Lectionary Reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C
April 24, 2016
Then the one who was seated on the throne said ‘See I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true. Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.’ Revelation 21:5-6
This week’s Lectionary lessons shine and sparkle with images of newness, of God’s creative engagement with all that is created, and with ripe potential for preaching and teaching. And what better Sunday to have these lessons appear than two days after the celebration of Earth Day in the Easter season, when we’re still basking in the lily-scented air of resurrection! Yes! Bring on that which is new! We could all use a little something new, a fresh dose of hope, and a fresh perspective on our ordinary, workaday lives. This is a Sunday to celebrate the joy of “new.”
Instead of focusing on one lesson this week, let me provide a four-course offering of preaching points for you to chew on: the new command to love, the story of how God works through us in new ways, a psalm of praise to God for the gift of creation, and a promise that God will do a new thing amidst the suffering and pain humankind experiences. Consider your context and what sort of “new and improved” approach needs to be proclaimed, pray over the lessons, and give the Holy Spirit plenty of wiggle room to shape and polish your proclamation of this very good news.
Here Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment: They are to love one another just as Jesus has loved them. This is how folks will recognize them as disciples amidst the clamorous and competing claims of the world. Think about it. There’s a whole lot of hating going on in our world today. It is surely having an effect on those with whom you serve. Whether political posturing and rancorous rhetoric or global and domestic terror or bullying of marginalized populations (of all of these things) is causing dis-ease in your context, words of encouragement and simple reminders about how to do the hard and holy work of loving “Jesus-style” may just be the right thing to send people back out into the streets and workplaces of your community. Consider lifting up examples of justice, mercy, and accompaniment happening around you or in the news. Christians have a reputation for being hypocritical and judgmental. How might you challenge one another to strive to be a different voice, to be the hands and feet and voice of Christ to this hurting world?
Talk about a strange dream! Yet it is this odd dream that gives Peter the courage and context to make a change for greater inclusion among the believers. He is able to transcend the cleanliness codes and love his Gentile neighbors in a way that leads to their salvation and real life. The story may sound fantastic to 21st century ears, but my goodness, isn’t a little bit of awe and mystery in order for this age of logic and reason? How can we learn to listen for God’s voice amidst all the noise and multiple priorities of daily life? How can we cultivate the courage to do a new thing that we understand God calling us to do for the sake of the gospel? What examples can you lift up of those on the outside who are generally perceived to be unclean or unworthy? Is God calling you to be more inclusive and welcoming by transcending barriers of race, ethnicity, gender, economics, and/or sexual orientation?
This is one of the creation psalms, and it is perfect for the celebration of Creation or Earth Sunday. Begin by celebrating this vision of God’s creative glory, power, and will for humankind. Then contrast concerns for stewardship of creation that apply best to your context. You can find plenty of good resources through the National Council of Churches’ Creation Justice Ministries (http://www.creationjustice.org/) or through your denomination. Help congregants connect with simple and practical ways to make a difference and be a witness for creation care. Perhaps your congregation has a community garden to feed the hungry or an outdoor ministry that helps nurture future leaders. Maybe your leadership is open to a congregation energy audit. Perhaps you have members who are active in various environmental stewardship groups or vocations. Consider linking the praise in the psalm to action as praise. Challenge one another to take one small step for creation care.
The writer of Revelation speaks to a people oppressed and beleaguered, offering a vision of how God is doing a new thing even in the midst of pain and suffering There will be a new way and a better day. God will wipe away all tears, provide the gift of water that gives real life. God is with us–not far away, pie in the sky removed from our needs, our reality, and our hopes and fears. These are powerful words of promise for right now. If your community has suffered loss, or if times are particularly trying, consider preaching on this powerful passage. God is in the midst of us, and we are God’s people. This is very good news. Invite congregants to look for “God sightings” in the coming week and to report back. You might even help folks practice telling their stories and sharing their faith by recording short videos of these “God sightings” to share on your congregation’s Facebook page or website.
(Photos: Pilottage, IFPL, Creative Commons, Thanks!)