Libby Caes' Homily from April 28, 2013

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April 28

Acts 11:1-18, Rev. 21:1-6, John 13:1-31-35

Doesn’t it feel like we are living in a new heaven and a new earth?

Now that we have had several consecutive days of sunshine and warm weather, the relentless succession of gray cold rainy days are becoming a distant memory. Spring is finally here!

It is one thing to look out the window and see blue skies, green grass, crocuses and daffodils.

It is another thing to go outside, soak up the sunshine, smell the newness, clear out the flower beds, walk the Farmer’s Market. Sit on the back porch and watch the birds.

One year I noted in my garden journal on April 14 that it was 80 degrees and I was digging out dandelions. We are not there yet, but it is coming.

I am a theologian, not a scientist. I have often pondered as I walk around the Capitol at the Dane County Farmer’s Market, how it is that daffodils come first and then tulips. Why don’t we get sunflowers in the spring? Flowers know when it is their time to bloom. Must be something about their DNA. There is an orderly succession, we see it year after year.  Very predictable.

A new heaven and a new earth, is what this year’s long awaited spring feels like.

A new heaven and a new earth, all things made new.

This is the pinnacle, the high point of the book of Revelation.

It is transformation

It is intimacy, God and God’s people are one, like the intimacy of a bride and bridgegroom..

It is our deepest longing, our thirst for God, being quenched, satisfied.

This new heaven and new earth:

What is it? Where is it? When is it? How is it?

Jim Marion writes in Putting  on the Mind of Christ:

The spiritiual path is a path of transformation. For the Christian this means a work of Divine Grace, another name for the Holy Spirit who guides evolution from within. As Ken Wilber writes, “As for transformation itself how and why individuals grow, develop and transform is one of the great mysteries of human psychology. The truth is, nobody knows….We remain mysterious beings in a mysterious universe, a universe that is gradually becoming more and more conscious through us.”

How this new heaven and new earth comes about is a mystery.

Our other two readings, one from Acts, the other from John, give us some clues.

Jesus instructs his disciples during their last meal together:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.

Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

Live as I have lived. Love as I have loved. Know your oneness with God and all human beings.

In Jim Marion’s words again (page 9)

At that Last Supper he also gave us his “new commandment” …How did Jesus love us? His love for us was based on this same no-separation nondual vision of our inner substantial union with God and each other….we must come to the same level of consciousness that Jesus displayed.

 

Never before in the recorded history of God’s people have we been called to imitate another. Moses never told his people to follow his example, the prophets never ask us to imitate them. But Jesus does: love one another as I have loved you.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta is perhaps the most well know example of what it means to live and love as Jesus did:

“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”
― Mother Teresa

“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Mother Teresa lived and loved as Jesus did.

 

Peter’s visit with the Gentiles is another window into this new heaven and new earth.

The law strictly forbade interaction between Jews and Gentiles. A Jew became unclean associating with Gentiles or eating some of their foods.

The law was a tape drilled into the Jews probably from their birth. Difficult to erase!

So, of course, Peter is criticized by law abiding Jews for visiting Gentiles in the city of Joppa.

Rather than give a lengthy theological argument about why he did what he did, he tells his story

He tells his critics off having a vision or dream that repeats itself three times. When something happens three times, you pay attention!

He tells them of the nudging of the Spirit,

the synchronicity of three people showing up at his house to take him to Caesarea

He tells his critics of the message of an angel to the man that Peter is taken to. Angel-code word for a dream.

He tells his critics of the Holy Spirit visiting the Gentiles  just as on Pentecost.

All these events converge and Peter has been changed, he is not the same person, he experiences the world and God differently. The same nondual vision….the Gentiles are not separate unclean people, they are like him, visited by the Holy Spirit, loved by God.

The faithfulness of two people, Peter and the Gentile person, brings about a seismic shift. There is no going back.

This is the new heaven and new earth.

One way of understanding the struggle in the church over the last few decades is that some people truly understand that the church is inclusive, the gifts of God are for all, not just a few, that there are no second class citizens, there is no separation between me and the other or between me and God.

But in many traditions this is too threatening and there has been a retrenchment to the Law, the authority of Scripture is cited rather than the freedom of the Spirit. Law takes precedence over the power of story.

In my own denomination, the Mennonite Church, the struggle since the 70’s was first over whether women can be ordained, then whether divorced people can be ordained and most recently about the inclusion of GLBTQ people.

A new heaven and a new earth

Transformation.

Loving and living as Jesus did.

Intimacy with the God who is nearer to us than our breath.

Our thirst to know God is quenched because we have been fully known.

May the coming of spring, a transformation that is unfolding before us, be a reminder and invitation of the transformation that can take place deep within each one of us.

Amen.

 

Let us pray

That we would be faithful to the nudgings of the Spirit in our lives, we pray

Risen Savior, here our prayer.

To live and love as Jesus lived and commands us:

Risen Savior, hear our prayer.

That you, the Living Water, would quench our thirst we pray;

Risen Savior, hear our prayer.

For what else shall we pray?

And we remember quietly those we wish to pray for as well as those mentioned in our book of Intentions.

Risen Savior, hear our prayer.

 

Today’s passages are of newness

A new heaven and a new earth

A new commandment

And the new out pouring of the Spirit on the Gentiles.

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