Fifth Sunday of Easter — Rev. Karen Barfield

Acts 11:1-18
Revelation 21:1-6
John 13:31-35

In the name of the one, holy and living God:
who creates, redeems and sustains us. Amen.

“Love one another.”

Peter was there that night,
along with Judas and the others
when Jesus said, “one of you will betray me.”

One of us?
Impossible!

These disciples had spent three years of their lives following Jesus,
giving up their livelihood,
risking derision, rebuke and threats of death.

They make furtive glances around the table considering who it might be until Peter motions to John to ask Jesus.

“It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it into the dish,” Jesus responds.

After dipping the bread, he hands it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot.

Judas, the most trusted of the disciples,
the one who held the common purse,
ensuring the needs of Jesus and all the disciples were met…
and the needs of the poor as well.

Clever,
reliable,
responsible Judas.

After receiving the bread, Judas immediately went out.
And it was night.

It was night without – and within.

Not only for Judas but for them all.

For all except Jesus.
Jesus begins to speak about glory!

“The Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.”

How can he talk about glory at a time like this?

One of his own inner circle has just gone to betray him,
leading to Jesus’ sure and certain death.

This is what is so amazing about this story as John tells it.

Jesus already knows when they sit down to their last dinner together that night that Judas is going to betray him.

And yet what does Jesus do?

He gets up from the table,
takes off his outer garment
and wraps a towel around himself.

He picks up a basin,
pours water in it
and very tenderly begins to wash the feet of each disciple,
drying them gently with the towel that had been wrapped around him.

He even washes Judas’ dusty, dirty feet with the same tenderness,
knowing full well what betrayal is to come.

And then he sits down and shares a meal with them all.

Knowing that his last days have come, time is of the essence.

He imparts to them the most important message of his life:
“Just as I have loved you,
you also should love one another.”

Jesus tells them in words but even more so shows them in action.

He knows, too, that Judas is not the only one…
Peter will also deny him – and not only once, but three times.

I don’t know who matched up the readings for today, but it’s absolutely brilliant!

In Acts we hear a story about Peter…
the same Peter who wanted his entire body washed that fateful night,
the same Peter who not long after denied Jesus three times,
the same Peter who affirmed his love for Jesus three times following the resurrection.

This same Peter who dives head-first into everything he does
confronts with confidence the Judean apostles and believers in Jerusalem who are angry with him for eating with the uncircumcised.

He confronts them because in a vision he sees God doing a new thing…
God is opening the way for a wider embrace of love.

The former “rules” and “grounds” for exclusion from the people of God are being overturned and transformed.

Peter says, “The Spirit told me to go with them [presumably three Gentiles] and not to make a distinction between them and us.”

As Peter entered the house and began to speak the Holy Spirit fell upon them, and he reasons, “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?”

Jesus sat at table with sinners:
with the outcast and broken,
with prostitutes and tax collectors.

He touched the lepers and demon-possessed.
He raised the dead.

He washed the feet of those sinners in the inner circle:
those who would betray him
and deny him
and abandon him at the moment of his biggest need.

“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.”

Jesus calls this a “new” commandment…
not really new as we know, but in Jesus’ day new because it still wasn’t very visible.

He made such love visible through his life – and death.

And that is what we are called to do as well.

The disciples were commanded to choose love in the aftermath of betrayal and in the midst of uncertainty.

Jesus’ command to love was not to love for reciprocity or for guarantee or for assurances but as a gift… to love others because God first loved us in our own sinfulness.

We are to show the world a different way of being in the world
so that the world may come a little closer to knowing God’s love.

This past week I was privileged to hear some folks tell some painful stories of their lives…privileged because they felt trustful and vulnerable enough to tell them and I to hear them. They were difficult to hear.

One was a young man of Indian descent although he was born and raised in the United States. Two of his white fraternity brothers referred to him, in his presence, as a “terrorist.”

Another was a story of a young woman from Iran who came to this country at the beginning of high school. Her math teacher repeatedly called her a terrorist during class and refused to let her sit near the heater during the winter in case she should blow up the school by tampering with the gas line.

This week I have been overwhelmed by all the ways we, as a world, a nation, a state, a city, neighborhoods, schools, churches divide ourselves.

Dear sinful, faithful Peter’s words rang in my ears:
“The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.”

“When [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified and God has been glorified in him.’” (Jn 13:31)

“Now” is glorious because it is the moment when God’s love shines through human sin and darkness.

“Now” Jesus will love us to the end.

“Now” is the time that God is making all things new.

“Now” is the time that we participate in the coming of God’s Kingdom!

So how do we speak love in the midst of hate and division?

Jesus asks us to love one another…
to forgive ourselves and each other,
to offer healing by listening to and respecting each other,
to dine with the outcast and broken,
to honor our differences and value each other’s gifts.

Richard Rohr said, “How you do anything is how you do everything.”

May all that we do be done in love,
and when we fail,
we know we can return to the One who always loves us and promises us new life.