Sermon Easter 6 B
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and our Savior and Friend, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jesus has chosen us to be his friends. He explains what that means to us in simple terms. When we are his friends we will love him and keep his commandments. Loving Jesus and keeping his commandments go hand in hand.
The commandments are not just a list of laws, a list of do’s and don’ts. They are a guide to shape all of our behavior and our relationships.
Jesus tells us that following the commandments will bring us joy. That seems like a contradiction to what we might expect. Normally, we think about laws as something that restrict us.
The commandments of Jesus are very different from our laws. Moses gave us 10 commandments. The Pharisees expanded and explained them until they had 613 rules governing every little thing in your life.
Jesus makes it simple. He summarizes them into just two. Love God and love your neighbor.
Theologians have suggested that many Christians are stuck in something of an “arrested development” in their relationship with God. They see themselves as God’s little children who need fathering and mothering.
When Jesus invites the disciples and us to be his friends, he is inviting us into a mature relationship. It is the kind of friendship that adults have with their parents. It is no longer a relationship of dependency or childishness.
We no longer obey the commandments just because God is the Mom and she said so. We obey because we agree that the law is good for us. We do the right thing because we agree with our loving parent. We share the same values.
We no longer rebel as adolescents. We know and appreciate that the God who loves us as a mother and father is right about what is best for us. We have a mature relationship now. We understand better than we did before.
Our parent is still the parent, but the love is liberating and joyful now. It is not like when we were little children and needed the kind of love that was protecting and directing us.
When Jesus is our friend, one of the things we learn as mature Christians is endurance. We learn to hang in there and be strong when we need to. There are many things in life that require us to have endurance.
Our high school seniors hung in there and reached their goal and graduated last week. Our younger children have to hang in there for a few more days until the end of the school year. Some of you have to hang in there a little longer until retirement. Or you have to hang in there through the treatment or therapy that the doctor prescribed. Or maybe you just have to wait a little longer for a child to be born.
On the other hand, there are things we are tempted to endure and hang in there for that are not life-giving or positive. Being a friend of Jesus means we can be strong and leave situations that are not life-giving. We can leave abusive relationships. We do not have to hang in there with addictions, or with hatred, or with bitterness, or even with people who bully or harass us.
When Jesus is our friend we learn that his love for us means we can choose to endure only those things which are positive and life-giving for us and for others.
When Jesus is our friend, one of the things we learn is how to wait. Jesus is no longer physically with us. Next week we will celebrate the feast of the ascension, when the church remembers that the resurrected Jesus went to heaven to reign at the right hand of God. We will need to wait to see Jesus face to face.
Waiting for Jesus is like waiting for someone you love. We all know the joy of seeing someone we love after a long time. Many people say being with family from out of town is the one of best things about any holiday. Just as we look forward to seeing our loved ones, we can look forward to our future connection with Christ at the end of time.
When Jesus is our friend, we learn to trust his leadership in our lives. We trust his wisdom and his love. His command to love our neighbors becomes the guiding rule for our lives.
When Jesus is our friend, we love all the people he loves, too. Here’s the thing, though. Jesus loves everyone.
Our country is very polarized. We put people into boxes and set up divisions based on all kinds of categories. We label people as democrat, republican, tea party, socialist, real Americans, and foreigners. We label each other as child, teenager, adult, elderly. We label city folks, country folks, Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, ELCA, Missouri Synod, Lutheran Core. Male, female, straight, gay, red, yellow, brown, black and white.
You name it, we have a label for it and a box to put you in. We have invented a category for everything we can think of. We use these labels to stereotype each other. We decide who is in and who is out of our groups based on labels we humans invented. We divide ourselves and accuse each other based on our labels.
We are more aware of our divisions this year because of the presidential election. We are more aware than ever of our divisions because we have the guys on television and radio yelling about it all the time. And some of these people are even telling us that the Bible says we need to exclude people and divide ourselves into groups.
When we Lutherans read the Bible, we try to understand everything based on the message of Jesus Christ. We listen to what he says about who his friends are, and who is in and who is out.
In our first reading today, Peter is concerned because some Gentiles seem to have received the Holy Spirit.
Peter’s scripture, his Bible, tells him that God has chosen a certain group of people, Peter’s people, the Jews. The Jewish Christians with Peter are convinced that Jesus came to save them.
Yet the Holy Spirit has come to some people outside their group. Peter realizes that God is doing a new thing in Jesus Christ. He dared anyone to object and he baptized the Gentiles.
When Jesus is our friend, we are called to love and include all our neighbors, even the ones, and maybe especially the ones, who are very different from us.
When Jesus is our friend, he brings us into a mature relationship with him. He shares his plans for the future. That future includes all of us and all of our neighbors.
Our Friend Jesus has invited all of us to a great banquet. Then we will see him face to face. There will be no more tears or sorrow. Everyone will sing the Easter song with joy.
Alleluia! Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!