Rose Park Sunday School (Adults and Children) at 8:45 a.m. / Worship at 9:45 a.m.

Madison Sunday School (Adults and Children) 10:15 a.m. / Worship at 11:15 a.m.

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Based on Psalm 98, Acts 10:44-48, John 15:9-17

          I grew up the middle kid of three.  Being the middle child I would often try to restore balance and harmony in my family unit (when I wasn’t causing imbalance and chaos).  As in most families, my siblings and I would vie for the attention of my mother (mostly because she was a stay-at-home mom and was with us more).  We would tease her and try to get her to say which of us she loved most.  She never took the bait and none of us, I think, ever knew if she had a favorite or not.  We certainly knew when we were in her doghouse, but never that she favored one over the other.  For my dad, it was clear that he favored my younger sister more than he did my brother and me – at least he protected and defended her more than he did us.

God had done the same thing for the house of Israel since the time of Abraham.  Israel had been chosen of all the people on earth to be God’s chosen – to lead others by following God Almighty.  God had done everything to get this people’s attention from having Patriarchs to teach and lead them, to delivering them from slavery, to giving the a Promised Land, and lastly to sending God’s-self to try to get them to focus on what God needed them to do and to be.  God’s love needed to be shared widely and with all people. Even though the Almighty started with one people, the plan was never to stop there.  It seems clear from the Bible that Adonai’s plan from the beginning was world domination using the most powerful force in the universe…God’s great love for creation.  You see, we are all equally beloved of God, let us go to God in prayer and thanksgiving that our heavenly parent plays no favorites.  Won’t you join me now in prayer?…

The psalmist has penned a song of praise that is our song for today.  He starts out, “…O sing to the LORD a new song, for Adonai has done wonderful things….”  Verse three states that Adonai has remembered the steadfast love and faithfulness – in Hebrew the word for these is “hesed” – that has characterized and made special the relationship with the Jews.  All the earth is to join in with lyre and melody, trumpets and horn, seas clapping and hills singing because the LORD is coming to judge with righteousness and equity.  It would be almost impossible for you to find a song such as this for a human judge – don’t you think?  Yet, because God remembers God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, then Adonai is able and willing to judge with righteousness and equity.  This indeed deserves a new song from not just a few but from the whole of creation!

The scripture text from Acts in Chapter 10 has us almost at the end of the story of Cornelius the Centurion and Peter.  Cornelius was praying and received a vision to call on Peter to come to his house.  Peter did come and told Cornelius and his whole household about the gospel of Jesus the Christ.  The Jews who had accompanied Peter were astounded when the Holy Spirit came down on these Gentiles and they began to speak in tongues and show the gifts of the Spirit.  Immediately, Peter has the whole lot of them baptized in the name of Jesus.  Truly a phenomenal event in the early life of the Jesus movement – non-Jews receiving the Holy Spirit and baptism…Cornelius must have been singing a new and powerful song to a God that he had been praying daily to.  Certainly, Adonai is no longer showing favoritism to Jews alone – God’s hesed is bigger and more encompassing than that.

Jesus is coming to the end of his earthly ministry as we hear the Gospel of John this morning.  He needs to communicate clearly and often what the bottom line is for moving forward once he is gone.  It is simple, “…love one another as I have loved you….”  Now, it is easy to take this in the singular focus of Jesus’ agape love for His Disciples.  However, when taken in context with what agape means (it is not a feeling; it’s a motivation for action that we are free to choose or reject. “Agape” is a sacrificial love that voluntarily suffers inconvenience, discomfort, and even death for the benefit of another without expecting anything in return). We are called to agape love through Christ’s example.  God chose us through God’s prevenient grace and only after a time, and through the work of the Holy Spirit, do we come to realize that we can choose to love Adonai as well.

That is when we begin to sing our new songs.  We begin to understand that there is a power and majesty of unconditional love that is available to us if we only choose to say yes to it.  It is a love that will never run out, will never leave us, comes to find us when we are lost and uncertain, calls to us when we choose other gods to follow, and welcomes us back like we never left.  It is indeed a love that is worthy of every song of praise we could ever think of, every praise song we could ever write.  Because the songs of praise in the Psalter are not just empty words buttering up a God who needs our flattery.  Rather, as Denise Hopkins puts it in her book, “Journey Through the Psalms”, “…we can see that ‘the praise of God in the Old Testament is always devotion that tells us about God, that is, theology, and proclamation that seeks to draw others into the circle of those who worship God, that is, testimony for conversion’….”  This model of praise is echoed throughout the New Testament.  It is what we heard Peter do in his testimony to Cornelius and his household.

We sing new songs because the praise Psalms speak of a dependable God who is never changing in a world that so often leaves us feeling left behind it is changing so fast!  Psalm 98 says rejoices that Adonai’s everlasting love and faithfulness are to be depended on – just like the rise of the sun and moon and stars.  God’s great love for us, when we open ourselves to it, overwhelms our senses and our rationality.  It opens us into the one-ness of God where there are no divisions between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Rather they are three persons of one essence – and that essence we call agape love.  When we open ourselves to the overwhelming and unifying love of God, then we see how arbitrary, petty and dysfunctional, are our human devised divisions and barriers.

The reality of God’s hesed is that we are all beloved children, from the youngest to the oldest, nicest to most cantankerous, poorest to richest – it makes no difference.  The agape love of Adonai is more than able to love the 7+ billion humans and all the rest of creation; yesterday, today and for all the tomorrows.  God plays no favorites – just like my mom.  We all share in the hesed of the God whose name is love.  If we would only learn how to love in that same manner, then the world would indeed be transformed into God’s holy and unified kingdom.  Today, gentle people, let us choose to love fully and well like God loves us!  Amen!