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Easter 5C Sermon
John 13: 31-35,
Acts 11: 1-8
April 24, 2016

 

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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our father be with us, in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

It may seem a little bit strange that today, a month after we celebrated the festival of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday we heard again a segment of the account of Jesus’ final night with his disciples. Earlier in John 13, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, an act of humility and love, especially for the Son of God! He has predicted his own betrayal and pointed out his betrayer; and just after Judas leaves, Jesus shares these wonderful words with the other eleven. He doesn’t talk about Judas behind his back; he doesn’t try to formulate a plan to escape from those seeking his life so that he can lay low for a while, until things blow over. Instead, he prepares his disciples for what life will be like when he is gone. He talks about the events that are about to happen in words that don’t sound fearful or sad. Rather he talks about how he is about to be glorified and about how God will be glorified in him. He speaks lovingly to them, calling them, “little children,” knowing that his absence will send them into a tailspin for a while. But he also gives them the strength and the guidance to go on with a new commandment: to love one another just as Jesus has loved them. And when they love one another, the rest of the world will know that they are Jesus’ disciples.

In the following verses, Peter gets his chance – he asks Jesus where he is going, and is told that he cannot come along. Peter says he will lay down his life for Jesus, and Jesus tells him that before the rooster crows, he will deny Jesus three times. This new commandment that Jesus gives is bookended by a betrayer and a denier, and Jesus remains steadfast in his love for all of them. Love, it seems, is the key to being a follower of Jesus.
When Jesus speaks about this kind of love, it is a theological concept, not a feeling that one person has toward another. Love is an act of the will, it’s not affection that might fade over the years or depend upon feelings. Love is when a person commits him or herself to others regardless of their worth or abilities to reciprocate. When people are joined in marriage, their love grows over years when it is tended by physical contact, communication and raising a family. But I believe that marital love will also be strengthened when the two married persons see themselves as stronger together than they are apart, overcoming times when they disappoint or anger each other in order to love and care for their own children, family, neighbors and even the stranger who is in need.

The church is also a place where sharing Jesus’ love helps us to overcome times of need or infighting or challenges. We don’t participate in the life of our church family because of the good feelings it brings for us; we participate because together we can serve Jesus and love each other and the world better than we can apart. It is for the sake of love that we are the church! Love in the midst of abandonment, betrayal, disappointment, sin, disbelief and denial. Jesus washes the feet of these men knowing their shortcomings. He feeds the very one who will be the cause of his death! He forgives the one who is caught in denial and will use that person as the head of his church. Despite the sinfulness of those around Jesus, he not only calls them as his followers, but he entrusts God’s people to them as their leaders. That is a special kind of love!

-How will people know that we are Jesus’ disciples? According to the end of this passage, it is not because we have the correct theological understandings of doctrine. It is not because we live our lives with some sense of special moral purity; it isn’t even because we have memorized the Bible or have some kind of impressive knowledge about the faith. Rather, it is on account of our loving acts and sacrifice which reflect Jesus’ love that people will know that we are Christians.

And lest we think that this special kind of love is only to be shown to each other in our church family and those who are like us, we have the reading from Acts 11 where Peter recounts the vision he has where there is a sheet full of food which is consider unclean to the Jewish people. God tells him to take and eat, and when Peter protests, a voice from heaven says, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” And lest we think this is only about food, remember that Peter tells this story to people criticizing him for eating with Gentiles. It is not about food that this vision was shown to Peter; it is about the people he was eating with that it was shown.
As we consider those who have been excluded from our love over the years because of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, educational achievements, socio-economic status, religious affiliations, political leanings or anything else, these words tell us that in Jesus, all are to be considered among the “clean.” In other words, we are called to love all of God’s people.

To be sure, that isn’t always easy. But consider who Jesus loved even on the final night of his life – Judas, Peter and his other disciples, the ones who would betray, deny and abandon him in his darkest hour. Love is an act of the will. It is not a good, warm feeling, but it is a commitment to obey this new commandment that Jesus has given to all of us on the night of his betrayal and arrest – that we love one another just as Jesus loved and still loves us. One of the favorites from church camp is a song that tells this story called, “We are one in the spirit,” or otherwise known as, “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” These are the exact words of Jesus, and as we sing this song after the creed, prayers and peace parts of our service, I hope that you will remember Jesus words encouraging us to walk with each other, spreading the news that God is in our land, to work with each other, guarding each other’s dignity and saving each other’s pride, praying that all unity may one day be restored. May our community know that each one of us is a Christian by the love that we show everyday of our life. Amen.