9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
It looks like a burger. Cooks like a burger. Tastes like a burger. And even bleeds like a burger. But there is no beef in it. Instead the burger is made out of a plant-based beef alternative, with “bleeding’ that comes from beet juice. The burger is produced by a company called Beyond Meat. If you’re looking for a meat alternative to throw on your grill, you can now buy the ready to cook Beyond burger at Whole Foods. There are Whole Foods stores all over the front range and the one I drive by going to Rockies games always has a lot of cars in the parking lot. Beyond Meats is a health-driven disruption in the food business. More often than not change requires disruption.
Just think about electric cars, and how the industry seems to be reaching a tipping point. Maybe Tesla founder Elon Musk was the disruption in the industry. It used to be that electric cars were very rare. Hybrids like the Toyota Prius had some degree of popularity. But now every one including Ford and General Motors are rushing into the market. The gas-powered automobile may soon be a thing of the past. The Tomahawk in Brush has charging station for electric cars right off the interstate by the Subway and Wendy’s. They were all over in Phoenix I noticed as well. There are many other disruptions that occur around us every day, think of cell phones and how far they have come. One of my favorite TV shows is NCIS. I love to watch the new ones and the old reruns. But on the old reruns if you look at the evolution of the phone from that series they went from big phones to flips, to sliders to SMART phones all in the same series. All the changes to technology causes a major disruption in Gibb’s life, he hates them.
The early church was no different as they grew and moved from a group of 12 guys and a few women to a small gathering, then to a congregation and then an explosion at Pentecost the dynamics of the church were constantly in a state of disruption. Yet one thing remained constant and that was that the earliest Christians were all Jews.
Today’s gospel lesson from John is in the section right before Jesus has the Last Supper and his arrest. He is teaching the disciples about the importance of his relationship with God the Father and how the whole message is wrapped in love. A love that comes from the Father that is incarnate in the love of Jesus. A love that needs to be shared with neighbor and enemy alike because God the Father loves us all.
Jesus said, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
It seems so straight forward and simple. Yet each time we come to this commandment to love one another we end up putting parameters or parenthesis around the ones that really deserve love. This has been the case since the beginning of the church. The short passage in Acts requires some unpacking and of course it’s in the form of a great story.
There was a Roman Centurion by the name of Cornelius and he was the leader of an elite force known as the Italian Cohort. Now Cornelius was a religious man and believed in the same God as the Jewish people. He would have been allowed to go into the temple area known as the Gentile court, and to worship and pray and of course make offerings but no further.
One day he was resting in Caesarea and he had a vision of a man in white coming towards him. The man said that God had seen his heart and how much he looked after the poor and he wanted him to send some men to Joppa and bring back Simon Peter to see him. Cornelius calls in a couple of his men one who believed in God as well and told them to go straight to Joppa and bring back Simon Peter who was staying at the house of Simon the Leather tanner. Off the men went to do as their Captain had commanded.
Simon Peter meanwhile was working in the house and helping the leather tanner. One afternoon he became tired and went upstairs for a rest before dinner. He could smell it cooking and was getting really hungry when he fell asleep. While Peter was sleeping he had a dream that he was just starving and a sheet filled with many animals came down from heaven. The voice of the Lord said take, kill and eat whatever you wish. Peter says, “Lord I can never do that. I have never eaten anything that is unclean.” Then the voice of the Lord said, “Don’t ever say that anything the Lord has made is unclean.” This happened three times and then Peter woke up. He was sitting there on the edge of the couch trying to figure out what it was all about when suddenly there was a knock at the door. And there were the soldiers sent by Cornelius looking for Simon Peter. He ran downstairs and the men
told him about the vision that Cornelius had and asked him to return to Caesarea.
Simon Peter invited the men to stay the night and they would leave the first thing in the morning. While they were making the return trip Cornelius invited a bunch of his family and friends to his house to await the arrival of Simon Peter. When they arrived and knocked on the door Simon Peter told him who he was and immediately the captain fell on his knees to worship him. Simon Peter told him to get up that he was just man just like him. Then they went inside. Now Simon Peter told him that he really should not be there because he was Jewish and Cornelius and his clan were all Gentiles. But he had a vision and he believed that God thought it was Ok for him to be there.
Now some other Jewish folks from Joppa had traveled with Simon Peter and the soldiers and they were not too pleased about what was going on. They looked at Simon Peter and wondered if he was losing his mind, how dare he associate with Gentiles. Nevertheless, Peter began to teach them about the wonderful grace and mercy of Jesus. He was getting wound up in his sermon and telling about John the Baptist and all the prophets who had foretold the coming of the Messiah and how God told him in a vision that God didn’t make anything unclean when the Holy Spirit descended and began to disrupt the sermon.
The people who had gathered were given the gift to speak in different languages and even in tongues. Simon Peter just had to be quiet and listen for a moment. Then he realized what had happened and he proclaimed that Holy Spirit had been given to these Gentiles just as had been given to him a Jew and those who followed God. He said to them how can we deny them a baptism now? And they who came with him all agreed. Cornelius, his family and all the guests he invited were baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit right there and the group from Joppa stayed for several days.
It was not easy then and it is not easy now to think that everyone, everyone deserves the same grace of God and the love of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is the real actor in the story. It is the Spirit that moved among the people in Caesarea and it is the same Spirit that can move amongst us. Opening our hearts to the power of the Spirit is the hardest part. Friday at the Presbytery meeting we heard from Pastor Chow who is the pastor of an all Latinx congregation in Longmont preached with the help of an interpreter Sue Stefford-Gray from Weldon Valley. He said we need to tear down the walls that divide and build bridges that welcome one another. We then learned about a program in Fort Collins called La Cocina, the kitchen, where people are receiving mental health services in the Latinx population. We don’t see our neighbors as we see ourselves sometimes. The population of Latinx and African refugees are the Gentiles of our time. The Holy Spirit is ready to be poured out on all people. The Holy Spirit wants them to be in fellowship with us in all that we do. We just need to allow the Spirit to disrupt our lives enough to see how we can get to know our neighbors. I dare you to love your neighbor this week and to see how the Spirit is leading to new and exciting interactions with these populations. Amen.