Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sermon for Year C Easter 5

Who was I that I could hinder God?

I want you to sing something with me.
It’s not hard.
And it’s also not a hymn.
But I imagine that many of you know it.
It’s actually a Beatles song.

And it goes like this:

All you need is love
(and then the choir will sing: Doot de doot de doo…)
All you need is love (Doot de doot de doo)
All you need is love, love,
love is all you need.

Let’s try it together now…

All you need is love
(and then the choir will sing: Doot de doot de doo…)
All you need is love (Doot de doot de doo)
All you need is love, love,
love is all you need.

Okay, now if you need to doze off during the rest of my sermon,
what we just sang is the Cliff notes
for what I am preaching today!

Because what we hear today in the scripture readings is this:
God’s love is BIG!
God’s love is for everyone.
Our scripture seems quite clear and direct:
God has enough love to go around—
and around and around and around!

Enough love for both the Jews and the Gentiles.
Today we can expand and say
God’s love is big enough for
the Jews, the Gentiles, the Muslims, the Christians, the Hindus,
the Wiccans, the Buddhists,
The believers, the doubters and the non-believers.

God’s love is BIG and inclusive.
God’s love includes you and me—
As the old song goes,
“He’s got the whole world in his hands!”

None of US get to pick and choose
Who receives God’s love and who doesn’t.
God doesn’t need human beings to pick and choose.
There is no evidence that God works like that.

Peter comes to understand this through a dream.
Peter thinks he has all his religious rules down pat.
Then he has a dream.
Down comes this giant picnic cloth from heaven,
and when Peter refuses to eat,
because he is worried that some of what is there
might be unclean, unholy--
God says, “Give me a break, Peter.”

God says my feast is enormous,
abundant, generous.
Who are you to judge what is clean or unclean,
what is holy or unholy?

There is plenty for everyone.
and everyone has a place at the table.
God’s love is BIG.

And Peter gets it.
Peter understands that God is telling him
there is no “them” and “us.”
Peter hears and understands
…What God has made clean, you must not call profane.

Peter understands
that he is not God.
Peter understands
that he is not the One who makes all things new.

Peter says to those who are criticizing him,
criticizing him for being inclusive and welcoming,
Peter says, Who was I
that I could hinder God?

Who are any of us
that we can try to limit the love of God?

That has never been part of the gospel.

In John’s gospel today we hear the new commandment—
directly from Jesus.
Jesus says “love one another”.

Jesus does not say
love people that are just like you.
Jesus does not say
love the people that are easy to get along with.
Jesus does not say
love the people that will love you back.

Jesus says love EVERYBODY.

Jesus says this is how people will know
that you are my disciples--
by the love you show to one another.
Not the love you feel, but the love you SHOW.

This love is not a theory.
This love is how we treat one another.
Yes, we feel love in our hearts
but love can truly be seen.
Love is incarnate.

Love is how we speak to one another.
Love is our actions and our tone of voice.

Love is standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.
Love is being infinitely patient with the people who drive us crazy.

Love is speaking up
when someone talks about someone behind their backs
or tells a joke that diminishes a person because of their race or
religion, their gender or sexuality.

Love is wiping tears from the eyes of those who are suffering
and feeding those who are hungry.
Love is about being kind and gentle
in our own households,
behind closed doors,
when no one is around to see or hear or be impressed.
Love is seeing the whole world
as our household.

There is a story, a midrash, that many of you may have heard.
You are about to hear it once more.

Many centuries ago,
the Pope decreed that all the Jews
had to convert to Christianity or leave Italy.

There was a huge outcry from the Jewish community,
so the Pope offered a deal.
He would have a religious debate
with the leader of the Jewish community.
If the Jews won, they could stay in Italy and did not have to convert.
If the Pope won, they would have to convert or leave.

The Jewish people met
and selected an old but wise Rabbi
to represent them in the debate.

However, the Rabbi spoke no Latin
and the Pope spoke no Yiddish,
so they all agreed that it would be a silent debate.

They would need to communicate with sign language.
On the chosen day, the Pope and Rabbi sat opposite each other.
They stared into each other’s eyes
for a full minute before they began.

The Pope raised his hand and showed three fingers.
The Rabbi looked back and raised one finger.

Next, the Pope waved his hand above and around his head.
The Rabbi pointed to the ground where he sat.

The Pope then brought over
a loaf of communion bread and a chalice of wine.
The Rabbi reached into his pocket and pulled out an apple.

With that, the Pope stood up
and declared that he was beaten,
that the Rabbi had won the debate,
and that the Jews could stay and not convert.

Later, the Cardinals met with the Pope,
asking what had happened.
The Pope said,
First, I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity.
The Rabbi responded by holding up one finger
to remind me that there is still only one God
common to both our beliefs.
Then, I waved my hand in the air
to show him that God was transcendent,
all around us.
The Rabbi responded by pointing to the ground
to show that God was also right here with us.

I brought over the wine & bread of communion
to show that God is generous and forgives all our sins.
The Rabbi pulled out an apple from his coat pocket
to remind me of Adam and Eve in the garden and original sin.

The Rabbi had me beaten & I couldn’t continue.

Meanwhile, the Jewish community gathered around the Rabbi.
“How did you win the debate?” they asked.
“I haven’t a clue,” said the old Rabbi.
“First he said to me that we had three days
to convert or get out of Italy,
so I raised my finger to say, “Don’t’ even think about it!”
Then he tells me that the whole country would be cleared of Jews
and I said to him, we’re staying right here.”
“And then what?” asked a woman.

“Who knows?” said the Rabbi,
“He brought over his lunch, so I took out mine.”

Every day we debate similar—often silent --battles with one another.
We think we are speaking the same language.
But what I say and what you hear
and what you say and what I hear,
may be worlds apart.

Sometimes we think we hear God saying one thing
but who knows?
Maybe God is saying something completely different!

God tells Peter through a dream
that God’s world is not about the human norms
of insiders and outsiders,
of rules and regulations,
of winners and losers.

God’s world is about abundance and plenty.
God’s world is about everyone
being welcome to come to the feast.

God’s love is so enormous
we can’t even imagine it,
not even in our wildest dreams.

We worry and fret and criticize and judge.
We misinterpret one another’s words and actions.

We clutter our minds and our hearts
with so many things
that are really no concern of ours.

The gospel message to love one another is difficult to live.
Extremely difficult.

But fortunately Jesus was a man of few but profound words.
He gives us a mandate short enough to easily remember:
Love one another.
Even those of us with the worst memories can probably manage 3 words:
Love one another.

Or maybe if we can just keep on singing that Beatles’ song
to help us remember.
Maybe we will start to remember a little more often,
a little better,
each and every day.

Let’s try it one more time…

All you need is love (all together now)
All you need is love (everybody)
All you need is love, love, love is all you need.
Love is all you need.
Love is all you need.

Love is all we need.

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