English service - May 15, 2022 Messenger: Sherrie Oda
Bible readings: Acts 11: 1-18
Revelations 21: 1-6
John 13: 31-35
Good morning, everyone! It is a joy and pleasure to stand here before you and share today’s message. I pray that the Lord’s Spirit will open our minds and hearts to receive His teaching through it.
When I was praying about what to base today’s message upon, I was reminded of a practice I had grown up with in the Lutheran Church: the practice of all Lutheran churches sharing a common set of Bible readings every Sunday based upon the calendar of the church year.
This practice is called using a “lectionary.” So, I did a little research and learned that there is now a Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) being used by churches from many different denominations—including Lutheran and Baptist churches— around the world since 1992. It lists four different Bible readings to be shared at worship every Sunday: an Old Testament reading (except during the weeks following Easter when it is replaced with readings from The Book of Acts), a psalm, a “non-Gospel” reading from the New Testament, and finally a reading from one of the Gospels. These lessons are usually connected with a theme of some kind, a theme that ties the lessons together and helps with understanding and remembering them.
The RCL is based upon three, year-long reading cycles: Year A, with readings every Sunday from the Gospel of Matthew; Year B, with readings from the Gospel of Mark; and Year C, with readings from the Gospel of Luke. The Gospel of John is read throughout the special seasons of Advent and Christmas and Easter. The Old Testament, psalm, and New Testament readings vary with each cycle as well.
According to this lectionary, we are in Cycle C, and today, May 15th, 2022, is the Fifth Sunday of Easter. Isn’t that great? Easter is not just one Sunday, but it is a whole season of Sundays recognized as a time to remain mindful of the resurrection of Jesus and what happened in the lives of the disciples in the days following Jesus’ resurrection. The Sundays of Easter continue until the celebration of Pentecost—50 days after Jesus had risen—when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the disciples.
So, why use a lectionary? We know from the New Testament, that the early Jewish Christians continued their custom of reading from the Jewish scriptures when they gathered for Sabbath worship. These Jewish scriptures are what we call our “Old Testament.” The Jewish Christians were very used to hearing the writings of Moses, of David, and of the prophets every Sabbath. Do you recall Jesus, himself, reading from the prophets when he was visiting a synagogue? As the years went by, the early Christians added the writings of the Apostles—the many letters and the four Gospels—what we now have in our “New Testament.” Perhaps the early church leaders felt that consistency with sharing the Word of the Lord on a regular basis was an important practice in order for people to grow in their faith. There were important stories about Jesus to be shared, and the letters of the Apostles contained important teachings of how to grow in faith. Also, please remember that from that time and across many centuries, most people did not have access to any printed readings as we do today with our Bibles. Sharing the Jewish Scriptures which testified to Jesus being the promised Messiah and sharing the writings of the early church leaders (the Apostles) was important for keeping the focus on Jesus Christ and His message of salvation. Since there were no individual Bibles at that time, the readings shared at worship were very important for passing on the truths the disciples had witnessed.
Over time, a decided upon lectionary was developed by several churches as a way of being sure that all believers had a chance to hear the important foundational readings of both the Jewish and early Christian church.
Today I would like to look at the readings chosen for this Sunday. I think it brings an added joy to think that other Christians all over the world will be sharing these same readings today.
Because it is still a Sunday of Easter, the Old Testament reading has been replaced with a reading from Acts.
(Stop here to read the four readings listed above.)
Today’s reading, Acts 11:1-18, is quite long as it recalls an important vision and experience Peter had had early on in his ministry. This is a time when Peter learned through his vision from the Lord that the message of the Gospel of Jesus was not just for Jewish people, but was for the non-Jewish—the Gentiles—as well. In this chapter 11 story, Peter is explaining to the Jewish Christian believers in Jerusalem what had happened to cause him to visit a Gentile—an “unclean” person according to Jewish law.
