Acts 11:1-18; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35
Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit. A whole new heaven and earth emerges. The holy city descends with the declaration “the home of God is among mortals.”
There are some big happenings in this week’s lectionary texts. Acts and Revelation reveal a new creation occurring as the Spirit breaches barriers between peoples and the resurrection power of Easter reverberates between heaven and earth. Nothing remains untouched or unchanged in the wake of Jesus being raised from the dead, and no one’s preferences or pre-conceived notions of divine parameters will prevent the Triune God from making all things new.
Peter explains step by step that which defies any human explanation. And yet, he makes the attempt and – another sign of the work of the Spirit – those who at first condemn his actions hear and accept his account. They are left speechless and then moved to praise God for this heretofore unbelievable happening. Even the Gentiles are included in the covenant, part of the people of God. All things new indeed.
The home of God is among mortals, made known in Gentiles receiving the Spirit and Jews recognizing that the evidence of this inclusion is indisputable. Silence and then praise seem the only right responses to such extraordinary occurrences of divine newness. I yearn to be so gobsmacked at unprecedented bridging of human divisions. I am not sure why heaven needs a reinvention, but I am eager for a new earth, a healed one, an unexploited one, a shalom-encompassed one, a mourning-no-more one. Come, Holy Spirit, come. Bring visions that come to fruition and explicit instructions that broker reconciliation. Silence the naysayers and overcome historic estrangements and wipe away the tears of those too long weeping.
I wish this fifth Sunday of Easter looked more like Revelation and Acts than the betrayal alluded to in the snippet we get from John’s Gospel. Jesus tells the eleven left in that upper room that soon he will no longer be with them, glorification inevitable, already complete, set in motion with Judas’ departure. All that’s left for his followers is to love one another. Such a simple, difficult command. The betrayal and violence, the evil and suffering, these feel all too real and present, old hat, inevitable. The glory of God and the love of one another? Those would seem new right now.
Another school shooting.
Migrants continuing to flee unspeakable conditions in their home countries.
Debilitating illnesses steal yet one more ability from us or someone we love.
Racism reinventing itself, over and over and over again.
Lord, please, make all things new – and do it now.
In this Easter season, when old divisions and ancient evils and all-too-persistent suffering bombard our newsfeeds and perhaps invades our daily living, how do those of us who follow a Risen Lord live in the light of Christ? Be salt and light? Stewards of the mysteries of God? Ambassadors of reconciliation?
Pray. Listen for the Spirit. Heed divine instructions, even when they counter sacred commandments of the past. Step by step, tell what God has done, especially to those angered by this convention upending, holy inbreaking. Speak of the visions, the new life in Christ, the big and the small signs of hope, grace and mercy. Love one another.
In all the huge, pervasive problems, recognize and point to the relentless moments of God-given newness that cannot be thwarted because the Spirit blows where it wills and the Risen Christ is Lord of all. Remember the word of the Lord, that nothing will be lost, that no one will be abandoned, that his burden is light, his yoke easy, his gift of rest, peace and saving grace sure, and this is his new commandment: love one another.
Such things seem so paltry in the face of such complex challenges and yet these gifts of the Spirit move believers to sit at table with those they once thought beyond redemption, bringing near those who were once far off, a foretaste of the heavenly kingdom, a glimpse of the newness present and on the way.
Prayer. A strange vision of unclean animals. A sure sense that God is telling you to go and eat with someone. Such are the ways God’s new thing come to fruition. Step by step telling about the work of the Spirit you witnessed and experienced, being heard and praising God together. This is how reconciliation happens and acrimony fades. Loving one another, tangibly, daily, sometimes sacrificially, this is how the world will know that the home of God is among mortals and that we are followers of Jesus Christ.
The Spirit blows where it wills and nothing and no one can stop the resurrection, the healing, new-life giving power it brings. Not religious rule keepers. Not skeptics, cynics or conspiracy theorists. Not corrupt worldly leaders or demonic powers. God gives even the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life. The Spirit enables us to love one another. Unexpectantly. Really. Sometimes even eagerly.
The retired pastor goes to the prison and leads a Bible study, week after week.
The neighbor mows the lawn for the man who can no longer manage it.
A bystander crowbars open the door of a wrecked car as it fills with smoke. A couple stays with the frightened woman behind the wheel until help arrives.
A father forgives the man who murdered his daughter and advocates for his parole.
A couple forgives deep hurts and commits to rebuilding their marriage.
Siblings and step-siblings come together to care for their aging parents, rediscovering and redefining family.
The prodigal son is welcomed home, his return celebrated, his bad behavior not held against him.
A Samaritan, of all people, stops and tends to the one half-dead in the ditch.
People pray. See visions. Follow the leadings of the Spirit. Tell others about it. Love one another and witness God’s new thing come to fruition, one meal, one story, one stunned moment of silence, one outburst of praise, one glimpse of hope, one sliver of light, one act of love at a time. See, nothing will hinder God making all things new.
- When have you experienced the Holy Spirit? What happened? Why do you believe it was the Spirit?
- Have you ever had a vision from God? What was it of? Did its content surprise you?
- What religious rules do we think are unbreakable? Why? Can you imagine God asking you to break them for a divine purpose?
- Jesus commands his followers to love one another. How are you individually and corporately following this commandment?
- What does it mean that the home of God is among mortals?
- How do we discern the work of the Spirit? Why do you think those who criticized Peter eventually came to believe his account of events?
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