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Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Cross in the Room

John 13:31-35
Acts 11:1-8
Psalm 148
Revelation 21:1-6

 We have before us this morning a beautiful and rich smorgasbord of scripture readings, on a Sunday where we have remembered our Baptism, will soon celebrate, bless, and ask God’s protection on gardens, fields, and the growing things that sustain us, and share once again in the means of grace at the table of our Lord.

My Lord, What a Morning! (I feel like I should break forth in song here). As I read through these lessons again and again in preparation for this morning, I had a hard time choosing just one to preach on. So I decided to take on the entire smorgasbord. We should be out of here by about 4 o’clock this afternoon. (Just kidding)

To try to pull a single theme out of these readings might appear to be a challenging exercise at first glance. First we have Peter speaking to the circumcised believers of the early church in Jerusalem, that is, Jewish converts to Christianity, explaining to them that God has given the Gentiles the same gift as God has given the Jews, without distinction. They are included in the love of God and in the gift of salvation.

The psalm is one of praise to God for the fruits, fowl and fauna of the earth, for all that resides in, under and over the earth, the seas and the skies.

The reading from Revelation relates a vision that has been given to John of Patmos, which reveals a new creation which has dawned through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is a creation in which God continues to abide through and through, as we await its completion – its being brought to fruition - at Christ’s return.

Finally, we have this lovely Gospel reading, which is so familiar, containing this new commandment as it does - this commandment to love. Jesus reveals that it is through this loving that all will know that we are Christ’s disciples – and will therefore know the love of God.

It is this commandment, I think, that ties all of these scriptures together and presents us our theme. God’s love binds us together. It points us in the direction of discipleship. It shapes who we are and how we are to carry out our mission – in love and in service born of love.

The commandment in this text is one of the more famous statements in the whole bible, and as Christians it seeks to guides our behaviors and decisions. It is lived out in our actions and in our attitudes.

It is not pointed inward, but is always pointed outward. It is not about us. It is about God! And it is nothing new. Loving one another is part of the Jewish tradition, is present in the Greco-Roman world that surrounded these original disciples and early Christians, and evidence of God’s love is present throughout the richness of God’s creation.

Love is where it’s at, People! It sounds so easy, doesn’t it?

And yet, we know that it isn’t always easy, is it?

Which reminds me of a story I heard recently:

One Sunday a priest was finishing up a series on marriage. Of course he talked a great deal about the necessity of love being at the core of the union, and he mentioned this commandment of Christ’s. At the end of the service he was giving out small wooden crosses to each married couple. He said, "Place this cross in the room in which you fight the most and you will be reminded of Jesus’ new commandment and you won’t argue as much." One woman came up after the service and said: “You’d better give me five crosses.”

We can all probably agree that it is usually pretty easy to love those who are part of our “family” – however you define family – even if it sometimes takes a cross in each room to remind us of the meaning and cost of love.

We can pretty safely say we love those who look like us and hold the same ideological values and wants as we do. And it’s easy to say we love someone, even when sometimes we hold deep personal animosity toward them.

It’s hard to act with love toward those we don’t understand, those who don’t agree with us, those who stand for the things we think are wrong. It’s challenging to acknowledge that people who look, speak, believe and behave differently than we do are the ones, together with those we favor, that we are called to love.

And yet, love, as Jesus does it, is not simply the absence of hatred. Love is living, dedicated action - born testament to valuing, caring for, and wishing the best for the other – and at times requires participating in bringing the best, even when we are in conflict with the other. As Jesus did love, we are to do love.

We remember that right after he said these words, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, showing them that love is embodied in humble service. Jesus shared bread with the very one he knew would, within hours, betray him and hand him over to die.

Here, at the Last Supper, when Jesus knew he had to prepare his disciples for his absence – for soon, he will die on the cross, and they will be left to carry this mandate to love into the world without him at their side - Jesus showed them what love looks like.

They will be fearful. They will be anxious. They will not know where this road will lead.

My friends, these are appropriate days in which to hear and contemplate these words, and think about how our role as disciples of Christ, following this commandment should shape our thoughts, behaviors and reactions.

I don’t know about you, but lately, it seems that there are days when it honestly feels like the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, driven there by deep divides that bring out the worst in people – including us.

This election cycle has been described as being without parallel, in recent history anyway, in terms of the hate-filled, divisive rhetoric that polarizes and defeats us. Many people are fearful. Many people are anxious. Many people are concerned about where this road will lead.

Regardless of who you favor or how you will cast your vote, these deep divisions among us must not lead us to forget this very central command and characteristic that Christ demands – love one another. But we are reminded through this scripture of Christ’s example and words. Have love for one another. Care for one another. Respect and honor one another as creations of God and as co-inhabitors of this world that God so lovingly created and sustains.

Loving one another, Christ tells us to work together to love and reach out to and care for the poor, the outcast, the disadvantaged, the homeless, the refugee, the abused, the prisoner, the addicted, the diseased, the underemployed, the children, the lost sheep.

Jesus shows these disciples that to participate in his kingdom work, they must “be” with Jesus through love – loving the world he is leaving them, and loving one another with depth and humility and humor and devotion and strength.

As love binds together the biblical readings we have this morning, love binds us together as disciples of Christ. We love because God first loved us. We reach out in care and devotion to all whom God created because Jesus did so himself and has shown us the way.

We learn and teach by example, and as we watch Jesus, others are watching us, to see what loving as disciples of Christ look like. We teach about God’s love and demonstrate the love of Christ by what we say and do. That is a delightful – and daunting – truth.

The love of God comes to us anew each day through our baptism. It is love that brings with it grace – and the forgiveness of sin as we struggle, and sometimes – often - fail, to fulfill God’s desire that we be Christ for the world.

The love we are called to is sometimes easy, sometimes made evident in everyday acts among our friends and between strangers; and at other times it is hard, - loving, forgiving and valuing those we are in deep disagreement with. Loving action means going to places and following paths of which we cannot see the ending.

God has created us for love and by God’s mercy and grace God sent Jesus to embody love, to teach about love, to model loving action, and to demand love from those who would follow him. As Christians, through prayer and discernment, we seek to discover how we may best participate in God’s mission to love, care, and do justice.

As students and disciples on the Way of Christ, with love at the core of our action and being, may we embrace others – no matter who they are – because we know that God blesses us in order that we might love as God loves – without distinction

As lovers of Jesus, let us also be lovers of justice and peace, mercy and grace, forgiveness and truth. And when we struggle, let us remember the cross “in the room” – whereby God reminds the lengths to which God will go to love us unto eternity.

There is a beautiful prayer that is part of the service of morning prayer printed in our hymnals, one which reflects the courage and inspiration we need to go forth loving as Christ loves:

Let us pray. O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us.


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