It is important to know that before this event had happened to Peter, the followers of Jesus were all circumcised Jews, and even though they believed in Jesus, they still followed the rules of “clean” and “unclean.” Peter had also been following these Jewish practices—a cultural and religious practice he had grown up with and had practiced while Jesus was among them. Jesus, himself, had been part of that culture that they all knew so well.
So, Peter was shocked when the voice of the Lord told him in the vision to eat of creatures let down in a sheet in front of him that had been forbidden according to Jewish law. How could he do such a rebellious thing? But he is told very strongly, in fact, three times, to eat of the creatures in the sheet, and he is told, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (verse 9).
Because of this vision, when Peter is asked to visit the home of a Gentile who lived in Caesarea—a man who had also received a vision to invite Peter to come to share “a message through which you and all your household will be saved” (vs 14)—Peter realized that this was the meaning of his own vision: God had prepared him to accept the invitation to visit an “unclean” person and to share the message of salvation through faith in Jesus.
And so Peter obeyed and went and shared the message of salvation. Then something quite miraculous happens: the man and his household receive the gift of the Holy Spirit upon them all. They are baptized with the Holy Spirit! Up until now, the disciples had seen the Spirit poured out only upon their fellow Jewish believers. Peter must explain this miracle of the Holy Spirit coming to the Gentiles to the disciples back in Jerusalem. In verse 17, he says: “So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?” The reading finishes with the declaration of the Jerusalem believers saying: “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life” (vs 18).
This is transformational for the Jewish believers! This is a major shift in thinking: their God who had sent the Messiah was now telling them that He was a God greater than just their Jewish faith. He was a God who cared about ALL of His creation and wished for ALL to be saved by learning about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus! Jesus was a Savior for all of God’s creation, for the entire world, not just the world of the Jewish people. And the gift of the Holy Spirit was a gift for all people to receive.
Of course, you and I are all Gentiles and this is a wonderful thing to consider: Jesus is not just the Savior for the Jews. This change in thinking caused Peter to have to change his own attitude and understanding about the message of Jesus. And so this story gives us something else to consider besides Jesus being a messiah for the whole world. As I reflect on Peter’s reaction, it causes me to consider whether my own cultural practices or understandings have ever gotten in the way of others realizing that Jesus is for them.
When has my own understanding of God— or of worship of God— perhaps been shaped by my culture and gotten in the way of others seeing God as their creator who loves them as He created them to be? Do I have certain understandings of music or worship or use of words or expectations that are quite culturally specific? Do my ways get in the way when perhaps other people have another way of expressing or showing love towards God? God spoke to Peter and reminded him, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
Our God is the Creator of all creatures, great and small, and He loves and wills for all to know Him as a God of love who offers them a chance to be made clean. He is bigger than any culture, any puny human understanding. It is a humbling thing to realize this and allow God to use us without our own cultures and understandings getting in His way. I pray that He will indeed let us know if our attitudes and practices need to change to reflect Him more fully, just as Peter and the early believers allowed themselves to be transformed in their thinking about this. God is so much bigger than just one culture and way of thinking! Is there a new understanding the Lord has been trying to teach us through His Holy Spirit?
The remaining three readings of this Fifth Sunday of Easter reflect this idea of “something new” as well.
Psalm 148 calls on all of creation to praise the Lord, their creator. I can’t help but notice verse 10 which reads for “wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds” to praise the Lord. After reading about Peter seeing many different creatures in the sheet, I see the connection to all creatures being told to praise the Lord in this psalm. Certainly, this psalm is a wonderful reminder to us that the Lord is one Creator of this universe and we are all called upon to praise Him, great and small!
The New Testament reading for this Sunday is from the book of the Revelation of John, chapter 21: 1-6.
Here we read of this amazing promise to all when God will return to dwell among us and that He will create a NEW earth and a NEW heaven, the old will pass away. All of our old cultures and understandings will pass away! Our old ways of thinking, our rules and laws we think we must follow. Verse 4 tells us: “The old order of things will pass away,” including death, mourning, crying and pain! What a glorious thing that will be! God will make everything new! It has not happened yet, but it will happen, as God says through John’s vision: “I am making everything new. Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true. It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life,” (vs 5-6).
