Easter Seasons of Love

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Sixth Sunday of Easter

John 15:9-17
Acts 10:44-48

I’ve always loved musicals, but I reached peak Musical Loving in college, surrounded by theater friends.

In the case of the musical Rent, which came out as a movie in 2005, I already knew every word of the original cast recording when I excitedly entered the movie theatre. I and my other theatre loving friends had been banned by our more sensible and normal companions from singing along or yelling out or otherwise making fools of ourselves. They reminded us in so many words of what Stephen Colbert shared with the world last week: that the policy “If you see something, say something” does not apply to movie theaters. 

The opening number, however, is iconic and it’s hard to keep from singing along not only because its simple harmonies are fantastic, but because it touches on a very deep truth of being human. 

When the show begins, each of the main characters, a diverse group of artist-types who live together in New York City in the 1990s,  is onstage. These are the people we will journey with over the next two hours through a year in their lives of joy and pain and elation and death and enlightenment. This is their story. 

The first words we hear them say together are: 

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights?
In sunsets?
In midnights?
In cups of coffee?
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife?
In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.
How do you measure a year in a life?
How about love?…
Measure in love — seasons of love.” 

Some thirteen years after I first walked into the movie theater to watch Rent, I’ve become obsessed with another, less musical pop culture phenomenon: the TV comedy series The Good Place. In it, a young woman named Eleanor Shellstrop dies and finds herself in the afterlife, in a waiting room with words on the wall in front of her: EVERYTHING IS FINE.

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She smiles contentedly and waits for whatever comes next.
Eleanor is then called into an office and meets Michael, director of her afterlife. In what is clearly a satirical portrayal of the way that most people see life after death, she finds out that she’s died in a bizarre accident involving shopping carts.

“So which religion is right?” Eleanor asks. 

Michael tells her that every religion got about 5% correct about the afterlife, except for one guy in the 70s who, with chemical help, somehow scored 95% correct. His photo hangs in Michael’s office.

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Eleanor finds out that there’s a “good place” and a “bad place,” and that where a person goes depends entirely on a perfect and flawless formula that weighed each person’s deeds throughout their life. They come up with a number, and bam! The cream of the crop — the very best people — get to go to the Good Place, where they get to live in their own personal perfect house with their soulmate in a world full of opportunities to fly and frozen yogurt shops.

I highly recommend The Good Place. It’s not a primer on theology — it’s a primer on humanity and how we see ourselves.

You see, I talked last week about how we like to earn things, how we like for other people to earn things, and how my one mission as a clergy person is to help people see that God is not as petty as we are. From my perspective, The Good Place exposes the ridiculousness of the way we often think of good deeds and the afterlife, and does so pretty creatively and hilariously. 

This week’s Gospel reading is the continuation of last week’s — the one where Jesus says, “I am the vine, and you are the branches.” Last week, we talked about how it’s absurd to think that branches earned their way onto the vine — they just grow there. 

Today he says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” 

I know that’s right.

I sometimes worry about how much people in the church seem proud that they chose Jesus. Are you kidding me? This stuff is hard. 

We don’t earn our places here, but now that we’re here, we’re called to do some stuff that I don’t like to do and am not naturally good at. We’re called to do annoying things like loving people who drive us up the wall and worse, people we think have got it all wrong.

“Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?” 

In debates won? In points scored?

In fact checks, in virtues modeled?

In postures, in lies, in truths, or in kind? 

How about love?” 

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” 

Measure in love — seasons of love.

This morning’s Acts reading contains quite the scene: Peter is speaking to a mixed crowd of Jews and Gentiles after Jesus had been resurrected and had drifted on up to heaven. Peter himself was Jewish, and the people he’d brought with him were, too, but that detail is less important than this one: that means that they all shared the same system, the same worldview, the same ways of thinking about God and the Holy Scriptures.

As Peter is speaking, some commotion breaks out as people are getting excited about what Peter is saying to them. And the story goes, “The circumcised believers [that is, those who observed Jewish law about all things, and I do mean all things] were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles” (10:45). 

All this time they’d been thinking they were the ones who got it, then they finally figured it out: God was bigger than any of the boxes into which they wanted to put God. That God isn’t as petty as we are. That we don’t get to control whom God loves or speaks to That there is no flawless formula a la The Good Place wherein it is determined who’s good enough to be loved by God. 

What’s more, they figured out that God has welcomed us, warts and all — so how can we not welcome others?

“Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’” (10:47)

Of course, any of them might’ve wanted to. Some of them probably did. Just like with the Ethiopian eunuch in the Acts reading last week, he asked the disciple with him, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” Of course, the answer was: everything and nothing. Everything about the church, and nothing about God.

And in this episode of Acts, when Peter says, “Can anyone withhold the water?” the ever-present religious cries of “But the Scripture says” fall away. They are baptized. 

“Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?”

In offerings? In attendance? 

Beer & Hymns or cups of coffee?

Confirmations? Baptisms? In funerals, in births?

How do you measure the worth of a church?

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” 

Measure in love — seasons of love.

This whole thing Jesus is talking about is about giving love to people and a world that seem unloveable because we know what it’s like to be unlovable — but still loved. 

In the Lutheran church, we talk a lot about Law and Gospel. In a nutshell, it’s this: law tells us how to love, while Gospel tells us that we are loved. And it’s a cycle that feeds itself over and over, like in the children’s sermon: because we are loved by God, we keep loving. It’s simple human brainworks: those who feel safe and loved are set free to love others and almost can’t help doing so. It’s a circle. 

The Law of what Jesus says is “Love one another.” The Gospel is “as I have loved you.” 

It’s a circle. 

To close, I want to lead you in a song — Our Savior’s: The Musical, if you will. The song itself is a circle, to remind us of how this all works. 

It goes like this: 

“All who are thirsty, come to the waters,
All who are hungry, come and be fed
All who are thirsty, come to the waters,
There’s enough for all….[repeat]” 

:: congregation learns song and nails it! ::

Come here, sing and pray here, and be fed here. 

There’s enough for all, in the spirit of Jesus, measured in love. Amen.

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