Lectionary for May 5, 2024
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98;
1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17

When I was an undergrad (a very long time ago) the father of my good friend just hated being around other Christians. He was a nice man and had raised my friend to love God. But he just couldn’t stand going to church or being around other Christians. He found them/us boring, judgmental and irredeemably close-minded. My friend’s dad had a lively spiritual life but no fellowship with neighbors.

On the one hand, I understand his perspective. Churches can be tough places because they are filled with humans! Spiritual abuse (often dismissively referred to as “church hurt”) exists and is more prevalent than we wish. On the other hand, while acknowledging that churches can be difficult places to navigate, we also don’t have the luxury of writing off parts of the body of Christ. That simply is not in our job descriptions as Christians. Instead, we are called to love and care for our fellow humans—as difficult as that may be—because Jesus has shown us the way.

In the book of Acts, the Spirit has done the unthinkable: She (the word is gender neutral in Acts 10:44-45, and I am so tired of all the uncritical “he”) has continued her march way out past comfort zones. The Spirit fell on Jews from all over the world at Pentecost and then on Samaritans with Peter and John’s visit. She was present as Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch. And now, Peter has even preached the message of Jesus to Romans (Cornelius was a member of the Italian Cohort, after all!). And the Spirit no longer waits for baptism! She sheds her gifts on everyone at the blessed event, including all those in Cornelius’ household before they were baptized.

At several points the disciples could have rationalized and even quoted Scripture to try to halt the Spirit’s progress. Surely Samaritans weren’t part of God’s people. They don’t believe the right things about God! Surely a eunuch wouldn’t receive full acceptance into God’s presence. They transform their bodies in ways that were against Torah! Surely a Roman, part of the brutal occupying force that murdered Jews at whim, would not receive a welcome into God’s people. Cornelius gave charity, to be sure, but he didn’t resign his commission or join the fight against the Roman occupation. God includes all those who don’t make any sense.

We are called to love and care for our fellow humans—as difficult as that may be—because Jesus has shown us the way.

We don’t get to limit or direct God’s Spirit to only interact, bless and receive people whom we think are worthy. These aren’t small issues. Ethno-religious identity, bodily/sexual expressions, even being on the wrong side of international violence and occupation are not a barrier for the Spirit’s inclusion. We don’t get to be more selective than God.

The author of 1 John puts it more succinctly: The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love (4:8). In the readings for this week, the author continues the rational outworking of knowing God. Jesus has been born of God, therefore everyone who loves the parent will also love the child born of the parent (5:1). Loving the Father necessitates loving the Son. And loving the Son means loving and following his commandments. But what are his commandments?

Jesus declared to his disciples that keeping commandments is intimately linked to remaining in love. Jesus said he kept his Father’s commandments and remained in his Father’s love. We, likewise, are to keep Jesus’ commandments in order to remain in his love (John 15:10).

Before my Lutheran Christians revolt and stop reading—of course Jesus is gracious and forgives sins. We cannot, by our own power, earn or disqualify ourselves from God’s love. After all, Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, which proves God’s love for us (Romans 5:8). Yet, in a classic paradox, Jesus says that remaining in his love is up to us, by following his command to love one another just as Jesus loves us (John 15:12). Jesus goes on to talk about how he loves humanity and how we are to love each other: sacrificially. The one who lays down their life for their friend has the greatest love (15:13).

Circling back to Acts, there is a certain kind of dying to self that Philip, Peter and John do when they go to baptize and welcome the Spirit to that suspicious and religiously weird community of Samaritans. There is a certain kind of dying to self when Philip goes out of his comfort zone to join a Bible study and host a baptism for someone with different skin, a different nationality and different private parts. And there is a definite dying to self when Peter and the Jews with him recognize that God even loves and welcomes the Romans who oppressed their nation.

Being a Christian is difficult. Loving people who are different—and not just different but radically opposed—is difficult. But that’s what Jesus calls us to, and then does. That’s what his disciples did. And that’s what Christians have done throughout every generation. Loving—the seemingly impossible kind that costs us deeply—isn’t optional.

Cory Driver
Cory Driver is the director of L.I.F.E. (Leading the Integration of Faith and Entrepreneurship) at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. His book on wilderness spirituality, Life Unsettled, is available from Fortress Press.

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