Sunday, May 15, 2022
By: Amelia McDaniel, Lay Associate for Christian Formation
This is a season full of graduation speeches. So many parting last words are offered to young people to send them off into their newest academic pursuit or off into the world at large. I’m sure you’ve been to your fair share of these speeches. You may also have had more heart felt kitchen table conversations with beloved young ones as they were setting off themselves.
The night before I left for school my parents awkwardly tried to tell me everything that they thought I needed to know. Don’t walk alone at night. Make new friends. Lock your door. Don’t take a drink at a party if you didn’t see who poured it. Challenge yourself. Don’t see a bad grade as a failure but a chance to try again. You know. Good stuff. My dad closed the whole session out by saying while looking not at me but at his shoes that naked was nobody’s best state. Parting words indeed.
There are so many things to tell people as they set off on new journeys. And they range from specifics to broad brushstroke ideas of how to live in this life.
Today’s readings are leading us up to the end of Eastertide. Pentecost comes in two more weeks and the church and all of us followers of Jesus are launched into a new reality. And there is an urgency in the tone of both of the readings from today. There are things we need to know.
In Acts, we find Peter having to explain himself for associating with Gentiles who were both uncircumcised and did not follow the Jewish dietary rules. As the church was forming there were big questions about who could belong. Who could be in on this new way of life, the way of Jesus and who would not be invited in. Peter explains a visionary experience he had that changed his understanding of God’s intentions for this new community. Visions are often odd when they are described and this one is for sure. Peter sees a large sheet being lowered down by the corners. On the sheet were four footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles and birds of the air. Peter hears a voice telling him to eat these things. Peter questions the whole grouping because these creatures would have been impure to eat according to dietary law. I do have some questions too, like which reptiles were on the menu. Peter in keeping with what he understood the rules to be says “By no means!” But the voice in the vision persists. And the sheet was pulled back up into heaven.
Immediately following this vision Peter is greeted by three Gentiles from Caesarea and the Spirit tells him that he was to go with them not as people who were someone other from him but as equals. He goes with them and the Holy Spirit leads him to preach to the Gentiles he is with. He preaches while presumably unsure about preaching to the them as Gentiles. And then it hits him.
Who is he to hinder God at work in the world? God did not need him to be a gatekeeper deciding who could be in or out. God needed him to preach the life changing love of Christ, to plant communities of people who wanted to be Jesus followers. That was Peter’s work. The rest is God’s work.
That was vital for the early church to hear. That they were freed up to share this good news to people who did not look like them, live like them. To make new communities of people who were not the same at all. There were no limitations to God at work in this world through sharing the life of Christ with others.
This is something that throughout the development of the church we would have been wise to listen to more clearly. It is something that we need to listen to today. Who are we to hinder God at work in this life? Especially when it is the name of Christ we bear on our lips.
And in today’s Gospel Jesus tells us something of the way he wants us to bear witness to his name. The last commandment he offers us…
I give you a new commandment he says…
Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
Love one another they way I have loved you.
We’ve all heard this commandment. We know it by heart. I sure wish I could report to you that I have remained entirely in compliance with the commandment. Or that there was some grand before and after experience where I saw a vision of assorted animals on a sheet and saw this in a new way. But of course I haven’t.
But these words, Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
Love each other up with the care and tenderness that I have loved you. Love each other the way I see you as a child of God, precious and filled with hope. This is what Jesus tells his disciples whom he endearingly calls little children as they are gather on the night he is to be arrested. And then he tells them that the world will know him through the way they love each other. Jesus who knows he will not be with them much longer tells them that how they act, how the interact with each other and those around them, that is how he will be known in this world going forward. This is what he needs them to know before they launch into a new life without him in the flesh by their sides.
There is no need to parse how incredibly difficult this kind of love is to carry out. We know it because we are living and breathing examples of both how to live like this and how to mess this up in a grand fashion. Each of us here today.
I know for myself when I get fired up mad about someone or some group of people chances are I am being given the opportunity to exercise this commandment. Although most of us do not receive visions that open us to the wideness of God’s mercy, this commandment alone – love like Jesus loves – is a powerful course corrector. I also know that when my own self talk starts to sound like I am actually my own enemy or that mean girl on the playground from 3rd grade that I should try to offer the love of this commandment to my own heart.
The last conversation I had with my grandmother took place in a hospital room a few days before she died. She had fallen and broken her hip again. But this time the potential ailments that can follow a fall in your late eighties started happening to her. Her speech was slowing. Her ability to swallow was diminishing. There was not a clear path for her recovery. She was leaving us.
Thankfully I was living in Nashville at the time and was able to come visit her. The morning before I arrived at the hospital had been a doozie with my then 7 year old son. I don’t really remember the exact infractions that had been committed that particular morning. But I am sure they were great in number.
When I arrived at the hospital and walked into her room, the gravity of the situation hit me. In my discomfort I sat down and the first thing I thought to tell her was exactly what kind of reprobate her great grandson was. After I had concluded the litany of all his misdeeds and my assumptions about needing to save for bail rather than college, I asked her “What am I going to do with him?!”
My grandmother, who we called “Mama,” had not spoken while I was droning on and on about my son, said one short sentence. It was the last sentence she would speak to me. “Love him.” That’s all she said. She gave me a little blink with her perfect violet blue eyes like she always did.
“I guess that’s the best I can do huh?” I replied. Then she nodded and patted my hand.
Mama had raised four children of her own and wonderful as each of them are they sure gave her a go of it. She knew good and well that this simple statement would be some of the hardest work I would be given in this life. And through the grace of her years she knew what to tell me to do. I suspect knew she was launching me into a life without her daily guidance and this was what she wanted me to know.
Love one another the way I have loved you.