Reflection for Sunday – April 24, 2016

Readings: Acts 14:21-27; Revelation 21:1-5a; John 13:31-33a, 34-35

Preacher: Deirdre McKiernan Hetzler

“Behold, I make all things new!”

What do you suppose God is up to with a promise like that? “Behold, I make all things new!”

God did something new when Paul and Barnabas took the early church in a new direction, and we are the beneficiaries.

But what about John’s vision of a new heaven and a new earth? How will God bring  that about? I think the answer lies in the new commandment that Jesus gives us. “Love one another AS I HAVE LOVED YOU.” We are asked to be formed by the very consciousness of Jesus. To the extent that we allow ourselves to be formed by Jesus’ consciousness, to that extent there will be a new heaven and a new earth. Then God will indeed have made all things new.

Many years ago, some Christians used the acronym WWJD regarding decision making. “What would Jesus do?” The problem was that it didn’t always refer to the Jesus we meet in the Gospels. The One Pope Francis keeps calling us to imitate. The Jesus whose love is unconditional. Who reaches out to the poor and marginalized.

Jesus reveals to us a God who is vulnerable, helpless and suffering. His death on the cross speaks to us of the wild love of our God. This is the consciousness we are invited to enter.

Recently, I heard a priest from Uganda tell the story of Angelina, a woman he knew. Her daughter was one of the 130 young girls whom terrorists kidnapped from school years ago. She and other parents gave chase, and rescued 100, but Angelina’s daughter was not among them.

Angelina and the parents of the others gathered every Sunday night to pray for their daughters’ release. But when they tried to pray the Our Father, they found they could not finish. “Forgive us our trespasses as…” always stopped them cold. But they continued to pray. One day, Angelina felt something shift inside of her, and suddenly, she could finish the prayer.

She then shared this new spirit with the other parents, and eventually even reached out to the mother of the terrorists’ leader, offering forgiveness.

Angelina and the other parents spoke out often on the radio against the terrorists. Eventually, their leader sent for her. When they met, he offered to return her daughter if she would stop speaking out. She asked about the other 29 girls, but he insisted the offer was only for her daughter. Angelina said, “They are all my children. I want all 30.” When he refused, she went home alone.

Seven years later, Angelina awakened in the middle of the night and began to pray “How long, O God, how long?” Reminding God that seven years was a Jubilee year, she fell asleep praying. A pounding on her door woke her the next morning. Opening the door, she was greeted by her daughter!

Angelina’s story challenges me to allow myself to be formed in the consciousness of Jesus. God’s self-emptying love empowered her to forgive, to continue to trust and to hope. It is precisely that same self-emptying love that can empower us to face the challenges in our lives. And God knows there are plenty of them! Immigration, climate change, income inequality, a divisive political campaign totally lacking in civility—the list is endless, isn’t it?

“Love one another AS I HAVE LOVED YOU!”

Christian love talk becomes mere sentimentality when isolated from justice and the New Testament witness of the Easter mysteries. Jesus’ love had no boundaries. He associated with folks considered the dregs of society, forgave sinners, healed the sick, and brought new life and wholeness everywhere he went.

What will it take for us to really believe ourselves loved enough to love others like that? What do we need to allow God to change in us to make the vision of a new heaven and a new earth a reality? For God to make all things new?

Easter is not a “spiritual” event, but a surging of power that touches all of life.  We are given a generous offer of an alternative path. A dangerous choice, to give oneself away as Jesus did. But you and I CAN be on the side of the newness that God is now working….

Deirdre McKiernan Hetzler
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