In the 1970s, a popular feature in newspapers, usually on the comics pages, was a one-panel illustration. “Love is.” Each illustration showed a man and woman, as in the Garden of Eden. Each one had the words, “Love is . . .” at the top and a few words at the bottom. “Love is living in hope.” “Love is something you need on life’s journey.” “Love is not ordering the most expensive dish on the menu.”
Love is … fill in the blank.
Each of us, individually and in community, wrestles with how to fill in that blank. And for most of us walking the Jesus Way, for most of us in the Christian church, Jesus the Good Shepherd, and his abiding demonstrations of love, guide us in our journey along this filling in of the blank.
In our reading in the Book of Acts, God gave Peter a vision that would resonate with Jesus followers who had originally been Jewish followers, using the kosher-food commandments they followed as a vivid example. In Peter’s vision, the animals lowered in a sheet from heaven, from God, were not profane or unclean. What does this mean?
It means that God’s word to the new church, the Jesus Way, was God’s word for believers who had once been Jewish, and also believers who had never been Jewish. It means that people in Peter’s day and time who continued to observe Judaism were still Jewish and still beloved and chosen of God, and people who went from Judaism to the Jesus way were beloved and chosen of God. Acts makes clear, everywhere you and I care to look, that the message that Peter and Paul and the others had to share was for anyone and everyone. “Y’ALL COME ON IN.” And then Peter’s vision continued. Not just with what is good to eat – no, now God’s getting personal!
At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. Gentiles, that is. And the Spirit instructs Peter to go, with the three Gentiles, and with the three Jewish Christians to whom he was speaking, and not to make a distinction between them and us.
This is the difference between “all are welcome” and “You are family with me.” This is what loving one another looks like.
“Y’all come on in the back door because you’re family, and take off your shoes and leave them by the door, and you know where the bathroom is, and come on through to the kitchen and fix you a plate, and we’re all out back on the porch unless we’re in the den watching the game.” Which is different from, “How nice to see you! Please come in.” There’s welcome, and there’s inclusion. There’s company, and there’s family.
And when they get to the man’s house in Joppa, guess what, by the work of the Spirit, the man and his entire household are brought into the Jesus Way family. And Peter brings it home: If then 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? All are family.
The Psalm, which might just be one of the most fun psalms to pray, carries this image further. What does “love one another” really look like and feel like? Sea monsters, praise God. Fruit trees, praise God. Creeping things, worms and spiders, praise God. Kings, rulers, women, men, old, young, praise God. Every beloved creation of the Creator is God’s favorite. And the whole universe sings in exaltation. And this psalm, as Dr. Shauna Hannan points out, invites us to praise God throughout the day, in the quirky rhythm of our daily living.
Back down to earth, or not, we turn to Revelation, where the vision we behold today is a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
Whoa. We just had whales and anemones praising God – and there will be an experience of God’s kingdom in which there are no more whales or spiders or kings or age differences, in which we are all truly one in a new and unimaginable harmony. And in this kingdom of God, unlike in the kingdom of God where you and I now dwell, what’s missing is weeping. What’s missing is pain. What’s missing is death. See, the home of God is among mortals. The home of God is among you and me.
Every beloved creation of God dies. Even parts of the universe die. You and I and the cardinals and the dogwoods and the cats and the pin oak trees, all die – and that’s when we will go from loving one another as best we can in this kingdom of God, to being filled with God’s love in every atom of ourselves forever.
That’s what love one another looks like.
And we come around now to the Gospel.
On this fifth Sunday of Easter, after the risen Jesus has appeared to his disciples three times and charged them with living in God’s kingdom here and inviting everyone to God’s next kingdom – we are drawn back to one of the loveliest moments in the last week of Jesus’ life and ministry on this earth.
This reading begins at a moment of change. When he had gone out.” When who had gone out? Judas. When Judas had gone out to do what he was going to do.
Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus has been keeping an eye on the time. On the chronos time, the kind that you and I measure with watches, and with cell phones. And on the Kairos time, the kind of time by which God functions.
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.”
Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus has repeatedly said: My hour is not yet come. The hour is coming and is now here. Now is not the hour.
And all of a sudden, in a heartbeat: It’s time. That thing you’ve been anticipating that seemed as though it would never get here? It’s here. In John’s portrait of Jesus, the dramatic climax is the crucifixion itself. The resurrection and Jesus’ appearances after the resurrection are meant to move you and me to Act II: Equipping the saints.
And we are the saints. Peter and Paul, Lydia and Tabitha, Prisca and Aquilla, Timothy and Barnabas and Silas, Bob and Len and Anna and Thomas – both the Doubting one and the composing one – we’re the saints who are being equipped.
So in this moment, when Jesus shows you and me what this “love one another” means:
It turns out that what “love one another” means is meeting anyone – everyone – as a brother and as a sister in Christ, whether they are following the Jesus Way or not. And that might not look like overwhelming anyone we meet with the Jesus Way, so much as it seems that this “love one another” business really does mean that we are to meet and walk alongside and love and invite exactly as Jesus did for three years of his ministry.
Oh, wait a minute. It actually does say that. Love one another. As I have loved you, so you are to love one another.
That is the new command for you and for me, for Simon Peter and for Nathanael, in this Kingdom of God. If all of us are looking for the Kingdom of God being present here and now, if any of us wonders how the Good Shepherd of the green pastures is also the Lamb upon the Throne, this is it.
This is where loving one another is transformative. This is how Jesus is both shepherd and lamb. This is how Jesus has liberated you and me, by way of the cross and the empty tomb, to be both shepherd and lamb for ourselves and for one another.
This is what love is. Alleluia. Amen.