Jesus’ Story for ALL, Even Gentiles, Rulers
God, who is the Alpha and Omega, says to John: “To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.”
Peter Bold and Humble; Attentive
In today’s first lesson we hear again how Peter is a leader in the church, so capable, so vulnerable, and so attentive to the Holy Spirit guiding him. Peter explains, step by step how and why he has gone to non-Jews, and accepted them as followers of Jesus.
Today’s Gospel comes from John 13, which starts with the last super. Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, Peter resists, Jesus says this is part of being Jesus’ follower, and Peter follows. Jesus sends Judas out to betray him, which Jesus says is necessary; God will be glorified in the cross.
Then comes today’s Gospel selection which includes Jesus’ central command, chosen as the theme for our Easter celebrations: that we are to love one another as Jesus loves. By this love we will be known as Jesus’ followers. To this command Peter responds that he will always follow … except Jesus says Peter will deny him three times before the cock crows.
Peter is so confident, yet his failures are so glorious. Peter is so capable; he brings Dorcas back to life. Yet the Holy Spirit needs to change Peter’s direction, with visions and wisdom.
God says, “To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.”
Jesus, with his washing the disciple’s feet, and Peter, in his enthusiastic and misguided yet attentive following, demonstrate that in humble service and in humbling ourselves we receive the water of life.
In our lesson from Revelation we hear that the New Jerusalem continually comes down to earth in our midst. God dwells with all his peoples. That’s plural. God dwells not just with one group, one people, but with all his peoples.
In the Lord’s Prayer we pray that God’s Kingdom will come. Luther explained in his Small Catechism that God’s Kingdom will come no matter what, but we pray that it will come to us, in our midst, and through us.
The old has passed away. The New Jerusalem is the city of Peace, where there is no more crying, no more tears, the old tears will be wiped away. We pray that our eyes will be open so that we can see the signs of the New Jerusalem coming down, in our midst.
For Peter that meant that Jesus’ love, which they exercised for one another, did not stop with their small Jewish group. God intends that their and our group, our ‘one another,’ includes all those we have previously excluded.
God sent Peter a sign, that the Gentiles he is called to visit in the Roman city of Caesarea were ‘baptized’ with the HS as were the disciples. This comes after God gives Peter a vision that what God creates is not unclean. Rather all creation is sacred, though mundane. There are no boundaries to God’s love and Jesus’ command is not limited by our definitions of who we are, and who is not us.
All are included in this God’s promise:
To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. In sacred visions Jesus surprises us showing us to whom God gives the water of life.
Whom do we Exclude, Whom God Includes
In 1981 Henri Nowen came to Yale for a few weeks, played volley ball with the new arriving students at the seminary, and ate in the cafeteria. He received students and staff for less than a few minutes each to dispense spiritual guidance to thirsty souls.
Nowen was a Dutch priest, professor, writer and theologian with interests rooted primarily in psychology, pastoral ministry, spirituality, social justice and community. He knew and shared well that the Holy Spirit finds us in our greatest vulnerabilities, and uses them to demonstrate God’s love, grace, and purpose for us. In his book the Wounded Healer Nowen countered the popular notion that God wants strong, clean, and perfect people to lead the Church of Christ. Rather God uses us as we are, imperfect and wounded.
Nowen knew well, as a popular writer and mentor, that his own soul was thirsty. He went to S. America to live with people of no privilege suffering great persecution. Yet he only first found God’s peace when, after meeting Jean Vanier, Nowen became a member of the L’Arche Daybreak community in Richmond Hill ON. Paired with Adam Arnett, a man with profound development disabilities, Nowen insisted, “It is I, not Adam, who gets the main benefit from our friendship.”
The founder of L’Arche, Jean Vanier, died May 7 2019. We were reminded of how Vanier inspired so many people to include people with disabilities of all kinds in those we love, not just for their sake, but for the sake of our thirsty souls.
Jean Vanier was born into a family of Canadian diplomats and public servants. He expected to similarly serve and he started on a career as a naval officer. Then led by the Holy Spirit, his life took a different turn.
He was ordained as a priest. While working on his PhD in France, he volunteered to help his mentor work with institutionalized mentally challenged men.
There Vanier met two men and realized what they needed most from him was for him to be a friend. He invited the two men to leave the institution where they resided and live with him. Thus was born L ’Arche, which became an international organization of communities that match helpers with mentally challenged people to the benefit of everyone. Vanier taught so many people that those with disabilities do not burden us with their need for care. Rather they help us recover our humanity, giving us water for our thirsty souls.
God says: To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Jesus sends the most vulnerable and furthest outcast to teach us, what the living water is, and how to receive it and to share it with one another.
Who is thirsty b/c we exclude
Who are the thirsty? Who in our cities, villages, and communities, because we have excluded them, are thirsty, needing the water of life?
What are we going to do about it?
Regularly we pray powerful words: “Your will be done on earth as in heaven.” As Luther reminded us in the Small Catechism, God’s good and gracious will comes about without our prayers, but we ask that it may also come about in and among us.
So we pray first, that we will recognize how Jesus includes us, when we are not worthy; that we will recognize that in our humility and vulnerability the grace of God is most visible; that we will recognize that on our brokenness Jesus builds the Body of Christ. For Christ marks us broken people not only as worthy, but also as chosen, chosen to love one another.
We then pray: that we will recognize who we exclude and leave thirsty; that we will change allowing the New Jerusalem to arrive through us for them; that we will give them living water, wash their dusty feet, stoop to give them the necessities of life, listen to them and learn from them the basics of humanity, that we will allow them to give us water for our thirsty souls.
And we also pray: that we will realize that God is glorified in our mundane service, in our being vulnerable to the messy mundane needs of the excluded; and that in our lives of loving service to the most vulnerable outcasts, indeed to all of God’s creation, others will recognize us as Jesus’ disciples … and join us.
We give God thanks that we are so privileged to be the open-armed welcoming party to those we previously excluded.
God’s says: To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Jesus demonstrates that in humbling ourselves and in humble service we receive the water of life. The Holy Spirit surprises us with new visions of what the water of life is. God sends the most vulnerable and furthest outcast to teach us, what the living water is, and how to receive it and to share it.
The water from the spring of life showers down on us from the New Jerusalem descending into our midst, invigorating and inspiring us also here and now to be the disciples of Jesus, the one’s known by our love for all of God’s many peoples.