Signpost for Sunday 24 April, 2016 (Easter 5): Acts 11:1-18; Ps 148; Rev 21:1-6; John 13:31-35.
What must you do to be accepted as one of us? Or, perhaps, what must you not do? Our Psalm for today calls on all to praise the Lord. Not only the people of Israel, but also the kings of the earth and all peoples, not only the wonders of nature and the heavenly beings, but also the monsters of the deep will praise the Lord. No limits of behaviour or anything else are prescribed. All can, must, praise the Lord.
In the passage from the Book of the Revelation, all are to be renewed. There is no list of those included, or of those excluded. All need to be made new, and they will be. As the people of the Psalm are close to God, so the people of the new Jerusalem will be with God. There will be no need to go back to the old things like the Garden of Eden; the new city will be the place where God is found. This might be hard for the compulsive country dwellers among us to accept, but the city is the gift of God.
The theme of belonging is addressed most directly in the Book of Acts. No-one could imagine Peter eating non-kosher food, but now he says that God might be asking him to do so. I hope that God never asks me to eat dog-meat, or some of the other exotic foods that some people are used to. But the image is there to remind us that no-one can be excluded for mere custom.
The reading from the Gospel might seem out of place in the middle of the Easter season. We go back before the Cross, back to the meal that the disciples share with Jesus. We go back to the moment when Judas leaves the room to prepare for the betrayal. It is at this moment in John’s Gospel that Jesus says betrayal will glorify the Son of Man, and will glorify God in him.
They never get the chance to express the love that Jesus commands to the one who most betrays it because Judas is so remorseful that he commits suicide. But surely, if the command to love one another is totally inclusive, it would include even the traitor.
But we so easily divide ourselves into the ins and the outs. We look down on some, or are rather glad that we do things more suitably that others, or even feel quietly in our hearts that some do not really belong.
The sermon begins when we apply the lections to ourselves.