The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Fifth Sunday of Easter
“See, I am making all things new,” is the voice message John gets while on an inland retreat, the Isle of Patmos. Some of you know last week I celebrated an anniversary of my first revolution around the sun. John’s words, “I am making all things new,” while looking in the mirror, brought a humble sigh, “One can only hope.”
Resurrection makes everything new, well some things. Our lives and the world look the same: aging, violence, disease, evil, death. As Woody Allen once said, “God is basically an underachiever.” Do you believe God is really making all things new? Do you see signs? Or were you told to believe it, but never got around to it.
Today’s Gospel reading – Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment. It’s not really new. I was disappointed when I learned it’s in the Old Testament. God intended we love one another well before Jesus arrives. What is new, Jesus adds: “As I have loved you, you also should love one another.” We see God in Jesus. God cares we love as Jesus loves. Know what that looks like?
How does Jesus love us? Once Jesus did a lowly thing – washed his disciple’s feet – made it a new thing for us to do. Love means noticing and caring for others’ needs. Jesus dips bread with Judas, his betrayer – the lost are included at table – a new thing for table fellowship. Jesus teaches us about prodigals coming home, lost sheep being sought and found. To love as Jesus is costly. Imagine such love Jesus has for us – to suffer and die, showing us divine love in action. Be careful – for loving as Jesus loves will change you. You begin to deny your impulses and selfish self, to serve and love because Jesus does. Jesus brings an old commandment alive in new, countercultural ways.
Some think Jesus limits this love to only those in his circle – disciples. I believe wants first, to form a community to love as he loves – so we can demonstrate that love, and draw them into God’s love – betrayers, sinners, deniers, people of weak faith and with no faith – a community that becomes light shining into darkness, brings healing to broken and fear-filled lives, order into chaos, and models Jesus’ love and forgiveness to the world. When we fail to love one another as Jesus loves us, we betray the Lord we say we love. How can the world possibly be drawn into God’s love – if we don’t believe it enough to live it ourselves? We embody the new – and this is what Jesus’ love looks like.
And then Acts – a twice told story – which means this is important – first in Acts 10, and next Acts 11, when Peter gets called back to headquarters to account for rumors reported to the church authorities. While praying, Peter has received a vision and gets converted to the new thing God is doing in Jesus. Then some gentiles show up for Peter to put into practice God’s new thing. The Law says who’s in and who’s out; who the Holy Spirit can come to; what’s profane and what’s clean – now the old is passing away. The Holy Spirit is all over this story – guiding the Jesus community into a new reality. And when the Apostles and believers, who were so riled up that Peter would eat with sinful, unclean Gentiles, break their laws, commit impure acts – when they hear his story, they get converted: “God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to new life.” God is making all things new.
And then we have the John of Revelation. We often hear these words at funerals, reminding us at death, God will do another new thing. A new creation will arrive when death, tears, mourning, crying and pain will be no more. God brings heaven to earth, up close and personal, to love and dwell with us in a new world beyond our imaging. John sees the coming kingdom Jesus lived and preached as God’s replacement for the old. It’s already happening. God in Jesus is already drying our tears, holding us in times of mourning and pain. We glimpse it through stories of his miracles and signs. Jesus begins righting what is wrong in the first age and the sign and seal is Jesus’ resurrection. We live mostly in the first creation, and we are made witnesses and heralds of the new thing God is doing to reverse evil and all that is mangled, disordered and dysfunctional in this world. Our lives are being made new for the sake of drawing others into God’s new thing.
Life is a continuing journey of living in the new and old, the known and unknown, of longing for stability and assurance, yet encountering endings and uncertainties. That’s life in the first creation for us, for those we love, even in the church, when relationships change. I have mourned with you, when friends here have move away, dropped out; or when our beloved move into God’s nearer presence. They are times of both grief and hope; grief – the brokenness of the first creation; hope – in a God who will and is already making all things new. We just don’t know what that will be like.
Thinking about leaving St. Paul’s is hard. I told someone recently, leaving a cranky, conflicted church – not so tough. Part of the beauty of grief is to recognize the depth and power of love. We have a few months to talk about all this and absorb what it means. I am both sad to leave, and hopeful that the next chapters of our journeys will be as fulfilling and wonderful as this time and ministry we have here. I am confident that will be. Even when endings come, God makes all things new, and holds us in bonds of love, sends the Spirit who continually guides us into God’s new things, until that day when heaven no longer stands far off – when God fully dwells with us – and all is love. Our present is in shaped by God’s future – the new thing to come, already dwelling among and in us. “See,” says the enthroned one, “I am making all things new.” Believe it and then look through that lens. That’s how we shall see, and that’s how we shall know.