Yes, as Peter had been told, the gospel of Jesus is for all people and all creation, in fact, God will make it all new when He comes to dwell among us. He says that these words are trustworthy and true—“Write it down!” He says to John. The Lord desires us to believe it, this wonderful promise of a drink from the water of life and a new life dwelling with him. This good news is for all of God’s creation to hear and know and believe! It is a wonderful promise of “something new.”
And lastly, we have the final reading of this Sunday. It is the Gospel reading for this day from the Gospel of John 13: 31-35. In this reading, too, we hear about something new. Jesus gives his disciples a “new command.” What is that command?
“Love one another.” Three short words: “Love one another.”
Jesus says it is a NEW command. Up until this moment He had said that the most important commandment is to love God and the second is like it: to love your neighbor as yourself. The disciples are used to lots of commandments. They must have been very familiar with the Ten Commandments and lots of rules to follow (remember the “clean” and “unclean” way of life that Peter knew?).
But this time Jesus says it is a NEW command. What is different about this command that makes it new? Jesus explains it as He continues: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” The old way was: “love your neighbor as yourself” as we find in Mark 12:31. This new command is: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
As Jesus has loved us, so we must love one another. Let those words sink in just a bit. How does Jesus love us? How does Jesus love you?
Does He love us with conditions? No! He loves us unconditionally. He said he came for the lost and He loves us in our “lostness.” He loves us when we are so unloveable.
Does He love us with judgement? No! He loves us full of mercy and grace, surrounding us with complete forgiveness.
Does He demand things of us for His love? No! He came to serve and ultimately gave his life on the cross. He calls us to be servants as He was.
Wow! And this kind of love he now says we are to show to one another! This is indeed a new command. All the rules and regulations haven’t shown us how to love quite like that, have they? How can we possibly love like that?
I know of only one way: by the power of His Spirit at work within us! Holy Spirit living in our hearts fills us with that kind of love as we realize Jesus’ amazing love for each one of us.
But then, Jesus doesn’t stop there. He continues: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Wow! This new kind of love has the power to convince people that we are people following the way of Jesus. It isn’t our cultural practices or beliefs, or our fancy way of explaining things, it is the power of His love that we show to each other that speaks to the hearts of others and speaks about Him. This truly is by the power of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts, transforming us to love like Jesus.
About thirty years ago in America, there was very popular Christian merchandise being sold with the letters: WWJD. It was on cups, and bracelets, bookmarks and pencils. W (What) W (would) J (Jesus) D (do?) “What would Jesus do?” These four letters were a simple way to recall to love as Jesus loved us. What would His love look like at such a time in such a situation as we are placed? For me, stopping to ponder “What would Jesus do?” helped me to consider: “How can I love like Jesus?” How can I follow this new commandment He gave to His followers?
So, through today’s readings on this Fifth Sunday of Easter, we have seen “something new” in Peter’s experience of sharing the Gospel; in all of creation being called upon to praise the Creator; in a vision of the future when all of the old order of things will in fact be ended and there will be a new earth and new heaven as God dwells with His creation; and finally, we have been given a new commandment to keep us on track: to love one another as Jesus has loved us.
I hope that these readings have blessed you. Perhaps using the Revised Common Lectionary will become something “new” as a tool for you to use in your personal Bible readings every week.
Let us pray that the Lord will continue to lead each one of us as we grow in faith, walking with Him and loving one another as He has loved us.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, you have created something “new” for us and You have promised that someday, you will create everything new when you come to dwell among us. Your Son revealed this new command to love as He does. We ask that you continue to pour out your Spirit upon this earth, into our hearts, that all people will come to know the power of your great love for all of your creation and the new life you offer to all.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.