Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Sermon Easter 5 2016

Acts 14:21-27
Revelation 121:1-5
John 13:31-35

Today’s Gospel reading takes us back to Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper, where Jesus gave his new commandment - love one another as I have loved you.
This is Jesus’s programme of love, his revolution. It is the means by which he will create a new society, a new heaven and earth. And at the heart of it is not our effort to love, but the discovery that we are loved, in spite of, and even in the middle of, all the ways in which we have sinned – love one another as I have loved you, says Jesus. The new commandment makes everything new, for it is the discovery of ourselves in a new story that we had never imagined, the story of God’s gratuitous, generous love.
The theologian James Alison calls this revolution “the subversion from within of the story of this world”. What is that story? Human society from the beginning has tended to define itself over against some excluded person or people: they are not like us; we know that we must be alright because they, the outsiders, are different from us. This is a false security based on accusation and casting out, enacted in fear, hatred and violence.
Jesus’ programme of love is the opposite of that, he establishes a new identity founded on the generous love of God who includes all alike, both us and the people we want to cast out. He himself enacts “the subversion from within of the story of this world” by putting himself in the place of the excluded victim. In his death, human society does what it has always done. In his resurrection Jesus offers, not revenge, but forgiveness, a new beginning, a new creation. This is why we read this passage from the Last Supper in Eastertide: the resurrection is Jesus’ revolution of love, promised that night, erupting into the world and changing everything. 
Our three readings today present us with three stages in that revolution. In the Gospel it is announced to a small group of disciples, huddled in an upper room in fear of the authorities who are out to get them. And indeed one has already opted out of the revolution, preferring the old way of violence to the new way of love.
In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles we move forward, and a great boundary of inclusion and exclusion, that between Jews and gentiles, is faced and overcome. This is a crucial moment in the development of the church, and for a first century Jew who hasn’t imagined anything like it it is a huge step, so it is no wonder that Peter needs some extraordinary persuasion.
First his vision, repeated three times, of the sheet full of all kind of unclean animals that he is commanded to eat. It is interesting that God chooses to do it this way. Of all the ways God might have persuaded Peter, he gives him a vision of things that disgust him. Peter has never eaten anything unclean, and now he is presented with a sheet full of revolting creepy-crawlies and reptiles. It’s like a heavenly bush-tucker trial. But Peter has to face this because disgust and revulsion are closely bound up with the old story of humanity, of establishing our own security by casting out other people.
Peter has to leave his disgust behind. And when he does so, he finds nothing disgusting at all, but the miracle of Gentiles believing in God and filled with the Holy Spirit. And the even greater miracle, that Peter realizes that he is just the same as them: “the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning”.  This is Peter’s discovery, not only of the Gentiles’ inclusion in God’s gratuitous generosity and love, but of his own inclusion with them – the people he has been excluding, the people he has been disgusted by. It changes for him the whole basis on which he belongs in God’s love and mercy, too. The new commandment of love comes to fruition for Peter here.
In the reading from Revelation we see the final fulfilment of Jesus’ revolution of love: the new heaven and the new earth, human society reborn and made new in the discovery that we are loved. It is a society with no boundaries, without inclusion or exclusion, because it exists not on the basis of anything we do but is simply founded on God’s generous and limitless love. We do not build this new society, so we cannot draw any boundaries round it. It comes down from heaven, from God, as sheer unmerited gift. It is the City founded and built by God, as the letter to the Hebrews says.
The new commandment of loving one another with the love of God is where the new creation begins. It is where the old order of sin and accusation, of violence and casting out, begins to pass away, as human lives are transformed and made new by Jesus.
To be a follower of Jesus is to enter into something new, a new story. A new way of belonging, which finds us, in the end, in the City of God, the New Jerusalem in the new creation. And in that city all of human life will be transformed and made new by the love of God.
To be a follower of Jesus is to be on the way, which is to acknowledge that we not there yet. As we follow Jesus to the new creation there will be many new beginnings. But there will also be a sharing in the pain of the world as it is now, for the world is deeply resistant to the love which wishes to transform it. The day after Jesus gave his new commandment of love, he was crucified, and died, and was buried. The love of God, in the world as it is, was made known in the innocent victim, the one who was rejected and cast out and killed. But that was also “the subversion from within of the story of this world”, for it enabled the new creation to be revealed in the resurrection.
Today’s readings encourage us on our way to the heavenly City. Their central message is grace: the discovery of ourselves in the new story of God’s love. This is sheer gift, merited not by us but by Jesus, and given to us. We are to abide in that love, for it is his love with which we are to love one another, and so make known his love in the world.

It is that good news, faithfully preached, faithfully lived, that will open the door of faith to others and bring both us and them into the new way of belonging, the new human story, founded and built on the free and generous love of God, made known in Jesus Christ.

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