May 17, 2020, The Sixth Sunday of Easter

The Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 17, 2020
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin


Readings: Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:7-18; I Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21

(Jesus said) “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, risen Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

     Each year, on the third Sunday in May, it has been our custom to bring seedlings, seed packets, and young plants to church for a special blessing. Of course, I am talking about our observance of Rogation Day. Rogation Day is a reminder that from the moment that we were created, God’s people have been called upon to be guardians and nurturers of God’s gift of creation: the earth, the sky and seas, one another and our neighbors – everything that God has created.

     But this year, social distancing prevents us from gathering and presenting our plants and seeds for blessing. Now, for some that might be good news. After all, for the past couple of years any plants or seeds that I blessed have notyielded a bountiful harvest by any stretch of the imagination. And so, it won’t surprise you to learn that I figured because we can’t observe Rogation Day this morning and I’m not very good at blessing plants anyway, we will just focus on our lessons for the 6th Sunday of Easter instead.

And then I read today’s lessons and was amazed at how their themes of nurturing and guarding our faith, fit with the Rogation Day themes of guarding and nurturing creation. And I find both themes so very timely for us as our communities enter Phase II of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic and ease some restrictions on gatherings and conducting business.

     Last Sunday, our scripture lessons challenged us to remember that the mission and work of the Church must always reveal the face of God – the redemptive, forgiving, grace-filled, welcoming and merciful nature of God – to everyone we meet, to the whole world. The words of our Savior Christ, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father: should be true of us as followers of Christ. Whoever sees us, should see the Father, see God in Christ at work in ustransforming who we are, how we live, what we value: see Christ making a difference in this world in and through us. Today’s scripture lessons take those words of Jesus that much further.

     In our reading from Acts, St. Paul confronts one of the follies of human nature that tends to think of God in humanterms, someone to be appeased, and therefore, manipulated. “If I do this, then God has to do that.” After all that’s how humans tend to interact with each other: an endless stream of quid pro quo encounters. But Paul says God is not something we created out of silver or gold, but rather, God created us and did so with a purpose. And that purpose is to be caretakers and protectors of all that God created including our neighbors and this “fragile earth our island home” as Eucharistic Prayer C describes the world. But we tend forget that purpose and see ourselves as our own masters, as our own creators. In so doing, many try to shape God into their own image rather than allowing God to shape, to transform them, transform us, into the image of Christ, shape us as guardians and nurturers of all that God has created. God is not some figment of our imagination, Paul says, but our Creator in whom “we live and move and have our being.” In other words, God isn’t part of our lives: God is our life.

     St. Peter, in his letter to the church, speaks about nurturing and guarding our faith. He describes this as a sacred calling and trust. But then he goes on to say that the only kind of faith worth protecting, nurturing and cultivating, is faith that is put into action, that makes a difference. Remember what Jesus said? “A light hidden under a bushel does no good.” Peter says, yes, being a nurturer of our faith means studying and learning everything about the Christian way of life but not simply for our own edification, but rather, so that we actually live that faith and put it into action so that it transforms the world. When faith spurs us to live differently, to reconsider what we value, and speak out against injustice whether that injustice affects another human being or creation itself, we demonstrate what it means to bethat face and presence of God Jesus calls us to be.

     Christians believe that God, the Creator of everything that is, seen and unseen, personally engaged with humanity through Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ, and that God continues to engage with the whole world through the Holy Spirit. Jesus, in today’s Gospel reading, describes this Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Truth who continues God’s on-going mission. Through the Holy Spirit whom Jesus says dwells with us and in us, God’s mission of redemption continues to unfold in the world. And more often than not, that mission moves forward when people see faith in action, see transformed lives: our transformed lives as the body of Christ. That is why, as a parish, we strive to be keepers, nurturers, caretakers, and guardians of creation and our faith; from seeking to achieve the Five Marks of Mission of the Anglican Communion: to feeding and housing and nurturing those in need; to speaking up for that which is right and true; to proclaiming Jesus Christ as our Redeemer and Lord we honor the creative beauty around us and our faith that upholds a way of life marked by God’s forgiveness and mercy not just to one another, but everyone we encounter.

     See, for all their focus on our role as guardians and nurturers of creation and the Christian faith, our lessons this morning come down to what it means to truly love God and all that God has created. Love that gives without expectation of receiving; love that forgives and is merciful; love that puts others first; love that cares; love that comes from the very heart of God.

     One of the amazing discoveries of these past weeks of “stay at home” directives, is that communities throughout the world have found that with less cars and trucks on the road, there is less air pollution and, therefore, the skies are clearer. For the first time in a generation, people are seeing mountaintops in all their God-created glory and just how quickly this created earth can heal itself. At the same time, as businesses begin to reopen and commerce makes its much needed return, perhaps we might remember the wonders we have seen in this time of staying at home, and choose to be more environmentally conscious. What can we do to reduce our own carbon-footprint as it is called and then try it out?  Such would be a demonstration of our love for God’s creation.

     At the same time, we might remember how during these weeks of “stay at home” orders, people slowed down and began to realize just how much they needed one another; we began to appreciate one another – reaching out to meet each other’s needs, to do their shopping or providing a meal. We might remember those moments when we saw Christ in the face of the homeless, the poor and hungry, the sick and stranger, and actually had time to come to their aid as our Lord commanded us to do. We might recognize that wearing a mask in public and continuing to maintain appropriate distance from others, is not a sign of fear over a virus, or a ceding of one’s liberties, but rather, a sign of our love for our neighbor - our love for those who have been created in God’s own image – an affirmation that we value their health and welfare as much as our own.

    Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” and one of those commandments was this: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Our faith recognizes that Jesus’ love is patient, self-giving, merciful, redemptive, healing, nurturing, restoring, and makes all creation new. That is the kind of love Jesus asks us to embrace and share.

    My beloved friends, as we enter this next Phase – Phase II rife with just as many “what if” questions as we experienced in Phase I – may Christ’s love, God’s love, dwell so deeply within us that every word, every action, every thought honors and respects the dignity of all that we have received and now more clearly behold around us and, thereby affirm Jesus’ words, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  Amen.