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Fifth Sunday in Easter: Love!  Love in Big and Small Ways

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come.   Amen.

We have a God that has come in the past, is now present and will also come in the future!  An amazing God!  A God who comes FOR US, his beloved people!  I read an article last Sunday titled “The Home of God is Among Mortals” and it stuck with and when I read the passages for today, three sentences jumped out at me.  Can you guess what the first one was?  “The Home of God is Among Mortals”. 

Then “Who was I that I could hinder God” from Acts, and “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know you are my disciples” from John. These phrases all speak to me of the beloved community that we are called to be, I hope want to be, and are invited to belong to.  

And so, on this day when Breeann and Mark have brought Liam into the community of faith, the church, to be baptized, I thought the Holy Spirit has done it again—the texts are perfect for a baptismal day because they focus on God’s beloved community.

So, Let’s start with the words of John’s Apocalypse. Fully acknowledging a ruthless and brutal world that warrants God’s judgment, John tells us that on the other side we will find not destruction but new life — a new heavens, a new earth, a new Jerusalem, not created by hard work, non-profits, or political action committees, but distinctively a work of the Lord pouring out grace onto a broken world. AND God will do this the way the Lord has always brought redemption: by making a home amongst us mortals.

When God delivered the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt, it was to bring them to a land of promise and security where the Redeeming One would dwell in their midst as the shekinah.  Have you heard that word?  It’s the English transliteration of a Hebrew word meaning dwelling of the divine presence.  Their community would be bound by the righteousness and love of their Deliverer, demonstrated by the Mercy Seat in the Tabernacle, the portable sanctuary used by the Israelites until they had a temple in Jerusalem and where the ark of the covenant, which included the mercy seat on which rested the cloud or visible symbol of the divine presence was. 

Here God was seated, and from this place He was supposed to dispense mercy.  He made a home among mortals. In the Gospel stories, the Redeemer comes to dwell amongst mortals in a new way by taking up the human form and living out a fully human life as Jesus of Nazareth, who healed the sick, fed the hungry, had dinner with the unacceptable, and lived a life in which he needed nothing for himself and was thereby free to give away everything to all who asked. To use Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s phrase, God came as a "man existing for others.” Jesus was God for us, dwelling among us.

Looking forward, John declares that this will be the decisive reality — at the end of all things our Creator will once again be the shekinah; because of this, we will finally live as a complete human community. Everyone will be bound in responsibility for each other, and it will be a community without tears or mourning or pain. We will be a people who drink from the springs of Life itself.

But this vision isn’t only to the coming future, for it is the hope our God, our Redeemer and Sustainer draws us towards even now.  Peter’s vision, challenging his own religious beliefs and possibly prejudices, was a dream of unclean animals being declared clean by their Creator, through which Peter could see how God was creating true community. Peter goes to a Gentile home with God’s instruction to “not make a distinction between them [non-Jews] and us [Jews].”

As Peter shares the Good News with the Caesarean family, “the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning.” In other words, Peter sees that the foundational event which brought the Church into being, the Pentecostal pouring forth of the Holy Spirit, is breaking barriers and going beyond the Jewish community within which it began. As Peter himself reflects, “If God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to hinder God?”

The article by Michael Fitzpatrick reflected on this and he writes “Let us not reduce this amazing story to our modern categories. This is not simply a story of “inclusion” or “radical hospitality”. The Spirit-filled community can be a moral community together — sharing possessions, lifting up each other’s burdens, washing each other’s feet, caring for the needs of vulnerable populations, edifying one another in spiritual growth, all without distinctions between personsbecause we are bound together by a common life, the very life of God’s own Spirit.”  

God dwelling among mortals!  He goes on to write “It is God at work in our lives that allows us to become fully human, fully responsible members of a community.”  Amen to that!  That is the type of community I want to belong to, that I want for Liam and all of us…. 

Peter’s vision does mark a real change- not only for them but for us too! Our political, racial, sexual differences… all differences are made subordinate to God giving all people “the repentance that leads to life”.   

What matters is not our status or acceptability, but that God was in Christ making acceptable the unacceptable (to use theologian Paul Tillich’s memorable paraphrase). We can love one another because God has first loved us even when we were unlovely, all of which is just another way of saying that God is making a home amongst even us. 

And God has always been making a home, and always will be — the real significance of declaring the shekinah to be Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. There is nothing God is now doing that has not been the divine work from the beginning or won’t be the divine work in the end.  That is good news!

So, what we are to do?  Focus on God and focus on Love.   To be the community where God dwells among us is to follow the commandment Jesus told the Pharisee was the summary of all the commandments -- “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Mt 22: 37-39)

Jesus tells us what we are to do: “love one another just as I have loved you.” Yes, you might be thinking that is hard and maybe saying “Who am I that I could hinder God?” when we struggle will help us because we are to love as Jesus loves, without distinction.  And again, the catalyst is not our human efforts, our goodwill, our just causes, but God in Christ first loving us. 

God acts first and makes possible our action in response. We can be a community that truly loves one another because we do it not out of our own benevolence but out of humble response to the Creator who accepted us even when we were unacceptable.

Love!  Love in big and small ways.  Love in ways that stretch you and surprise you.  Love in tangible ways.  That is the community that we want for Liam as well as for ourselves, right?  But it’s not possible if we don’t first keep our focus on God—Loving God with all our heart, soul and mind, the God who has, is and will make God’s home among mortals.