Sunday, May 9, 2021

6 Easter, 2021-B: Fruit that lasts


Lectionary: Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17 

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen. 

Abiding in God who abides in Jesus and he in us repeats as a theme for us this week. Abiding in this way is so important that Jesus keeps talking about it. It is the fullness of reconciliation in which we are unified with God in our bodies, minds, and souls.

Most everyone has had a sense of that kind of unifying moment when you know God is in you and in everything there is, and you are one with all that is. The mystics call this a unitive moment.

Abiding in this way has been discussed, disputed, and defined by theologians throughout our church history. But one of the best descriptions I’ve ever seen comes from a 10-year-old boy named Turner whom I served at a previous church.

I had brought in a labyrinth and did a multi-generational teaching on how to pray using it. I asked everyone to write a reflection on their experience following their prayer walk. I’m going to share with you Turner’s reflection. You can hear how it incorporates the three-fold process of the labyrinth prayer walk: purgation (that is, letting go), illumination (clarity or insight), and union (integration and action in the world). 
“When I let go I began to feel warm and good inside. When I got to the center I felt like, I can’t describe it, but I just appreciated the fact that I was here and It (sic) felt for a moment, like I was the happiest man on earth. And I just loved everyone. And then it was gone and I went down the path feeling peaceful inside and the feeling has not left me yet. If felt as if god (sic) was there, beside me, walking with me, and spreading his kindness and love to me. I exited the maze ready for whatever the world would throw at me, because I knew, I knew that God was with me as he is with everyone I don’t fell (sic) happy, sad, anxious, or angry. its lik (sic) just everything is inferior to Gods love that is with me now. I have never been so calm and peaceful in my life. I know now that God is with me, and will guide me till I die and go to heaven. God is with me now and I know it for sure.”
I’m grateful Turner had his first unitive moment in a time of intentional prayer at church so that he can connect those things for the rest of his life. This is why Christian formation at church matters so much.

But this kind of experience of God is not limited to our prayers. At our Bible Study this week we talked about how seeing birds brings many of us excitement and joy; how we experience being in real relationship with creation through interactions with them, other critters, or creation itself. 

 They talked about these relationships as love – not the sentimental, romantic kind of love, but a love that makes us feel like kin, related to and connected to one another, concerned for the welfare of the other – which for many of us takes the simple form of birdfeeders we put out to feed and water the feathered members of our family.

When God connects to us in love, it’s a felt experience, that is, we feel it in our bodies. A joy fills us to overflowing, and in those moments, we feel one with all that is, or was, or ever will be.

That feeling is the joy Jesus is talking about when he says our joy will be complete. It’s a pervasive, almost overwhelming physical and spiritual experience of wholeness and unity, and it’s available to all of us.

Learning ways to pray and intentionally invite this experience helps empower us to serve God in the world, and that’s why Christian Formation for all ages is such an important responsibility of the church. Have I mentioned that already? I did… but it bears repeating.

When we have been made one with God, one another, and all that is in these unitive experiences, we are strengthened and empowered to serve God in the world because, as Turner said in his prayer, we are made “ready for whatever the world throws at [us] because God is with [us]… and everything is inferior to God’s love that is with [us].”

Abiding in Jesus who abides in the Father means remaining aware that we carry God into every part of our lives: our families, work or school, leisure, volunteering, and politics. We are God-bearers, just as Mary was.

Imagine if, in the midst of a contentious argument, we remembered that everything is inferior to God’s love and that God’s love, which abides in us, connects us to everything and everyone – even the one with whom we are arguing?

How might that affect our responses? For one thing, it would redirect our attention from being right to being loving, from winning to connecting.

Here’s how that might look. A friend or family member is ideologically on the opposite end of the spectrum from you. Pick a topic – there are a million hot topics to choose from right now: gun control, BLM, getting vaccinated or not.

This being a sermon, though, let’s use the story from Acts as our example. It’s an unlikely scenario in which a Roman mercenary, Cornelius the Centurion, and Peter, Jesus’ disciple and the rock on whom Jesus would build the church, are brought together.

When Cornelius meets Peter, he senses the presence of God who abides in Peter, and connects this sensation to a dream he’d just had. Cornelius falls at Peter’s feet.

Peter, probably unaware of how powerfully the presence of God within him is sensed by Cornelius, lifts Cornelius up and in that moment, Peter himself understands God’s message to him from his own dream: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

Peter suddenly knows - in that way of knowing that is beyond thoughts - that not just food, but ALL God has made is sacred – even this man who represents everything Peter would be justified in hating. It is a unitive moment for sure.

Cornelius invites Peter to speak to his household, which was probably more than 200 people. Peter accepts and preaches the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ to them. Our reading today from Acts picks up from this moment.

While Peter was still preaching “the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.” In that moment all who were present, and all of us who read this today, understand that what had been divided has been made one by heaven on earth.

It can be done. It has already been done, and it continues to be done.

God is doing for us today what God did for Peter and for Cornelius: bringing us and our diverse neighbors into the presence of one another, to provide opportunity for the reconciling love of God to transform earthly divisions into divine unity. And God does that now through us – in whom Jesus abides. So whether the topic is gun control, BLM, or getting vaccinated or not, we have a model for how to act faithfully and participate in Jesus’ reconciling work in the world.

In ordinary circumstances, Peter wouldn’t have chosen to be around Cornelius … or baptize him. Each time I read that Peter offered Baptism to all those upon whom the Spirit had fallen, I rejoice even as I hear the voice of the liturgy police gasp with disapproval that this sacrament would be given without proper preparation. Yet, there it is…

I rejoice because this story reminds us that Baptism isn’t initiation into our holy club. It’s initiation into the body of Christ - a sacrament, that manifests and affirms the sacredness and chosen-ness of all whom God has made, reconciling everyone into one family – the family of God.

In the end, it is Love who chooses us, activates us, reconciles us, and finally, transforms the world through us. How sweet it is when our faith makes space for God to act. This is our victory. This is the fruit that lasts. Amen.

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