I broke my cellphone today. It was an older phone, and the man at the Genius Bar who gave me the bad news that it was unfixable added cheerily, “Maybe this is the time to finally update. We have nine models newer than your phone.” I don’t want to update to a new phone; I just want my old one to work again. But sometimes renewing and updating is exactly what the situation requires. The lectionary readings from this week all point to God’s work of renewing and updating human hearts, and all of creation.
Shortly before Jesus was betrayed and handed over to those who were seeking to have him killed, he issued what he called a “new commandment”: Love one another. The “new” part is puzzling. Earlier, when asked to name the most important commandment, Jesus said the second most important was from Leviticus 19:18: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” So how can this “love one another” from John 13:34 be a “new commandment”?
I would argue that it renews the earlier commandment. Instead of having a love that is defined by the absence of ongoing anger and hypocrisy (the hypocrisy of doing to someone else what you would never want done to you), Jesus commands a love of neighbor that testifies to who Jesus is: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Certainly letting go of grudges and treating everyone with empathy and goodwill are already lofty goals. But Jesus commands a level of love for our neighbors that automatically communicates that we are his disciples. This renewal and updating of the expectation of loving in the kingdom of God had immediate ramifications.
After Peter has a vision of unclean animals and a voice telling him to “kill and eat,” the Spirit tells him immediately that the vision was not about breaking kosher laws but about a new thing that was about to happen with Gentiles (Acts 11:12). The Spirit comes to Cornelius and his household of Gentiles as it has come to those Jews celebrating Pentecost in Jerusalem earlier (Acts 11:15). Peter wisely reasons that if God were renewing the baptism of the Spirit with Gentile believers as well as Jewish believers, one would be foolish to stand in the way of this newness (Acts 11:17).
Finally, Revelation tells us that, at the end of the age, there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and the new Jerusalem will come from God as a bride adorned for her wedding (Revelation 21:1-2). Into this new situation, God will renew God’s presence among humans. God walked with humans in the garden, journeyed with the Israelites in the wilderness camps, and lived among people in a new way in Jesus. But Revelation paints a picture in which God’s presence will be among God’s people in an even more radically intimate way. In the passage, a loud voice cries out from the throne: “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them” (Revelation 21:3).
Throughout Scripture, the hope of the Lord is that God will be our god and we will be God’s people. Revelation points to a time when that old dream will be newly realized, the voice proclaiming: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning or crying or pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away. … See, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:4-5).
God delights in making things, and people, new. God worked and continues to work creation in the universe and in our lives by renewing and bringing forth new life. We must resist the temptation to think that things are as good as they can be, or to resist the winds of change that the Spirit blows into our lives. God’s good pleasure is to bring updates and renewal; it always has been, and it always will be.