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Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 9, 2010

Easter 6 Year C RCL May 9, 2010

Acts 16:9-15
Psalm 67
Revelation 21:10-22:5
John 14:23-29

Once again this morning in our reading from the Book of Acts, things are moving at the pace of a rapid-fire news account. Paul and Silas are in Troas, and Paul has a vision of a man from Macedonia who says, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” So Paul and his companions immediately head for Philippi.
When the Sabbath comes, they go to look for the Jewish community and they find them in a place of prayer, possibly a synagogue, by the river. There, they speak to a woman named Lydia, who is worshipping with a group of women. She is a dealer in purple cloth, which means that she sells fabric to the wealthy. She is also wealthy herself and has high standing in the community. In response to Paul’s proclamation of the Good News, she and her household are baptized and she offers her home as a base for Paul’s work in the area. Lydia is one of several women who served as leaders in the early church.

Just as Cornelius the Centurion was the first Gentile convert, Lydia is the first European convert. The new faith is rapidly spreading into new territory.

Today’s gospel comes from what is called Jesus’ farewell discourse to his followers. He has just washed their feet and shared the Passover meal with them. Judas has just left. Jesus is telling them and us that he must go to the Father. The Feast of the Ascension comes this Thursday, so his departure is clear in our minds. These are his marching orders for us. This is his last chance to tell us what he is about. He is gone and we are left here to carry out his mission.

The first point he makes is about love. “Those who love me will keep my word and the Father will love them and we will come to them and make our home with them.” Jesus calls us together in love. He does not order us around. He is among us as one who serves, and he calls us to be servants. He does not compel us to follow him through guilt, or coercion, or manipulation. None of these things. Just love. To love Christ is to live a life rooted in compassion, and, if we love Christ, we are one with him and with God. Love is the force that binds together the members of the Body of Christ. Later in this gospel, he will say that he is the vine and we are the branches. The love is the vibrant life force, the current, the energy, which keeps the Body not only alive but growing and thriving. And it is that love which prompts the Body, each arm and leg and eye and ear and cell, to reach out in love to others.

The next part is about the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells us at another point that he has much to teach us but we cannot bear it all now. So he will send the Spirit to guide us into all truth. And it is not a black and white, limited, concrete, hard and fast truth. It is a truth filled with mystery and ambiguity, a constantly unfolding truth, as the Spirit leads us into more and more fullness. It is a truth rooted and grounded in love and compassion. So the Spirit is constantly nudging us to see new things, to learn more and more about the wonder and beauty of God’s creation.

Finally, Jesus talks about peace. But this peace, this shalom, is not simply a static state of calm or stillness. Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “The word shalom, usually translated by the English word peace, is a far wider concept than what we usually mean by peace. Shalom has many levels of meaning. It can mean the coming together of all things, the resolution of many conflicting aspects of human existence and indeed of all creation. In that sense, shalom has intimations of unity, resolution, reconciliation, a clarifying of our perceptions. All this may come after a period in no way peaceful in the ordinary sense . Shalom may be reached after much conflict.” (Child of Peace, Lord of Life, p. 67.)

The shalom of Christ, the reign of God, is the restoration of the garden, the knitting together of the creation into the ultimate harmony which God intends for it. It is what the seer named John envisioned in the coming of the new Jerusalem. Here we are, arms and legs and eyes and ears in the Body of Christ, called together to do his work, to spread his vision of love, to share his hope and healing as Paul and Silas and Lydia and others have done over all these centuries.

We are called to keep in our minds and hearts the vision of shalom. God is at this very moment working in the creation, working in us and in everyone, to bring this vision to completion. Even when we cannot see it happening, and often we cannot—it is like leaven in the flour. It is like treasure hidden in a field. Even when we cannot see that it is happening, we are called to trust that the shalom of God is growing.

In her book, A Wing and a Prayer, our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori writes that she signs her e-mails with the word shalom as a reminder of what she is supposed to be about. She says that there had been a series of letters to the editor about a Muslim student who had left her high school because of how she was treated. These letters were from students at a local high school inviting this young woman to join their school, “where they believed she would be welcomed.” She notes that such an attitude is in harmony with our baptismal vows to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”

She adds, “That’s the kind of work each one of us has agreed to do: to use every resource at hand to build the reign of God—to use the gifts we have, the ones we think we might have, and the ones we haven’t discovered yet, to be willing to speak aloud about our vision of peace, whether in the newspaper or in the halls of Congress, and to dedicate our lives to making that vision come alive, to give our hearts to it, to believe in it, with every fiber of our being.

Building the reign of God is a great and bold adventure, and it is the only route to being fully alive. If we don’t set out to change the world, who will?”

Amen.

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