Fr. Bill Carroll – The Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 15, 2022

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

I’d like to begin this morning by reconsidering something that I said on Ash Wednesday in light of the Good News of Easter—and, in particular, the Good News that the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, is even now coming down out of heaven as a gift from God.  It is that City of Peace, in which brothers learn to live as brothers, sisters learn to live as sisters, and all of us learn to love and reverence our neighbors.  On Ash Wednesday, I was quoting from and old Quaker bumper sticker that says “How does your life help remove the causes of war?”  How does the gift of your life help remove every kind of violence?  

I think about that in light of what we now probably have all seen in Buffalo, a man going into a mall, targeting African-Americans—killing at least ten people.  And I think about it, in light of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.  And so, I’d like to begin by sharing a story that I’ve shared with some of you before.  I took it from Chris Hedges, the former New York Times war correspondent, who tells it in his book War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.  

The story concerns the Sorak family, Serbian Christians living in a predominately Muslim area in war-torn Bosnia.  They had been indifferent to leaders who argued for “ethnic cleansing.” And, for their failure to embrace the project of a “greater Serbia,” they were considered traitors by many of their fellow Serbs, who besieged their city during the war. Nevertheless, in the course of the conflict, they lost both their sons.  The first died in a car crash.  Then, the other was taken away  by Muslim police in the middle of the night and “never came back.”  

Five months after their older son disappeared, in the middle of the siege, his wife gave birth to a baby girl. The mother was unable to nurse the child. The city was being shelled nonstop. There were severe food shortages everywhere. And infants, like the infirm and the elderly, were dying in droves. The family was only able to give the baby tea to drink for five days, and she began to get weaker and weaker.  She was in danger of dying.

But, on that fifth day, just before dawn, a man arrived at the door with half a liter of milk for the baby. It was their neighbor, a Muslim farmer, who was keeping his cow in a field to the east of the city, milking it at night to avoid being hit by Serbian snipers. He came back the next morning, and the morning after that, and then after that. And other families on the street began to insult this man. They told him to give his milk to Muslims and let the Christian children die. “He never said a word,” the grandmother said. “He refused our money. He came for four hundred forty-two days, until my daughter-in-law and granddaughter left for Serbia.”  Think about that:  four hundred forty-two days under sniper fire.

According to Hedges, the couple said they could never forgive those who took their son from them. “But they could not listen to other Serbs talking about Muslims or even recite their own sufferings, without telling the story of the farmer and his cow.”

And we’ll never know what combination of his religious beliefs and simple human decency motivated that farmer.  But I believe he was responding to God’s call to love.  And the inability of his Christian neighbors, the Soraks, to talk about their own sufferings or to hear others talk about Muslims without repeating his story are evidence of a similar conversion in them.  Whenever we truly love each other, we learn to forgive each other, and God begins to reign.

In today’s lesson from the Book of Revelation, the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven to earth, adorned as a bride for her husband.  For us Christians, salvation is not about escaping this world, but transforming it.  For we know that God has the last Word about this world.  God is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, and no matter how we are separated by sin, God has the very last Word about us.  And that Word is Jesus and his love.  In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God destroys death forever, so that we might learn to live as friends.  And so, this morning, the Lord speaks words of hope and promise to us:  “See,” he says, “I am making all things new.”  And God is good to his Word.

God’s love is a wild, untamable river that flows from a boundless sea.  It crests every bank and bursts every dam we build to contain it.  God’s love can be found all over the place, even and especially beyond the walls of the church.  (Just like Peter eating with those Gentiles.  Just like the farmer and his cow.)  The love of God flows from the wounded side of Christ.  It is for the healing of the nations, and of every human being.  Jesus Christ breaks down our walls and our divisions.  He puts an end to our hatreds and our fears, and he changes our world.

His love changes everything.  He is the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings.  And so today, we read, “Death will be no more [in that City]; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”  For Jesus, the living Lord.  He lives among us, and he wipes the tears from our eyes. 

We can see his love at work here at Trinity.  We can see it in our care for each other.  We see it whenever we serve others in his Name.

It isn’t always easy to love people like Jesus did.  We can be difficult and ungrateful, especially when we are struggling.  But the love of Jesus is alive in our hearts, and that love changes everything.  Christian love means seeking the good of other people in an unqualified way, even when it’s very, very hard to do.  

Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, so also you should love one another.”  Here, Jesus is intensifying his teaching in the Golden Rule.  No longer does he just command us to love our neighbors as ourselves.  We are to love each other just like he did, even unto death. 

Love is central the message of Jesus.  It is the one key that unlocks the Kingdom.  Today, he reveals the full depth and measure of his love.  And he invites us (no, he commands us) to love each other just like that.  When Jesus loves us, he holds nothing back.  He is the Son of God, and he gives the way that God does, making his sun to shine both on bad and good alike.  God loves us even and especially when we don’t deserve it.  He gives his life for us all.

 So listen again to what he is commanding us to do, “Just as I have loved you,” he says, “you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Love each other truly.  Love each other fiercely.  Love each other with the love that conquers death.  For “they will know that we are Christians by our love.”