The Fifth Sunday of Easter: Year C

“Disciples of Love”

Sermon from Pastor Jane Jeuland

I don’t know if you have heard this from anyone or if people in your life say this, but I have often heard people say, “I don’t really believe in any organized religion, I just try be a good person.”

Just in the month, I have heard people say that they were let down by the church, that the church is corrupt, that it cares more about money seeking than giving to the poor, that clergy and parishioners are incestuous, hypocritical, backstabbing, full of anger, and meaningless, unhelpful platitudes.

Some of these are direct quotes and just from the past month since Easter.

This morning Jesus tells his disciples to love one another as he has loved them. He says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Jesus said that people should know we are his followers by the way that we love one another. How have we as a global church, as followers of Christ gone so far afield from what Jesus asked of us?

Many of us have invested more time and energy in the show of church, the liturgy, the buildings, the stained glass, the clergy, the institution of church than we have invested in what Jesus has told us is church – loving one another. We have gotten so caught up in the production of church that we have lost sight of what church is for, we have lost sight of the purpose of church, we have lost sight of the reason Jesus came to this world – to show us how to love one another.

The more we have invested in the show and institution of church, the more we have created a distinction between who is in and who is out, what style of worship is okay, what style is not okay.

The disciples were no way unfamiliar with this dynamic. They were Jews who followed strict laws that dictated what was clean and holy and what was not. If anyone ate certain types of food that were deemed unclean, then they were unclean and unholy. You could not go near certain foods and you could not go near the people, the Gentiles, or non-Jews, who ate such “unclean foods.”

Until Jesus came along. Mark recalls an encounter Jesus has with the Jewish leaders regarding unclean food and unclean rituals around food. Jesus explains, “Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them…. For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body…. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

Today in our scripture we hear about Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, having a vision about unclean and clean food. After Jesus death and resurrection, the disciples began spreading the good of God in Christ, but there was a heated debate among the disciples about who gets to follow Christ and how. Some argued that they should only minister to Jews and if a gentile wants to follow Jesus, the gentile must first become a Jew, while other disciples wanted to minister all people, Jews and Gentiles, even Gentiles who have not converted to Judaism.

Then Peter is given this vision by God in which he is told that he can eat any food including the food that the Jews called “unclean.” Peter protests and says that he has not ever eaten anything that is profane and unclean. Then a voice from heaven told Peter, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

“What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

Don’t we call so much of what God has made unclean, unfit for church.

After Peter has this vision, three gentiles arrive at his house and the Holy Spirit tells Peter “to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.” Another translation describe the Holy Spirit telling Peter “to go with them, without discriminating.”

Imagine for a moment the people you disagree with the most, imagine leaving your house to follow them “without discriminating,” without making a distinction between you and them. Imagine being seen with them.

The men lead Peter to a Gentiles house and Peter begins to preach to all the Gentiles gathered there and as he speaks, the Holy Spirit falls upon them just as it fell upon the disciples on the day of pentecost. So Peter tells the disciples, “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” In other words if God inspires and moves in these unclean people, how could I call them unclean, unfit for God?

So Peter tells this story to the other disciples, and when they heard it, they were silenced, and praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.” The divisions among the disciples about who was in and who was out began to dissipate.

Many of the laws that we hear the Jews followed in Jesus time seem so foreign to us. Certainly many of us have dietary restrictions. Most of you know I (Jane) am now vegan for health reasons, so I do not eat animals or animal products, but I still associate with people who eat meat and butter. Perhaps we cannot relate to calling people who eat certain foods unfit for church, but perhaps we believe that certain discourse is unfit for church and certain people who engage in this discourse are unfit for church or perhaps certain types of worship is unfit for church and people who engage in that type of worship are bizarre.

What has God made clean, that we today think of as profane, unholy, unfit for church, unfit for faith and God.

We can become so consumed by drawing lines in the sand that we forget to look up and simply love one another.

Can you imagine if we truly loved one another so well that people were amazed by us and thought, “I don’t believe in organized religion, I just try to do good things and man those people at that church over there do so many good things for one another and they do it so cheerfully and with such love… I want to find out how I can be like them. They clearly know how do good things with love, so let me learn from them and their teacher, what’s his name. I think they call him Jesus.”

This is how churches changes lives. It is when we love people without discrimination that lives are transformed. It is when we share God’s word with all people that hearts are moved.

Loving one another the way Jesus loved us is cheerful and full of life. It is infectious. Everyone wants to be around that kind of love.

So I wonder who do you need to love today, who needs a scripture verse today, who needs a prayer and a word of encouragement. Perhaps it is someone you disagree with, perhaps it is someone you feel like you don’t have time for or even understand…whatever the reason may be think of how God wishes you to love them. If you are too angry or hurt then try and pray for them, pray for yourself, and trust that God will guide all.

Let us pray now together. Lord God we ask that you show us how to love one another even in trying and challenging times within ourselves and our communities. Show us how to be your disciples of love in the world.