The Rev Cynthia KR Banks; Easter 5—Year C; Acts 11:1-8; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35
What does it take to be a disciple of Jesus? I mean, there were certain things I had to do as a kid to be a girl scout. There were certain things my father had to do to be a Shriner and a 32nd degree Scottish Rite Mason. There are certain things you have to do to be a part of a sports team or a club or a civic organization. So, what do you have to do to be a disciple of Jesus?
Well, we get some clues from our lessons today—let’s see what they have to say.
Take the passage from Acts. Peter is in hot water with the circumcised believers. The Judean folks had heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God, but uh-oh—Gentiles do what? Eat all that meat expressly forbidden by the eleventh chapter of Leviticus. And Peter, hmmmm, he ate that forbidden meat with them. That violated the rules, that went against the customs.
Peter explained it to his Judean brothers and sisters this way. “I was in the city of Joppa, just praying and minding my own business, and I went into this trance and I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, and it was being lowered by its four corners; and it came real close to me. As I looked at it real closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. And I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter, kill and eat.’ But I replied, because you know I follow the customs of our people, I told that voice, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice spoke a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times, then everything was pulled up again to heaven. Then three men came to me from Caesarea, came right to the house where we were staying. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. Six of my brothers here, they came with me. We entered a man’s house, and he told us how he had seen an angel standing right in the middle of his house and that angel was telling him, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; and he will give you a message that will change your life and the lives of everyone in your household, it will make you whole.’ So, I began to speak, and the Holy Spirit fell upon them just like it did us at the beginning…I ask you this, ‘If God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God.’”
Well, when his critics heard that, they got real quiet, like total silence quiet, like they were speechless. Then, they praised God saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
What does it take to be a disciple of Jesus?
If you’re a Gentile, it takes a willingness to admit the possibility that someone who knows Jesus just might know something, be able to say something, that will change your life, that will make whole something in you that has long been broken.
If you are already a believer, being a disciple of Jesus means cultivating a capacity to rethink, constantly, what we think we know about where God’s boundaries rest.
To be a disciple of Jesus means we have one ear open, always, for the Voice that will call us to go beyond where we think we can or should go.
To be a disciple means we have our eyes open to a vision that doesn’t make sense to us, but sure feels of God.
To be a disciple means we commit to being in a conversation with God, with Jesus, with the Spirit, with whomever and however the Holy manifests itself to us. Notice that Peter doesn’t just take the Voice’s commands on the first round, but that Voice came round three times before Peter agreed. When the Voice keeps knocking on our door, either in a voice, or in a dream, or in a nagging thought that we just can’t shake, then it’s time to tune in.
To be a disciple is to throw our distinctions to the winds—God will do what God will do—we don’t get to decide who is in the club. As the psalmist makes clear, from God’s perspective, everything belongs, even the sea-monsters, even the deep, even the hail, the fire, and the tempestuous wind; old, young; princes, paupers; everything, everyone belongs.
The Revelation to St. John tells us some other qualities we’ve got to have to be a disciple of Jesus. We’ve got to be willing to be made new. We’ve got to be willing to toss aside this notion that God is some far away distant being, either easily angered or mostly indifferent or just plain impotent. According to the Revelation, God is madly in love with us, bridal chamber kind of love. And that love can make us new.
Oh, and there is one other thing that we need to be a disciple of Jesus according to the Revelation. We’ve got to be thirsty for the water. If you want the water from the spring of the water of life, you’ve got to admit how thirsty you are for it. Maybe we don’t think we’re thirsty because we’re pouring all kinds of stuff into our souls, but really, is any of it touching that deep soul thirst we have for the Living God? Does any of the stuff that promises to jumpstart our life compare to the water that comes from the spring of the water of life? You taste that water, and you will never be satisfied with anything else.
So, humility, openness, a willingness to listen and to see, a commitment to be engaged in the conversation with the Holy, a willingness to be intimate with the Holy and to acknowledge our thirst, these are the qualities we have to cultivate to be a disciple of Jesus, but there is one thing more, and it is revealed in the Gospel of John. What else do we have to do to be a disciple of Jesus?
Love. We have to love. This is the new commandment that Jesus gives his followers the night before he has to enter the darkness of Good Friday. In fact, this is the only commandment that Jesus gives his followers. “That you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
When I was a girl, you knew a girl scout by her uniform and the infamous cookies. You know a Shriner by the funny hat he wears, the good works he does, and an insatiable appetite for fun. You know a disciple of Jesus by their love. It is not by our creed or our customs, it is not by our denominational affiliation or where we go to church, people will know we follow Jesus when we love like Jesus. It really is that simple.
So, what do you have to do to be a disciple of Jesus? Not much, just love the world, all the world, even your enemies, love the world as much as Jesus did. By the way, loving that way will kill you, but that is never the end of the story. Sometimes the old has to pass away if we are to dance among the living in a world where God cannot be hindered, and everyone gets the gift, and God is making all things new. Amen.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
April 28, 2013