Sermon delivered at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross in Poplar Bluff, MO on The 6th Sunday of Easter, May 9, 2021
Acts 10:44-48; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17; Psalm 98
In our movement through the church year, we are now at the Sixth Sunday of Easter. This is a significant point in the year, because this coming Thursday we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, the day that Christ left his disciples and returned to his Father.
Our Gospel today comes from what is sometimes called the “Farewell Discourse” in John, where Jesus is essentially telling the disciples good-bye, because he knows he will soon be crucified. It doesn’t take place after the resurrection, but it is fitting to read it today, because time when Jesus will no longer be with the disciples physically is approaching quickly. In this speech, Jesus is giving the disciples instruction in how they are to behave when he is gone.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
Jesus is repeating the commandment he gave the disciples after he had washed their feet. We read it just a few weeks ago, on Maundy Thursday: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another.”
In other words, we are to use Jesus – the very image of God – as a model for our love for one another.
Yesterday we celebrated the feat of St. Julian of Norwich. St. Julian lived in the 14th and early 15th century and spent a good deal of her life as an anchorite. An anchorite is a religious living under vows, who lives alone, often in a small room attached to a church. They’re not very common these days.
Julian’s most famous legacy is her book Revelations of Divine Love, and one of her most famous illustrations of divine love was through a hazelnut:
“And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God.
In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it.”
God made, loves, and sustains the entire universe even though, to Him, it is no bigger than a hazelnut.
How can we imitate that? If we are looking at Jesus for an example…well…we don’t seem to do a lot of resurrecting of dead people these days, or feeding huge crowds with just a couple of fish and some bread.
We must remember that “love” here is not some dreamy attraction. It’s not a nebulous notion of having good will toward others. It’s not a vague feeling of fondness. No, love here is an active verb. Loving someone means work.
God made us, loves us, and keeps us. Without Him we cannot even exist. We exist because of His love. His love is active and upholds us, as we are to love and uphold others.
And God loved us before we were even aware of Him. According to St. Catherine of Siena, we can never love Christ the way he loves us, because he loved us before we even existed, before we could even know that we should love him.
St. Catherine was correct. We can’t love Christ – and by extension, God – in the same way that he loves us. But we can use his love for us as an example. We can love those we do not know.
Not only that, but love like God’s means loving people that you may not feel are worthy of your love. People you feel don’t deserve it. We are not equipped to decide who is worthy of love and who is not. But we are not told to make that judgement. We are simply told to love.
St. Peter and the other Jewish Christians certainly felt that the Gentiles were not worthy recipients of the message of Christ until they were taught differently.
From today’s passage from Acts: “The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.”
These Gentiles, these unclean people, had received the Holy Spirit! How was that possible? Could it be that God loved them as much as he loved the Hebrew people?
And from the Epistle: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.”
We are to be one community. A community of love.
The Psalmist says “Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things.” And he has indeed done marvelous things. Through Christ, God has created a new family. A family not dependent on ancestry, political philosophy, or ethnic origin; a family not based on likes or dislikes; a family whose members do not pass judgement on each other; a family that is based simply on Love. And he invites us all to become members of that family, to participate in His love.
All we have to do is say “Yes.”