Troubled fear or joyful love in the light and peace of God

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Light is the Lord’s doing

  • Acts 16: 9-15 Paul’s vision & call to Macedonia
  • Revelation 21: 10, 22-22: 5 City temple; God as light; Lamb as lamp
  • John 14: 23-29 God as Love, Light,Spirit

Prayer

Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Let us pray.

God of the risen Christ, fill us with your light and love. Awaken us to your risen presence and power in Jesus. In you, O God, is our joy and peace. Teach us again to trust and embrace your light and love with joy and peace. Amen.

Transformed by the Light – The Acts of the Apostles

Question: Are you a night person or a day person? We usually ask the question: Are you a morning person or a night person.

The theme for this sixth Sunday of Easter is that “Light is the Lord’s doing.” Light is God’s doing. It is equally true that love is God’s being.

A few Sundays ago we heard the story of Paul going about his violent way in the name of God to persecute those who disagreed with him. On the way to Damascus to carry out his zealous persecution he was struck down by the light of God and transformed by the love of God.

Not long after Paul “saw the light,” Peter was struck by the light of a vision and transformed by the love of God as we heard from Acts 11 last Sunday.

Now Paul has a vision on the night in which he sees the light again. Paul is called to come to Macedonia and join them in ministry. Paul listens to God’s call and travels to Troas and Samothrace and Neapolis and finally to Philippi, the leading city of Macedonia.

On the Sabbath, Paul went outside the city gate to the river where he had heard there was a place of prayer. Women gathered there began talking with Paul. One woman named Lydia listened with an open heart and was baptized and became a faithful leader in this emerging Christian movement. Presumably in his encounter with women and with Lydia in particular, Paul saw the light and was transformed again into a faithful new way of understanding gifts and leadership in the church. A debate about Paul and how he viewed women and leadership in the church continues to this day. This is a worthy exploration in which there is much good new evidence to see Paul’s conversion by God’s light and love.

God as light, the Lamb as lamp in John’s Revelation

At the end of John’s Revelation we are given vivid vision of the New Jerusalem as a city of light where there is no temple because “God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (21:23). This lamp of God in Christ shines so brightly and continuously that three things will happen: First there will be no need for the sun or the moon to shine. Second, there will be no night, only day there. Third, “the nations will walk by its light” (21:24).

People will see the glory of God’s light and love and give God the glory. The gates of this city will never be shut to keep out anyone who sees the light and glorifies God. A river of life will run through this city with a tree of life on both sides of the river bearing twelve kinds of fruit and leaves to heal the nations. God and the Lamb will reign forever and ever in the light.

If truth be told, living in a land and time of the eternal light of day would pose its difficulties. How many of us would choose to live in eternal sunshine?

John’s brilliant imagery offers great vision and insight into the light and love of God. Much has been written about John’s revelation of this glorious city of God including major studies by several Mennonites. We only have time for that brief portrayal of this great vision this morning. Let’s turn from John’s Revelation to John’s Gospel.

The Gospel of Love – John’s Gospel

In John’s unique Gospel, we discover that the organizing principle of John’s community is love. As one John scholar puts it, “By this time [by the time we get to this long teaching of Jesus] it should be apparent that the community of John’s Gospel has no organization or structure beyond that of mutual love….John….had no other theme but love. [John’s Gospel] is a symphony of love” (Gerard Sloyan, John, Interpretation , 175, 178).

At the very end of John’s Gospel, as we heard a few Sundays ago, we hear Jesus question Peter three times, “Do you love me?”

Love is the key and the test of faith. The temptation and tendency of the church is to impose selective litmus tests to determine who’s in and who’s out, who’s right and who’s wrong, who has power and who doesn’t. Jesus, in John’s Gospel, teaches only one thing is necessary: love – the love of God.

Richard Rohr says insightfully and provocatively that following Jesus can be summed up as “To love God and do what you will.”

This is not to say that Jesus teaches us “To love God and do what we want!’ NO! It is “To love God and do what you will!” That is to align your will with God’s will in Jesus Christ. That is love and obedience in action that Jesus teaches here in the Gospel.

