Monday, April 29, 2013

April 28, Easter 5, Transforming Power, Transforming Love

Acts 11:1-18, Psalm 148, Revelation 21:1-6, John 13:31-35

The Easter Season is seven weeks long, from Easter Day to Pentecost. All season we repeat that Jesus rose from the dead, in the flesh, both spiritually and bodily, a human being more spiritual but not less physical, not less human but more truly human, the Adam of the new humanity, the Adam of the new and improved humanity, the model of what we shall be and the first fruit of the harvest to come. In him our familiar fallen human nature has been raised to a loveliness and power we wonder at and aspire to.

He is a wonder and he is a sign. His new physical humanity is a sign of the future physical reality. He is the first-fruit of a new creation, a very-much this-worldly creation. He is the Eve of the new life of the world. We can imagine it, but it is hard. We are so used to a fallen world, we are used to reality as corrupted, we are used to nature as bent, we are used to life as broken. But we can imagine a real world, a this-world, made holy and righteous, we are invited to believe it and to hope for it and also represent it in our lives.

The Easter season counters the conventional take on Christianity that eternal life will leave this world behind in order to be up in heaven with the angels. Note that the vision of the Book of Revelation in our lesson goes the other way. The New Jerusalem comes down, and the dwelling of God is here with us, forever.

The vision of the Revelation confirms the message of the season of Easter that the resurrection of Jesus in the flesh is the sign that points to the ultimate reconciliation of heaven and earth and the transformation of heaven and earth, which means not the obliteration of the earth nor of natural reality but the reclamation and rehabilitation of this real world.

Which some people do not prefer. In seminary our most popular professor said that he hoped to spend eternity as a disembodied orb of conscious light. Well, okay, but I can’t see how that is Biblical. Children get closer to the Bible when they ask if there will be dogs in heaven. Well, if the vision is the reclamation of the real world, why not dogs, but not in heaven, rather in the renovated earth, the world transformed, as Jesus’s flesh was transformed in his resurrection.

He is also a sign that the power of the resurrection is for our transformation. From what to what? From dumb to smart? From flabby to buff? From nice to cool, or pretty to hot? From poor to rich? These aspects may well be secondary effects of resurrection transformation, but so also may be persecution, and martyrdom, and exclusion, like for Christians today in some parts of the world. The secondary effects will differ with when and where you live, but no matter where you live the transformation is always moral. It is called by such words as righteousness, and holiness, and goodness, and so if you are not afraid of such words in your life as goodness and holiness and righteousness, then this transformation is for you.

This is tough for me, because deep in my heart, I’d rather be cool than righteous. I’d rather be hot than holy. When I’m by myself, I’d rather be good-looking than good. I remain a vain sinner through and through. But here is the good news. The transformation is also in your confession. It’s not only in your possession of the good but also your confession of the not-good. It’s not in the absence of your sin but in the reconciliation of your sin. It’s both the reality of your new and the reconciliation of your old. It’s not in the absence of your old nature but the power of your new nature to manage the old nature still in you. Your transformation is not the absence of your old nature in your life, but the constant conversion of your old nature into your new nature. Your new nature needs your old nature to keep on loving it, just as God loves you while you are yet a sinner. Your new nature is distinguished not by innocence, nor by perfection, but by the love which you have for yourself, your vain self, your weak self, even your worst self.

I am connecting us to last week’s sermon, when I said that the power of the resurrection is the power of love, which I am now equating with the power of transformation in your life. And love loves even what is fallen. If you are scared by such words as goodness and holiness and righteousness, then think of them as attributes of love, God’s love, God’s love for the world, God’s love given form by us. It is a loving righteousness, a loving goodness, a loving holiness.

The night before Jesus died he commanded his disciples to love. And after his resurrection his disciples had gradually to discover what he meant by this new intensity of love, with its new power and patterns and expectations. Which Peter is learning in our first lesson. In his dream he had been challenged three times to take the unclean food and eat. Three times to deny his deep convictions, three times to deny, so not an easy dream for him, the denier. Should he not hold fast? I can imagine how he felt in his gut each time he woke up, his stomach still feeling the dream, and all that disgusting food. Well, it’s in your body where you finally have to face the issues of love, even of spiritual love, Christian love.

What did it mean, brother Peter, for you to love those Roman soldiers whose very job was to keep down the Jews? To eat their unclean food with them? Unclean not just ritually, but morally, because it’s meat and vegetables which the soldiers have taken from his people. Such love can not feel natural, it has to be empowered by something beyond us, it has to be from the new nature of humanity. To build a whole way of life of this kind of love is to imagine what life is like in the New Jerusalem.

What stops us? What did Peter have to reconcile? The disgust, and also disdain: They may be on top of us but we’re better than them. We may have less than them but we’re smarter than them. We don’t need them. Why should we love them? Also the feeling of fear: Look, I gag on rhubarb, so I can imagine the fear in Peter’s body. The fear in your body can hinder your love. You have constantly to reconcile that. Or the memory of pain, like when the Roman soldier beat you down to take the catch of fish that you were bringing to your family. And now you eat his food with him? Your suffering can keep you from love. Or your bitterness that these outsiders have taken over your land, that they have more success than you do. That they look down on you. And they make you feel ashamed. And you are poor compared to them, because there are no jobs in Galilee, and you think about your clothes and your shame and how can you love them when you’re embarrassed or ashamed?

What keeps you from love? What shame, what fear, what loss? What sin, what guilt? The point is not to deny these things but to recognize them, admit them to yourself, confess them to God and maybe to someone you can trust, and then love them, love these aspects of yourself. Because this resurrection love is not wasted on what is already lovable, but is practiced and proven precisely on the unlovely, on the fearful, on the guilty, and the losers. Just as God loves you, you who remain a vain sinner, so you can love others just as fallen as yourself, and that is the love that is transforming, the love which transforms them who receive it and transforms you who do it and transforms the world, this world, according to the model of the new Jerusalem.

This transformation is not magical and it is not supernatural but it is spiritual and ethical. You don’t have to do too much to get it, because God wants it for you, and as certainly as you come every week, and openly offer yourself to the words of Jesus, so certainly will this transformation take place in you, constantly, repeatedly, seasonally, in and out, with variations. It is as varied among us as our varied personalities and histories. Yours will not be the same as mine, except in this, that no matter what particular form the transformation of the resurrection takes in your life, it will be in a form of love. Not love as the world defines it, but love as Jesus defines it. Believe it on the basis of God’s love for you.

Copyright © 2013, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.

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