Sermon delivered on Easter 5C, Sunday, May 19, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.
Lectionary texts: Acts 11.1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21.1-6; John 13.31-35.
Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, open my heart and mind, so I may accept, love and welcome others as you would. Dear Lord Jesus, help me to have talk with you in faith, trusting all things to your care Amen.
What’s New about Jesus’ New Commandment?
We have heard from the book of Torah, Leviticus, “you should love your neighbor as yourself” Jesus himself cited Leviticus, along with the verse from Deuteronomy, when asked by the Pharisees which commandment in the Biblical Law is the greatest? Jesus responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with your entire mind. This is the greatest commandment. And second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. Jesus is calling to love Him and to love each other. The most important point is: Jesus is calling for the kind of love for which one is willing to die. Let us open the gospel of John 13: 34 “ a new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another; as I have love you, so you also should love one another”.
John 13: 14-15 “if I then, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15. For I have given an example, that you also should do just I have done to you. Later in the Gospel of John, Jesus puts the point explicitly: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Jesus loved his friends, all of us and so radically acted out His love in this world, where he was crucified to save us from the slavery to sin and evil; to free us from the den of religious robbers, hypocrites, who lock the people out of the kingdom of God and political power mind emperors.
Perhaps one of the best modern example of new commandment of love was Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. He lived and died trying to manifest the radical form of love to which Jesus has called us. Remember how he put it in the sermon he delivered very night before he was assassinated: Now we are going to march again… for when people get caught up with that which is right, and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory… we need all of you… let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness…. The question is not if I stop to help this man in need. What will happen to me? (The question is) If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them? King said more than once that we are not fully alive until we’ve found something for which we are willing to die. In his book “The strength to love”, he directly confronted the fear of death, quoting the first letter of John: There is no fear in love; but perfect love cast out the fear.”
Last Sunday we celebrated the Mother’s Day. Most of the mothers we know, they love their children so deeply and fully that unquestionably in an instant they would give up their own lives to save one of their children’s lives. Many of the Fathers would do the same.
The joy of Husband and wife will complete only when each can call other true friend and are ready to lay down the life for each other.
Story: The story of Damon and Pythias, two friends in the Sicilian city state of Syracuse in the 4th Ce B.C. Pythias spoke out against the king, who ordered him executed for treason. Pythias asked the permission to go home long enough to say goodbye to his wife and children and put his household in order. His friend Damon instantly volunteered to be imprisoned until Pythias returned, to be killed himself if Pythias don’t show up on the execution date. As the fatal day approached without Pythias having returned, the king came to the prison to sneer at Damon and to see if he was sorry for having made such an arrangement. “You were fool to rely on your friend’s promise,” scoffed the king. “Did you really think he would sacrifice his life for you or for anyone else? Damon simply replied, “He is my friend, I trust him. “As Damon was being led to be executed on the crucial day, Pythias suddenly appeared, breathless exclaiming, “you are safe, Praise God. My ship was wrecked in a storm and Bandits attacked me on the road. But I refused to give up hope, and at last I’ve made it back in time. I am ready to receive the sentence of death.” The king was so astonished and moved that he revoked the death sentence out of respect for their friendship. So, we need to have these kinds of friendships. Our set of people to fulfill Jesus’ New Commandment of love may now include children, spouse, relatives and all brothers and sisters of the world.
Saul tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. (Acts 9:26)
Soon after Jesus died, there was already bickering and arguing about who fit in and who didn’t. The disciples feared Saul because he persecuted Christians and spoke out against Jesus. Now, here he was claiming he had a powerful conversion and wanted to join them in preaching the gospel. I probably would have been suspicious, too. But that is not the message Jesus taught.
Remember it was this openhearted Teacher who welcomed those whom the rest of the world deemed unworthy of contact. Jesus spent time with crooks, prostitutes and numerous others whom religious people counted as lost souls. All have respect and dignity in the eyes of God who sees much further and deeper into the hearts of people than we do. Let’s approach each person with the heart of Christ.
As a follower of Christ, we are embracing Jesus’ way of life. This means we are accepting a new way of thinking and a new way of living. Instead of living like everyone else and blend in with the crowd we are to follow the New Commandment of the Lord and do what Jesus tells us to do. It also means we obey God when it comes to how we spend our money, how we vote, what television shows we watch and how we spend our free time.
What is my motivation in doing the things I do? What is the standard and goals for me to make my decision? The tugs within my heart, when I have to make a difficult decision, reveal the conflict within me. The inner voice is the guidance of the Holy Spirit is trying to lead me. We need to stay in tune with that. So every day, every morning, spend a few minutes before you start your day with the Lord, empty yourself and so God may fill it. Ask God to guide you and to walk in His path, then when you are faced with day to day decisions, you will hear God’s voice more clearly in the midst of the chatter of the world.
Let us meditate on the Acts of the Apostle 11: 1-18
Peter first experiences the vision from God that overturns the categories of clean and unclean that shaped his existence (Acts 10:1-23). Even the most cherished things are not immune from the newness that results from the resurrection. Then Peter’s realization is verbalized in proclamation to the Gentiles. The effect is not just for Peter to see things differently; it is for the benefit of the Gentiles’ participation in God’s salvation (10:23-48). Not only is Peter changed, but Gentiles’ relationship to God is changed.
The Teaching of Jesus and His Salvation is not just meant for Jews in Jerusalem and Israel but to all the people of the world.
“The Gentiles received the word of God.” Notice also that whereas the Jerusalem leaders were focused on Peter’s actions, Peter draws attention to the activity of God among the Gentiles. He does not explain himself in the face of their accusation; he explains the activity of God.
In Acts 10 God “accepts” all who fear God and work justice; here the Gentiles’ receive or “accept” the word of God.
Peter emphasizes that what both the Gentiles and the Jewish believers hold in common is a gift of the Holy Spirit from God.
The repentance that leads to life; it is salvation. While the work of the Spirit seems to be the primary referent.
The Holy Spirit had just broken down common and unchallenged ethnically and socially based evaluations of humanity, and the “leaders” in Jerusalem are worried that Peter ate in the home of a Gentile. Let us watch the humility of St. Peter, he says “who was I could hinder God? No authority on earth can hinder God’s Plan of salvation to all the children of the universe. St. Peter could feel the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and act upon it without any ones approval.
Revelation 21:1-6 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beau fully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.
“Heavenly-Focused for Earthly Good”
The new vision of Revelation 21 helps us to see ourselves with a new life and a new purpose in life. Jesus wants us to realize, we are his bride. He takes us as his own, no matter how many of our goals we’ve achieved, no matter how much of a difference we’ve made in this world. We are prepared because we are robed in the righteousness of Christ and beautifully dressed because we are arrayed in the garments of the salvation he won. We have a new home. Our dwelling with God is only possible because of Christ’s perfection earns we have direct access to God. We are one of God’s people because Jesus shed his blood for us. On the cross Jesus paid our debt of sin. Triumphing over sin means all the earthly consequences of sin are defeated. All sorrow and crying and pain are banished by Christ’s triumph. Jesus rose victorious from the grave on Easter Sunday to conquer death. Death is defeated so we have a home where there will be no reason to weep.
God transforms hearts through gospel promises fulfilled in the new heaven and new earth, promises that bring people into God’s new order. Since we do not know when these things will be, we need to be ready for all the time.
May God the Father grant us His Spirit to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit in order to prepare ourselves for New Heaven, Holy City. Amen.