The Adventurous Lectionary – The Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 9, 2021
Acts 10:44-48 or Acts 10:1-24, 34-36, 44-48; Psalm 98; I John 5:1-6; John 15:9-1
The marquee sign of the historic Church of the Pilgrims in Washington DC proclaims, “where all are pilgrims and none are strangers.” I have adopted this same affirmation in my eight years of pastoring South Congregational Church, UCC, on Cape Cod. Yes, we are different in age, education, interests, personal history, professional, gender, sexuality identity, theology, and race, sometimes we don’t understand each other, and yet we are all united in Christ. All-embracing love is at the heart of today’s readings. God is love and God’s love invites us to practice love in action. Those who love go beyond the isolated and frightened ego and its needs and are willing to sacrifice for the greater good are able to transform our world and create new communities of love. They learn the joy of going from self-interest to world loyalty.
I struggle with what to do with the Acts reading and have chosen to add several verses as I preach this Sunday to give the full context and affirm the radically inclusive nature of the text. Still, in the briefer passage from Acts, experience trumps orthodox theology and love transcends race and ethnicity. To put the short lectionary passage in perspective, Peter has a vision in which he is invited to go beyond the dietary habits of his religion. God calls him to disobedience of old ways to be faithful to God’s new ways. Cornelius, a Roman solider, faithful to One True God, has a vision inviting him to send for Peter. The Spirit is at work in dreams and visions, providing us with guidance on our spiritual journeys and inviting us to expand our understandings of God. In listening to God’s visions, we overcome past barriers and open to new relational possibilities.
It is not about food, but inclusion. I always get a laugh with this passage when I speak of Peter’s reticence to partake of the foods we love so much on Cape Cod – crab, lobster, quahog, clam, scallops. But that’s the point – what religion often denies, God affirms and delights in.
Peter overcomes his reticence regarding unclean food and people to visit Cornelius in his home. And there in a Gentile household God’s Spirit descends. The Pentecost promise is embodied as God’s spirit goes beyond ethnic barriers, welcoming all people into the household of faith. Nothing is unclean. Nothing is off limits. The grace of God is unhindered by any human limits.
Today many people describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” They are looking for the Spirit, but not in the confines of church buildings. This passage invites us to be both “spiritual and religious,” to have a spiritual home (the Jesus movement) that frees us for new and sometimes iconoclastic ways of living that take us beyond the institution into the world where all are pilgrims and none are strangers.
The joyous hymn of Psalm 98 proclaims that God is a doing a new thing that embraces all peoples and all creation. God’s faithfulness is reflected in God’s innovation and calls us to sing a new song as we embrace our own inspired creativity. What new song shall we sing? What new possibilities await us as we seek to be faithful to God’s way? In these challenging times of polarization, we need love songs to creation and to humanity in all its variety. Even if we cannot directly encounter the other, we can pray that God be present in their lives.
As I prepare for my retirement, after eight years at South Church, I have to trust that God has a new thing for me, as I assure this 225 year old congregation that God has a new thing for them as well.
The words of 1 John speak of a lively faith, embodying what Diana Butler Bass, describes as the interplay of believing, belonging, and behaving. Faith in Christ is manifest in works of love and community building. Faith embraces the whole person, gives us a new ethical orientation, and makes love our primary motivation. Love wins, as Rob Bell asserts, and creates a world of pilgrims who honor each other’s uniqueness. God’s love embraces us and inspires us to embrace others. Embraced by God’s love, we can live with our fears of otherness and see the other as holy, despite our differences.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus proclaims the transforming power of love and places love at heart of our relationship to God, himself, and one another. Love levels the playing field, joining Master and follower, Savior and saved, in one dynamic and intimate reality. Jesus invites us to abide in his love, to let his flow through us, just as the vine flows through the branches. When we abide in God’s love, we become agents of reconciliation and healing, and overcome the walls of otherness that often define our lives.
Today’s scriptures are a testimony to love. Love goes beyond boundaries and involves the willingness to sacrifice for others. Love is manifest in sharing in God’s creativity and living our lives with joy despite challenges and threats. Those who love receive a full portion of God’s Spirit and discover holiness in all creation and in the varieties of human experience and ethnicity. In committing ourselves to God’s love we can move from fear to friendship and take the first steps in healing the world.
Bruce Epperly is a pastor, professor, and author of over 60 books, including PROPHETIC HEALING: HOWARD THURMAN’S VISION OF CONTEMPLATIVE ACTIVISM; MYSTICS IN ACTION: 12 SAINTS FOR TODAY; WALKING WITH FRANCIS OF ASSISI: FROM PRIVILEGE TO ACTIVISM; GOD ON LINE: A MYSTIC’S GUIDE TO THE INTERNET; PROCESS THEOLOGY AND POLITICS; and PROCESS THEOLOGY: EMBRACING ADVENTURE WITH GOD.