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Easter 5 April 24, 2016 - The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
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EASTER 5  Year C 
Acts 11:1-18, Psalm 148, Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35
 
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, April 24, 2016
The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
 
 
 
From Easter’s vantage point,
the Church looks back today
          with the author of John’s Gospel
to the last supper,
          the last night of Jesus’ life.
 
See the tenderness
Jesus feels for his disciples,
this scraggly bunch
who’ve been on the road with him
for nearly three years . . .
 
“Little children,” he calls them,
 
and,
in their understanding
of him and his mission,
despite his best efforts,
          (and theirs as well, perhaps)
they are, still,
          little children . . .
 
But see how he loves them . . .
 

Everything is now compressed
into this one final evening.
 
“Little children,
I am with you only a little longer.
You will look for me . . . [and]
where I am going you cannot come.”
 
How to prepare them
for his absence?
 
Wash their feet,
show them
how to serve each other.
 
Share a meal,
remind them
          of all the meals past,
give them a taste
          of the meaning
                   of meals to come.
 
And now Judas has
risen from the table
and gone out into the night,
leaving the disciples wondering, confused . . .
 
setting in motion,
as Jesus well knows,
what
cannot be stopped.
 

In that moment of betrayal
Jesus is glorified,
 
for his glory is found in the gift
he is about to give,
his own life . . .
for the life of the world.
 
 
But what can he leave
with his disciples,
these “little children,”
that they might
          grow into maturity,
into the fullness of life
          he desires for them?
 
This is not the time for parables,
those enigmatic,
          paradoxical stories
that puzzle and challenge;
 
this is the time for
clear, straightforward speaking . . .
 
the time to lay the foundation
for their lives and mission,
a foundation on which
everything will stand . . .
          without which
                   everything will fall.
 
 

“I give you a new commandment,
          that you love one another.
 
“Just as I have loved you,
          you also should love one another.
By this everyone will know
          that you are my disciples,
                   if you have love for one another.”
 
Simple enough
even for little children
to grasp.
 
And yet so profound
that even the most mature
          of Jesus’ followers,
                   much to their dismay,
          struggle to fully understand it
                   and repeatedly fail to practice it.
 
 
A commandment to love
wasn’t new to the disciples;
it was part of their tradition,
          their heritage as Jews –
underlying all of the
          Ten Commandments.
 

But what would be new,
“a new commandment” I give you,”
was to love
          as Jesus loved.
 
They had seen
his compassion and caring
          for anyone and everyone
                   he encountered . . .
(even those who conspired against him) . . .
 
They had seen his empathetic response
          to others’ pain and suffering . . .
 
They had seen his acceptance
          of those their society deemed
                   unacceptable.
 
They had seen
his patience with,
his forgiveness of,
          their own shortcomings . . .
 
They had yet to see
the fullness of his love,
his complete offering of self,
          even to the giving of his very life . . .
 

They had yet to know
it was this limitless love
          he was requiring of them.
 
“Love one another
just as I have loved you.”
 
 
On that last night,
Jesus didn’t lay out
orders of worship,
doctrines to follow,
creeds to believe,
laws to obey.
 
Those were developed later
by the communities
          gathered in his name,
to order their common life.
 
Resting on the firm
          foundation and discipline
                   of self-offering love,
orders of worship,
          doctrines, creeds, laws
can support the community’s
          practice of its faith.
 
But unchallenged by love,
how often they can become
the cause of or excuse for division.
 

We see it
from the very beginnings of the Church
          until now.
 
In today’s reading from Acts:
when the Jerusalem council,
          anxious about
          Peter’s mixing with the uncircumcised
                   and even eating forbidden food with them,
                             called him on the carpet.
 
2,000 years later,
this January,
we saw it in the meeting of the
          Anglican Primates,
          anxious about
          the Episcopal Church’s
                   authorization of same sex marriage . . .
 
a majority of them
voting for consequences to be imposed
that would limit our participation
in the life of the Communion for three years,
 
a rift in the fellowship of the Communion
          that might have been difficult to heal.
 

Their failure was not in their disagreement
over whether or not same sex marriage can be . . .
 
but in their inability
across differences in
culture, doctrine, Biblical interpretation and authority,
to hold together in their disagreement
out of love for one another,
a love that asks for just such sacrifices.
 
 
Last week,
Love had its way
at the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council,
the only body with the authority
actually to impose the consequences recommended
by the Primates.
 
The Council
declined even to vote on the matter,
speaking instead about
continuing to walk together in love
while seeking to
better understand one another
and learn from our differences.
 

Jesus didn’t say,
“By this, everyone will know
          that you are my disciples:
          if you have right belief and right practice.”
         
He said
“everyone will know
          that you are my disciples,
          if you have love for one another.”
 
Love for one another
          in a world where such love
                   is ever more difficult to find.
 
 
What do people know about us,
          and so, about Jesus,
          whose disciples we are,
when they see us . . .
 
see how we handle
disagreements,
conflict,
challenges
within our community . . .
within our society . . .
 
see how we are
with one another
          in easy times
          and in stressful times . . .
 

see how we treat
family,
neighbor,
friend,
stranger,
animals,
the creation . . .
 
“By this, everyone will know
that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.”
 
 
In her autobiographical book
          Out of Africa,
Isak Dinesen
tells of a young Kikuyu boy – Kitau -
who came to her homestead
asking for a job.
 
For three months,
he worked for her,
          then asked for a letter of reference . . .
 
because he wanted to work
for Sheik Ali bin Salim,
who lived in the town nearby.
 

Dinesen liked Kitau.
She didn’t want to lose him.
 
She offered to raise his salary.
 
But Kitau said he wasn’t looking
          for higher pay.
 
While he had still been living
in the Kikuyu Reserve,
he had decided
that he wanted to become
either a Christian or a Muslim,
but didn’t yet know which.
 
So he had come to work for her
          to learn the ways and habits of Christians,
 
and now he wanted to work for the Sheik
          to learn the ways and habits of Muslims.
 
“I believe,” Dinesen writes,
“that even an Archbishop,
when he had had these facts
          laid before him,
would have said,
or at least have thought, as I said,
“Good God, Kitau,
I wish you had told me that
when you came here.”                       (story suggested by Gary D. Jones
                                                           in Feasting on the Word, Easter 5, Year C;
                                                    Quote from Out of Africa, Random House, p. 116)
 

I wonder what Dinesen was wishing
she had done or said differently,
now that she knew
she was being viewed
as a representative
of what it means
          to be a Christian.
 
I wonder what we might regret
of our own words or actions,
if we were to imagine Kitau looking on,
 
in our homes,
in our schools,
at our work,
in our meetings,
at coffee hour . . .
 
what might we wish to change . . .
 
How might those memories
inform
our future words and actions?
 
 
“By this, everyone will know
that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.”
         

Jesus didn’t say,
“if you agree about everything,”
 
but he did say,
“if you love one another
just as I have loved you.”
         
 
Little children,
this simple commandment
sets us on the rocky road
          to Christian adulthood,
 
as we try to discern
what loving without limitation means
for us as individuals,
for us as Church . . .
 
as we try to practice
          this discipline of love
in all the varied situations
          of our common life,
and in all the complexity
          of our human living.
 
Perhaps we might invite Kitau along
as a companion
and an observer of our practice.
         
Will he,
in his careful listening and watching,
          catch a glimpse of Jesus?