Sermon May 19, 2019
Emmanuel Episcopal Church
The Very Reverend David Bumsted
Sermon from May 19, 2019
O GOD, who makest us glad with the weekly remembrance of the glorious resurrection of thy Son our Lord; Vouchsafe us this day such blessing through our worship of thee, that the days to come may be spent in thy service; In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I think we tend to have a strained relationship with ‘new’ things. Sometimes we quickly accept new things: new cars are fairly popular, a new pair of shoes is a nice thing from time to time, you welcomed me as a new priest only a few short years ago. But a lot of time, new things are not so welcomed. Take a look at the internet over the past few years as major changes were made to the stories of beloved franchises like Star Wars and Game of Thrones. Newness has been met with some extreme disfavor. Despite the fact that I was quite small when this happened, my mind runs to the monumental change made by the Coca- Cola company in 1985. They changed the almost hundred year-old recipe of their major product and released what became New Coke. People were not impressed. People took to the streets. The pressure was so great, that the Coca-Cola reverted their recipe and for many years, we drank Coca-Cola Classic with our Happy Meals; that word classic remaining as a reminder that Coke was always as it ought to have been. New Coke, was apparently a change that humanity wasn’t ready for in the mid 80’s.
Perhaps it’s with some trepidation, then, that we notice that “new” things pervade our texts in this weeks array of lessons from Scripture. In fact, my early preparation for my sermon this morning began with a swig of coffee in my mouth and the verse “Behold, I make all things new, ” on my mind. Jesus was referring to his mastery of creation to make and remake things in his image, which for as long as Jesus has been working, has meant apparently new things. New, as in new for us, but for God a return to His intention for us.
Look at the new commandment, given by Jesus at the Last Supper. He told his disciples that they will be known by one thing, by their obedience to a difficult new teaching that summarized everything he was going to tell them while they were at the table together for the last time. Very simply, he commanded them to love one another. In the same way that he had loved his disciples, so were they to love each other. This new command was such that is was meant to become a new identity for them, a new marker for them that went beyond their national boundaries, went beyond their similarities and their differences. The disciples of Jesus, henceforth would be known by a profound love for one another; this uncomfortable, yet more blessed new command that would be a starting point for how the world would come to see what God means to do with His creation by the ministry of His Son.
Not too long later, we find Peter, who was given an incredibly novel ministry in our passage from Acts this morning. Peter was assailed for sitting and eating with gentiles. As an observant and religious Jewish man, this was a problem for many around him. Yet, the message of the Gospel of Jesus was meant to go beyond the walls of the people of Israel. He was called to break the dietary codes of his people, a code held so that his identity of Covenant relationship with God could be made more manifest. Yet, he was commanded to eat without reservation; his vision of creation and its produce being offered back to Heaven in a way that allowed for him to be with his new company without distinction. This was very strange to Peter, I’m sure. He even made note that unclean things had not passed his lips. And yet, God removing the distinction of the dietary observance allowed Peter and the early Church to realize, surprisingly and perhaps painfully, that the ministry of repentance was available to Gentiles without distinction.
And then, at the end of all things, we read of the promise of a New Heavens and New Earth. The Revelation to John is a vision of old things being renewed, reconfigured into the fullness of what God had desired from the first: a place where He and humanity could simply be together. The Newness of God’s ultimate plan for us is actually pretty familiar, if you think about it. There’s a city, there’s an up, there’s a down, there’s people. But what’s not so familiar is God’s full presence among us which will mean the absence of pain, grief, sadness, anger, and alienation. Those earlier things will have passed away in favor of something more divinely primal, things like comfort, joy, blessed happiness, righteousness, and justice. Even death has been replaced, outmoded by the newness of life eternal with God.
Given all that we’ve heard this morning, God has shown us that these things we might think of as new: the new command to love, the newly opened ministry of repentance, even the new heavens and new earth, these things aren’t really all that new at all. God loved the world from the beginning, Jesus at the table simply means for his people to live as if God created us to love Him back and in so doing, love each other. Peter’s experience with his ministry to Gentiles was a return to the primordial state of affairs before dietary restrictions as identity were useful for Covenant identity. The New Heavens and New Earth are best thought of as a return to blessed Eden, that place here our first parents enjoyed contact with God’s presence. Our lessons today describe, very simply, a return to form; a form that seems new to humanity so used to living at odds with itself, so used to being alone in the dark, so used to violence, degradation, and despair. Is it any wonder that given how the old ways look that the light of God’s love would seem such a challenge to everyone who would follow the Christ in whom all things are made new again?
This Sunday, let’s be particularly mindful of the new-oldness of life that we are promised. It is there for our own participation as we experience the transient and fading challenges of our lives at home, at work, on the roads, and everywhere we find ourselves. That newness of life is an invitation to everyone we know that is still stuck facing so much adversity without the benefit of true and abiding love in God. Therefore, as we are dismissed this morning, with those wonderful Eastertide Alleluias, let’s walk out to love and serve the Lord rejoicing that “It is done! That Christ is indeed the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. And to all those who seek refreshment from the worries of the current age, to those with the dry-mouthed thirst of sin and death he will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.”
To the Risen Christ be all Glory. Amen.