Getting out of God’s Way (Homily for Easter 5)

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

Sherman Hesselgrave

If there is one thing today’s scripture readings have in common, it is about God doing something NEW. “I give you a new commandment: love one another.” “Look, I make all things new.” And then there’s Peter, who clued in to the new thing God was doing after the third memo.

Jesus warned his disciples that God would be doing new things in the future, things they were not ready even to think about while he was yet with them. And, sure enough, it didn’t take long. One afternoon, while he was enjoying his siesta, God gave Peter a vision, which Peter interpreted as a test of his faithfulness to Jewish dietary laws. [A reproduction of Fran Sowton’s painting of Peter’s vision at Joppa is the featured image for this post.] When Peter came to realize that it was not a test, but a message, specifically a message that God was making the circle wider, and he needed Peter to be onside, he made the necessary adjustments, and embraced the new scope of the mission. In this instance, it was Peter’s own religious upbringing that got in God’s way—a phenomenon we will encounter repeatedly throughout Church history.

I started to make a list of examples of people getting in God’s way in the biblical narrative. There is Pharaoh in the story of the Exodus, of course. Ten plagues didn’t quite do the trick with him. Herod, in the New Testament, tried to eradicate a perceived threat, and, while many suffered from his narcissism, Jesus escaped the slaughter of the innocents. Sometimes even the closest followers of Jesus got in the way, like the time they were trying to keep the kids from bothering Jesus, and Jesus set them straight. Another time, after Jesus predicts his death and resurrection, Peter rebukes him, saying this will never happen. Jesus tells him, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

The late theologian, Jaroslav Pelikan, made the distinction between ‘tradition’ and ‘traditionalism:’ “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” As I learned from one of my mentors, tradition is not being baptized in your grandmother’s baptismal gown; tradition is being baptized. I mention this, because traditionalism—“We’ve always done it this way before”—is one the big things that gets in the way of God doing something new. Just look at how long it took for the ordination of women to become a reality—and it is STILL not happening in the Roman Catholic Church. Likewise, the Anglican Communion is still thrashing about as it tries to work what to do about LGBT folk. It has been a couple decades since an apology was made to indigenous people in Canada for the harms done to them by our own religious institutions, but we have barely started living into what that apology calls on us to do for healing and reconciliation.

Jesus’ new commandment to love one another is the key to getting out of God’s way. “As I have loved you, “ Jesus said, “so you are to love one another.” I think of this from a parent’s point of view. Sometimes the loving thing is to stand back and let your child figure something out for themselves, rather then inserting yourself and the solution that worked for you. As a citizen, love sometimes requires fierce intervention, when dark forces are corrupting foundational social institutions. We have all had our I’m-mad-as-hell-and-I’m-not-going-to-take-it-anymore moments. 

What is love calling me to do in this moment?   

On Sunday, We concluded by singing (as a call and response):

Come, sing the circle wide
Come, sing the circle wide
Welcome everyone
Welcome everyone
to the love of God.
to the love of God.

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