Listen to the sermon here:
Scriptures: Acts 11:1-18 Psalm 148 Revelation 21:1-6 John 13:31-35
There is nothing like starting a task or making a resolution which you know before you start that you will fail to complete or keep. Love as much as Jesus? Who are we kidding? Be assured, it is the goal that matters. We know that we will never in a million years love as much as Jesus loves us. It is the goal that matters.
Some people are naturally good at loving. I think it is in the genes. Being nurtured in a loving family certainly helps. Maybe we did not have an especially loving family but we noticed the loving people who were around us but not in our own home. Then some of us endured an awful home life. That is not me, just for the record. My parents cared much for my sister and myself and showed it by sacrificing so that we could have music lessons and meat on the table. We did not go on vacations but we gave to God with money and with time and with heart.
But, I know with certainty that many people spent unpleasant, if not cruel, childhoods. It can’t be called a childhood because experiencing cruelty – either physical or verbal or neglect – has no business in the world of a child. Perhaps we could start the word “uglyhood.” You know how someone decides to add a new word to the English language and it goes viral and finally those of us who insulate ourselves from culture learn that the language has changed without anyone asking our permission or even telling us.
Well, children are not asked permission about having a cruel life imposed on them. There is no choice. Their minds and souls are twisted and probably their bodies also. No wonder we have terrorists. Somewhere along the way, something rubbed the wrong way with horrific impact. Somewhere along the way, love was squashed. Goodness got lost. I think a great and worthy mission would be to enfold every single child in this world with love and all the necessities of life without having to suffer for them.
Where would we start? Probably it won’t happen inside our church buildings. But I could be wrong. Gathering neighborhood children into loving after-school experiences would be a start. Building self-esteem by feeding, smiling, helping with homework, teaching about the love of Jesus when the necessities have been met. Notice needs to be taken of signs of cruelty being inflicted on each child. Oh, this is dangerous territory. It can take us to court to testify. We would be liable to lose work, to develop anxiety, to be in danger from the parents who are not very happy with us to say the least. And, remember these parents were wounded themselves. There are wounds.
Remember the wounds that Jesus bore for us. But, Jesus allowed this to happen to himself to enfold us with love and forgiveness and salvation in eternal life. Jesus was beaten and humiliated. Jesus suffered. It was not easy. But it was different than children being beaten and humiliated. I believe that Jesus cries when our children are not loved. Imagine the flood of tears! But there is hope. It is us! Who else will start a love crusade around the world – east to west, north to south? Are you thinking that one person cannot get this started? Well we need to look around because other people have already started – little pockets here, a big pocket there, love pockets. There are pockets of kindness and loving and smiling and enough food, enough water for drinking, for bathing, for cooking, enough bug-free mattresses and blankets. But, these pockets are like the dots in a connect-the-dot picture. We need to connect the dots. We don’t need to re-invent the system. We just need to find better pencils, and more pencils. What are these pencils? They are money, people who sacrifice their lives so-to-speak to take these little ones under their wings. So therefore, we need more wings – both male and female wings. Children need loving male models as well as loving female models.
Oh, Lord, fill us with so much love and motivation that our hearts and minds will not be still until we give our lives to this sincere, rock-foundation love movement among children. This is not an arena for molestation. We are talking sincere God-love.
The command is that we shall love each other as much as Jesus loves us. This is John speaking or writing. Elsewhere in the Bible we have the command to love each other as much as we love ourselves. Well how many times do we catch ourselves recalling something that we have done which was not kind and loving and we are ashamed of ourselves and try as we may, we can’t bring ourselves to love ourselves in a healthy way. But this is a new day. Remember the cross where we are invited to lay all of these unloving things about ourselves. This offer is available. Many of us are leaving this offer unclaimed – like having grocery coupons and forgetting to use them when the cashier is processing our groceries. Let us claim this offer to totally rid ourselves of our past omissions and commissions.
