6 Easter B—5/6/18
Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17
Pr. Scott Kramer
Some of you knew Jim Fenner, who was a member of this congregation for decades. Jim died earlier this year. Two weeks ago some of us attended a gathering of friends and family just up the hill at the Skyway VFW Hall to remember Jim’s life.
Who knew that one week later, last Sunday, a gunfight would break out in that same VFW parking lot? Two men died and several others were injured. This is just a mile up the hill.
How do disciples of Jesus Christ respond to such a tragedy, right in our back yard? Or do we? Is it any of our business?
Last Sunday’s reading from 1 John laid out for us in simple form both the problem and the solution to this and any situation that serves as a test of our faith. The problem is fear. The solution is love: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars.
Another way to say it: If the love we feel toward another person comes naturally and we embrace it willingly, that kind of love has its place but it’s likely not the love that Jesus teaches. Who needs God if love comes naturally?
In our reading from John’s gospel this morning, Jesus has this to say: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends.
Here Jesus is speaking of himself as the one who will lay down his life, and the “friends” whom he addresses are in fact the very ones who will abandon and betray him. In this we find a key to understanding the love of God: When he uses comfortable terms like “friend, neighbor, brother, sister,” Jesus turns our definitions on their heads. The “friends” he speaks of include “enemies.” “Brothers and sisters” include people who have no obvious relationship or even connection to us.
In a word, the love that Jesus describes and in fact practices, is for human beings out of reach apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. This is no mushy, sentimental, feel-good love. The love of Christ is the hardest possible work that human beings can do! It is the love to which we aspire, and so in everyday life we look for ways to work toward that lofty goal.
I was at the monthly REACH meeting this past week. REACH is the Renton Ecumenical Association of Churches. It’s a partnership of various Christian denominations working to address local needs for shelter, food, clothing, and community. I was approached by Gail, who is a member of nearby Bryn Mawr Methodist Church, and she asked if our congregation would like to be involved in planning and participating in an August block party and parade in Skyway. It’s described in detail on one of your bulletin inserts.
Sounds like a great opportunity! But what caught my attention are the primary sponsors of this event: Skyway Solutions, a local non-profit working to build a healthy and vibrant community in Skyway. And, the Eritrean Orthodox Church, a Christian congregation that now meets in what used to be the Skyway Public Library. Both these organizations are within shouting distance of the parking lot where people died in the shootout last week.
Who is my neighbor? Who is my friend? Jesus asks. And he is quick to answer: It’s the person who practices the Godly command to love, who aspires to a perfect love that casts out fear.
In seeing this Eritrean Christian congregation’s involvement in making its neighborhood better, I thought back to last week’s reading. Out on the wilderness road, an Ethiopian eunuch asked the apostle Philip, What is to prevent me from being baptized? What is to separate me from the beloved community of Christ? Philip’s answer: Nothing!
Peter asks a similar question in today’s reading from Acts, and reaches a similar conclusion: “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing those who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”
Our Eritrean Orthodox neighbors are answering the question of what it means to be a “friend” of Jesus, and who the neighbor is. Having received with gratitude the unconditional love of God in Jesus Christ, what is to prevent us, they ask, from risking that kind of love to our neighbor? Their answer is the same as that of Philip and that of Peter. Nothing is to prevent us. Their neighbor—our neighbor–includes the neighbor in Skyway.
The risky, difficult work of love is not extra credit for spiritual superstars. The task of recognizing the neighbor and being a friend of Christ by practicing love toward that neighbor is the very heart of the gospel we proclaim. In this morning’s reading from John’s gospel, for example, when Jesus teaches his followers the nature of God’s love, he uses the word “you.” In the original Greek it is not singular–not personal–but “y’all”! The fundamental unit of Christian faith is not the individual. The fundamental expression of faith is not a private relationship with God. The foundation of Christian faith is the community—the body of Christ, of which all of us are members!
Beloved people of God, y’all have been called into a community of faith, together discerning our community’s call within the place in which we have been planted. Our relationship with neighborhood schools, with AA, with sister congregations who share our facility, swim club, garden club—these community relationships equip us individually to be Christ to the world. We are formed in our relationship to God to the extent that we as a faith community respond to Christ’s command to recognize him in the neighbor in need, including our neighbors up the hill.
The best time to be the Church is the present. That means the best time to be the church is right now! In a world gripped by violence and fear we, the body of Christ at Lakeridge Lutheran, proclaim and embrace not fear…but love.
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