book of Acts.
Peter just returned from a trip where he visited strangers. People of a different culture, who wore different clothes, ate different food, spoke a different dialect, and have vastly different religious backgrounds. I think it is hard to express how different the people of Caesarea would be from Simon Peter and his companions. So, when Peter arrives back in Judea, his friends can’t believe that he went to a place where they eat foods that are prohibited. These people are not Kosher, they are unclean, and their religious practices are an abomination. They do not love their neighbors as Christ loves them.
Peter tells them of his vision in which God tells him that the rules of Kosher food are no longer in effect. He can eat any of the animals, for how can God make anything profane, wicked, or distasteful. At that very moment, he woke from his vision and three profane men are knocking on his door. The Spirit told him to go with them and make no distinction between them and us.
It is clear that God told Peter that all of his creation is good. All the animals, all the people, and I assume all the plants, are good. In one brief moment, we find that Peter has to get past religious and cultural ideas that have been ingrained in him since birth. His world view has to shift for what was bad is now good. What was profane is now to be loved.
Peter continues telling his friends how they and these vastly different people are actually the same. They are just like them. They even experienced the Holy Spirit as they did at Pentecost. We find that this visit enriched Peter just as much as the people from Caesarea. This encounter was so profound that Peter recalls how his life has been touched by Christ through baptism and love. It is so profound that Peter’s companions now believe that these strange people are also God’s people. That Christ has made them equal.
All of this makes me wonder if there are people in this church whom we don’t know very well. And if so, maybe we can spend time in coffee hour or in a coffee shop getting to know one another a bit better. Are there ways to engage a homeless person in conversation? Instead of just ignoring them or handing them money, can we make a point to listen to what they have to say, empathize with their situation, and get to know who they are? Are there others we meet, the grocery clerk, those who serve us in restaurants, or our neighbors at the other end of the block who we don’t know? And if so, can we find a way to change that, so at least on some level, we can say we love them as Christ loves us.
If we truly believe that God loves us and offers us unending life and that Christ makes no distinction between me, you, or any person anywhere, then who are we, or as Peter says, who am I that I can hinder God? Let us not hinder God or the good works of the Lord but get beyond ourselves and love one another.