Even if or when we get around to loving ourselves, that self-love will never be as great as the love that Jesus has for us. Yet we are charged with that goal. It is a goal. We move toward goals. We find that, even if we take two steps forward and one step backward, gradually we will find ourselves closer to the quantity and quality of love that flows from Jesus to us.
How do our other scriptures of the day speak to this love talk? I am moving to Acts 11:1-18 where Peter is learning that Jesus did not make this ultimate sacrifice for certain groups of people. The great cloud of the love of Jesus is not exclusive. This cloud is not one of darkness of impending trouble or disaster. I picture this cloud of love being clean and clear.
Remember this verse from Mark 13:26 (NRSV): “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” Do you know this passage from Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV)? “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Another cloud of goodness. These witnesses are our models, moving us through the race toward the goal.
In Acts 11, Peter is reporting to the apostles in Jerusalem about his experience in Joppa. The actual experience is recorded in Acts 10 (CEV). Peter does not see a cloud. Instead, he sees a sheet full of animals – unusual animals, not animals that a practicing Jew would even remotely think of eating. The story goes like this. Peter was in Joppa after Jesus was ascended. This is the time of the beginning of the church of Jesus Christ. There was much discussion between the disciples become apostles. Is this church of Jesus Christ just intended for the Jews or shall it include everyone? If it includes everyone, do the non-Jews need to be circumcised so they would be called Jews before they can be baptized into the church?
Peter was resting on the roof of the home where he was a guest in his travels. He had a vision. A sheet, held by the four corners, was full of animals, being lowered to where he could see the animals. A voice said, “Peter, kill and eat.” Peter said, “Lord, I cannot do that. I have never eaten anything that is declared unclean!” The voice replied firmly, “When God says that something can be used for food, don’t say it isn’t fit to eat.” This happened three times before it was all taken back into heaven.
Inclusiveness is beginning to emerge. The story gets better. I use the word “story” because it sounds more interesting than “account.” However, it is easy to think of “story” not being true. But, the Bible fits together like a giant jigsaw puzzle. It just takes time to emerge, or to be proven, a true picture. Just recently, I heard on the news that researchers have found the burned town of Sodom. So we are living in an age in which truth is being revealed. The picture is coming together with more than belief. It is coming together with proof, with actuality. How blessed we are. It is similar to a family coming together in real time – really together – after years of hoping that schedules and money and desire and reconciliations would fit together. When they do, we shout hallelujah!
Returning to the story of Peter, we clearly see God working to define this church of Jesus Christ. Just before Peter had the vision on the rooftop in Joppa, a man named Cornelius in Caesarea, which is north of Joppa on the Mediterranean coast, was visited by an angel. The angel told him to send three men to find Simon Peter in Joppa. As God plans these things, just after Peter had his vision, he noticed three men approaching the house. He went to greet them because the Holy Spirit directed Peter to do just that. As the story unfolds, Cornelius was already a man of God doing good works and praying much. But he and his family were not baptized. This man, Cornelius, and his family were key parts of the development of the Church of Jesus Christ. When Peter started to tell them about his first-hand experiences and knowledge of Jesus, the place was filled with the Holy Spirit who filled the family members. They were being baptized by the Holy Spirit.
When the apostles in Jerusalem were listening to Peter’s telling, they still were ambivalent about this big question. But, Peter said, “I remembered what the Lord had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ ” Peter continued, “God gave those Gentiles the same gift that he gave us when we put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. So how could I have gone against God?” When the apostles heard Peter say this, they stopped arguing and started praising God. They said, “God has now let Gentiles turn to him, and he has given life to them!”
This is the great love of Jesus for us. Everyone is included in this love. Not one person shall be omitted from the invitation. How then can we do less?
Oh Lord, God, increasingly fill us with your love. Let us move toward the goal of loving each other as much as Jesus loved us, … loves us, … and will continue to love us forever and ever. Amen