Year A — The Sixth Sunday of Easter

Commentary for May 29, 2011
(Apologies to those who may have read a previous version of this post, containing the wrong scripture references for this Sunday. We inadvertently published the readings and commentary for Year B…but, hey, what’s a year or two among friends, right?)

Click here for today’s readings

Acts 17:22-31
The old saying goes: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” (not sure who actually said that first.)

Paul’s comment at the Aeropagus actually fits quite well in contemporary society — “I see you are religious in every way.” We religiously head to the gym, we religiously support our favorite teams, we religiously hang out at our favorite restaurants where many of us religiously order pretty much the same thing each time we’re there.

We have lots of religious items on the spiritual menu, as well. Some say that all religions and spiritual traditions lead to the same place. Not so sure the Apostle agrees with that. It is his contention that “God…has fixed a day on which [God] will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom [God] has appointed…by raising him from the dead.”

Psalm 66:8-20
It’s a good thing that God has not rejected our prayers, nor has God removed God’s everlasting love from our lives. Even when we get testy or whiny about the nets that ensnare us or the burdens laid on our backs.


The “fire and water” language in the psalm echoes the promise given through the prophet: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isaiah 43:2, NIV)

1 Peter 3:13-22
When I read these verses as a teenager, I was intrigued by the King James language that exhorted us to “be instant, in season and out.” For some reason, I could never get the image of a Lipton Cup of Soup out of my head — ready, warmed up, and available at a moment’s notice.

How do I keep my faith ready, warmed up, and available for sharing at a moment’s notice? “Always be ready…” the NRSV proffers.

Another of the features of my evangelical upbringing was learning that I could be “certain” about the tenets of the faith — this was touted as the reason I could always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who might “need Jesus.”

I don’t suppose we ever got around to reading v.16 that much. Gentleness and reverence — especially for another person’s faith perspective — were not generally on the list of attributes of a faithful witness, as I was taught it.

Thank God for patience — on the part of God who gently lets us mature in our faith, and from the many friends and strangers (and parishioners) who have put up with my feeble attempts at explaining the hope I have within me because of Christ.

John 14:15-21
Love for Jesus translates into obedience to the things that Jesus has asked us to do. We do the same for those that we love in our earthly relationships, and rightly so. There are those persons that I love so much and so truly that, literally, I would do anything within my power to accomplish anything they asked me to do.

A preacher friend of mine was wont to use the line: “The answer is, ‘Yes, Lord;’ now, what’s the question?” I like that.

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Are We Done?

the Lutheran church of the Holy Family in Highlands, NC worshipped in a house, in a two car garage which had been nicely fixed up as a Chapel.

There was a pulpit and an Altar and a piano and three rows of folding chairs. It was a tight space. Nong sat with his family in the back row; he was 4 years old had been adopted from Thailand. During the service, he usually sat in the floor and played with his dinosaurs.

And every Sunday, after Communion, when everyone stood up for the Post-Communion Blessing, in that brief of moment of silence before the Pastor speaks, Nong would loudly ask his mother, “Are we done?”

This “are we done?” question was on the minds of Jesus’ disciples in our Gospel lesson. This text is a part of Jesus’ long sermon/conversation in the Upper Room after the Last Supper. It starts right after Judas leaves to go to the temple to betray Jesus and continues for four chapters.

And, the bottom line is that the disciples are trying to figure out, “Are we done?” “Is it all over?” “What happens next?” “What about us?”

And Jesus is trying to give them a “Yes, but also No” answer, which they really don’t understand.

The “Yes” part of the answer is that he is indeed leaving, it is indeed over. Jesus tries to get them to understand what the next three days will be about: death, hell, resurrection, time spent with the disciples, then Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Frankly, it’s all just too weird and confusing and frightening, and they don’t really get it.

“Where are you going?” “No, we can’t come if we don’t know the way?” “”Why don’t you speak plainly?” they ask him. “What does he mean by that?” they ask each other. No, they really don’t get it. Why is he leaving, now, so soon? Is it really over? And Jesus’ answer is Yes . . . and No.

Yes, in that the way it’s been for the last few years is over. This close, intimate, personal relationship between me and all of you is over, Jesus says, and it can never be repeated. My time on earth is done.

But, no, in that the community of love we started together is not over. And will never be over. It has begun in us and will continue forever. Because, when I leave, I will send into your midst the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, to hold you together and to lead you forward.

So, no, it isn’t over. We aren’t done. In reality, we’ve only just now gotten started.

And the mark of this ongoing Jesus Movement/Christ Community is love. Which is simple to say and hard to do.

GK Chesterfield said; In one place in the Bible, Jesus commands us to love our neighbors. In another place he tells us to love our enemies. This is because, generally speaking, they are the same people.

Love is hard, particularly the sort of love Jesus is talking about here, AGAPE, self-giving, sacrificial love which seeks nothing for itself but instead seeks only to aid and help the other. Love is hard; especially when we are invited by Jesus to love people we don’t really like.

And of course, this is not the only place Jesus calls upon us to love each other in this way.

The text says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

And what are Jesus’ commandments? Well didn’t he say they were all about loving God and each other?

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind; and the second is like unto it – you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

In another place he says: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Over in the 21st chapter of John, after his death and resurrection, Jesus has a dialog with Peter on the beach:

“Peter, do you love me? Feed my lambs.
Peter, do you love me, Tend my sheep.
Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep.”

So it is clear that Jesus wants us to love one another. The problem is, loving each other is very hard business. Loving people you like is difficult enough; how can Jesus’ order us, command us to love even those we don’t like?

What are we to do? How do we begin to love others in the way Our Lord loved us? There are two hints to the how of this in our Gospel lesson.

The first is buried within verse 15, the first line of our text:

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

It is a part of our basic human nature that we hear these words as law, as a rule, as a command to be obeyed, as a work to be achieved.

Our ears hear Jesus saying something he didn’t say. We hear:

‘If you want to prove to the world and to God that you love me, then you will have to show it by loving one another.”

That’s what we hear; but that’s not what Jesus said.

Jesus gave us a word of gospel, not law; a word of promise, not judgement.

Listen:

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

If you are a child of God, you will act like one.

If you are connected to the Christ, you will bear the Christian fruit of love.

Jesus’ point is that the capacity to love people is not something we develop or achieve; it is rather the gift of God received in our relationship of love with the Christ.

“If you love me you will keep my commandments,” is a gospel promise that being in relationship with the living Lord is a life-changing, transforming experience.

As Christ begins to live more and more within us, as we open our lives more and more to Christ’s leading, we find ourselves more and more able to treat others in a loving and respectful manner.

The loving relationship we have with Christ begins to spill over into loving relationships with those around us.

And, Jesus implies, though I am leaving, the love community we have created will continue to live and grow into the future.

The Second Key is found in verse 16:

“And I will ask the Father, and he will send you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of Truth . . .”

This advocate, this counselor, this Spirit of Truth; is in us, with us at all times. The Holy Spirit is available to nurture us; to lead and guide us in loving others as Christ has loved us.

Jesus says, “Yes, we’re done with me being with you. But I will not leave you orphaned, alone, unloved and uncared for. No, you’re not done with the life of loving one another with the love of God. I will send the Spirit to carry you along the rest of the way.”

Jesus comes to us today to assure us that in the midst of life’s surprising twists and turns and comings and goings; he will never be done with loving us.

Our calling today is to respond to that promise and that love by loving one another.

And that is a calling with which we are never done.
Amen and amen

4 thoughts on “Year A — The Sixth Sunday of Easter

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