I saw love in action in a simple beautiful way by two little guys some years ago one Sunday morning in Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship when I was the pastor there. Robert and Orlin were about 3 years old and very dear friends. One Sunday before worship Orlin was with me in the sanctuary when Robert came in and ran up to Orlin and threw his arms around Orlin and said so sincerely, “I love you!” I saw true love in action in two little guys hugging each other!

John’s Gospel shows us “Obedience is the hallmark Jesus’ disciples, the proof that they love” (Sloyan, 183).

Jesus tells the disciples that he is leaving them but he will not leave them alone. Jesus is leaving them with a Counselor or Advocate as the Spirit of Truth showing them the way of peace. This is not just any peace but the peace of Christ that surpasses understanding. Jesus’ love and peace are connected. For John’s community of disciples, peace is central to the love that is the hallmark of being obedient disciples of Jesus (Sloyan, 184).

Always this is contrasted with the way of the world. The world’s way of love and the world’s way of peace are not Jesus’ Way of love and peace.

Israel had long struggled with the choice between the world’s way and God’s way. Israel persisted in choosing “kings like the other nations.” God’s purpose in Jesus is grounded in a very different way. Jesus is God’s “messiah” to offer another way. For example, an earlier “messiah” in the sense of being God’s anointed one – an anointed king of Israel, was Solomon whose reign is described as “For he had dominion in every region…and he had peace on all sides” (1 Kings 4:24). When we read further in First Kings, we see that Solomon’s peace is by forced tribute, slave labor, and the military might of thousands of chariots and horsemen (1 Kings 4:26).

Walter Brueggemann and Wes Howard-Brook show us in 1 Kings and John’s Gospel, that empire’s oppression and military might as the way of peace is in stark contrast to God’s shalom in Jesus the Christ, the messiah. Solomon’s peace is the peace that the world gives. Jesus’ peace does not directly do away with war and violence. It empowers those who take Jesus’ way seriously to live in contrast to the warring violence of the world without giving in to the terrible temptation of living by the logic of the world’s violence. Jesus’ way is true shalom, the well-being of all people and creation.

As one biblical scholar put it:

The world’s power, and hence its peace, depended on its readiness to use violence….Jesus’ gift….is made available in the midst of intense hatred and violent persecution, where it enables the disciples to continue their struggle against the world (Minear, 67; quoted by Wes Howard-Brook, Becoming Children of God, John’s Gospel and Radical Discipleship , 326).

Over and over again in this teaching, Jesus connects God’s commandment with love. To keep God’s commandment is to love and love is the commandment. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” And the commandment is to love God, self, neighbor, enemy. (Wes Howard-Brook, Becoming Children of God: John’s Gospel and Radical Discipleship , 319).

This is love in action. Jesus telling his disciples that he is going “away” so they can live The Way.

Shane Claiborne of The Simple Way in Philadelphia who spoke here a year ago, says it this way: “Another world is possible. Another world is necessary. Another world is here.” God has already raised Jesus from the dead and shown us the light and love to live by.

I grew up with a gospel song that I have only recently truly heard when Ken Nafziger led us in this song as a theme song for our worship a few summers ago: “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy” (Hymnal # 145).

Verse 1
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea.
There’s a kindness in God’s justice,
Which is more than liberty.

The heart of this great hymn is verse 3, the central verse of the hymn;

But we make God’s love too narrow
By false limits of our own,
And we magnify its strictness
with a zeal God will not own.

The song ends in verse 5 with what Jesus is telling his disciples in this long teaching in John’s Gospel:

If our love were but more simple
We should rest upon God’s Word,
And our lives would be illumined
By the presence of our Lord.

“Light is the Lord’s doing.” It is the light of the risen Christ that God longs to light within us as God’s people and followers of the Jesus Christ.

Concluding greeting

May the Peace of the risen Christ be with you!

And also with you.

Let us stand and greet those around us with the peace of the risen Christ.