Sunday, May 15, 2022
Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C

Prayer of the Day
O Lord God, you teach us that without love, our actions gain nothing. Pour into our hearts your most excellent gift of love, that, made alive by your Spirit, we may know goodness and peace, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Readings and Psalm
Acts 11:1-18  Peter’s vision: God give the Gentiles repentance that leads to life
Psalm 148
Revelation 21:1-6  New heaven, new earth: springs of living water in the new Jerusalem
John 13:31-35  Jesus gives a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you

SERMON

Title: No If’s in These Cleansing Waters

Alleluia! Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

Today the joy of our shout is renewed as Essex Felix Muscarella is welcomed into the family of God, the body of Christ, the Spirit led church; and as we welcome all who are here to witness his baptism. And while that would be enough, we also welcome Shannon and Pete into this community of faith that we call St. John’s.

But, Essex, I want to talk to you because today is all about you.  Your family and friends are here for you, wanting the best for you in this life and forever.  We, your soon to be siblings-in-Christ, are here eager for you to learn of the God who loves you (and all creation) as witnessed in our own lives.  Most importantly, the Spirit of the risen Christ is here, filling this baptismal water with life.  Yes, there are a lot who are gathered here for you, Essex.  It is all about you.

And there is still more present to bring to your attention.  Among that great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us all the time, good ole Saint Peter is here.  Because, as we heard in this morning’s first reading, Peter loved a baptism.  So much so that he was open to expanding the understanding of baptism back in those early days of the church.  Peter witnessed firsthand the power of baptism and the radical inclusiveness of this gift of welcome.  He wasn’t always of this mind and didn’t always understand the breadth of the invitation that Jesus instructed the disciples to practice.  But as we see in his testimony to the disciples in Jerusalem, he was learning just what Jesus commissioned him for at the breakfast on the beach when Jesus told Peter to love and feed the sheep.  We heard that story two weeks ago.  You remember right?  You were here.  Oh, yeah, I think you might have been sleeping.  Well, you get the idea or you will get the idea.

Jesus told him to care for the flock.  Then Jesus ascended to heaven leaving Peter and the others to the work they were called to – feeding and tending the flock, and right away there was disagreement and debate.  (Should we be surprised by any of the discord that challenges us today in a variety of arenas?  It’s just consistently part of us humans to be disagreeable.  Sorry, Essex, I don’t mean to bring you down on this great day.)  So, back to Peter.  There he is, being accused by his fellow followers of including folks that they felt should not be included.  They referred to these outsiders as Gentiles.  Sad to say, throughout the history of the church, other labels have been used to exclude and ostracize.  Labels connected to gender, race, who someone loves, how someone expresses their faith. (There I go, veering from the good news again.)

But Peter saw it – thank the Holy Spirit. First in a vision.  He heard it declared by a heavenly voice – “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”  Essex, if you remember nothing else of what I say to you today, please remember this phrase – What God has made clean, no one shall call profane.  Because Essex, in these waters of baptism you are being made clean always and forever.  The love of God that is being poured over you today will never fail you.  It will never be taken from you.  No matter what anyone says, no matter how far you may wander, no matter what doubts you may wrestle with – never, never, never be taken away.  Got that?  Never.  You, who God has made clean, no one, no one, shall call profane.

You are part of that new creation that John is describing from his vision recorded in the book of Revelation. The fact that God is dwelling with us even now is the foretaste in this present time of the eternal fulness of this new creation.  And every day we – you and I and all of us, are being made new through the mercy and grace of God. It’s like everyday is a birthday for you.  Don’t count on getting a party with a cake every day.  But you do receive a gift every day. The gift of new life in Christ, first given to you here today in these baptismal waters; it is truly the gift that keeps on giving.  And my prayer for you today is that it is a gift that you will keep growing into and living into, so that it might continually enrich your life.  Because it will not only enrich YOUR life, but it will enrich the lives of those around you.

That’s what Jesus is pointing to when gives us a new commandment.  He doesn’t add another “Do Not” instead he gives a DO.  Do love one another.  Just as he loves us.  Now, Essex, you’re probably saying to yourself – well, that’s a tall order.  How can any of us love the way that Jesus did? Kinda makes your not even want to take a first step because you feel like there is only shortfall in your future.  But we can count on Jesus being infinitely understanding when we do come up short.  When we don’t love the way he loves.  And in the same way, we are to forgive others when they come up short toward us.  None of us get it fully, but we can all be fully forgiving, for we are fully forgiven.

Essex, I know I’m going on here.  And you probably want to get on with this baptism thing, because, as you are seeing, it is all about you and the love God has for you and the life your family wants for you.  But there is one more word I need to highlight, because you are going to hear people misuse it when talking about God and you.  That word is IF.  No doubt you will hear someone say something along the lines of “If you do this, God will do…”  or “If you are this, then God will…”  And I get it.  Certainly you are going to hear you parents say:  “If you’re good, you’ll get to…”  But that’s okay for them to say, it’s different, parents have to talk like that sometimes.  And teachers will say:  If you do your work, you’ll get a good grade.  And teachers have to talk like that.  However, that doesn’t mean that God talks like that.

In that quote from Jesus in John’s gospel, he says – that by showing love to another, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  It’s not, if we show love than we are God’s children and disciples of Jesus.  No, we are that through baptism.  But the if is IF we show love THAN others will see God in us through the love that we share.

Now, I’m guessing you are not taking in too much news right now, but let me assure you, the world really needs to see people loving one another right now.  They are out there – love is in the folks from our Saturday night congregation who walked on behalf of the Homeless yesterday, love is in the folks who walked yesterday to show support for people of Asian Pacific descent, love is in the folks who are walking today to raise money for and awareness about HIV/AIDS, love is in your parents embrace, love is in the protests of people wanting to make sure you have a healthy planet to live your life on.  It’s not tolerance, it’s not policy statements or political correctness, it’s about love.  The God who adopts you today is love, and so we, children of this Divine love are also known by this love of God that shines through us by the power of the Holy Spirit.  See that, God even helps us show and share the love we receive.

Essex, today is a welcome and it is also an invitation to join all these folks, and so many more, showing the love that is in all of us, planted by the Holy Spirit in baptism, nurtured in the community of faith, nourished in the Word of God and in the presence of Christ – both at this table and in every step your take in life.

And Essex, as you grow in understanding about what is about to happen here today, with that voice of yours that is still developing, I think you’ll be inspired to join us in shouting

Alleluia!  Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

The Rev. Mark Erson,
Pastor

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