Based on Psalm 148, John 13:31-35, Acts 11:1-18, Revelation 21:1-6
Today’s world seems to be in a constant state of turmoil. We live in a time of war, famine, drought, displacement of millions of people from their homes and countries, a pandemic, multiple lockdowns and public health edicts, and the usual life challenges that happen as they always have. All of us have found ourselves tossed about by the storms of life and wondering if we will ever find a safe harbor and a secure anchorage. Do those few sentences distill the last few years adequately and resonate with you? Life has felt out of our control, and we just wish that we could find some stability again; something to which we could anchor ourselves and find peace and rest.
The metaphor of an anchor is a good one for our times. It has been a popular symbol across the millennia for those who live in the times between when Jesus came and when the Christ will come again. Did you know that the anchor was used as a symbol for the first Christians? Many Christian gravestones from the early second through the 5th Century CE contain pictures of an anchor along with pictures of fish. The stock (crosspiece at the top) and the shank of an anchor are in the form of a cross. The anchor symbol was especially important to early Christians who were subject to persecutions from 60 CE until the early 300’s CE. Anchors reflected both the hope in the resurrection (as depicted in the cross) and the hold of Jesus on their lives (like the firm hold of a dug in anchor). One can also understand that the anchor line, that rope or chain which attaches anchor to boat, is a metaphor for the unconditional and eternal love connection from God to each and every one of us.
Our scriptures for today bring to mind the firm hold that God’s love has on our lives and its offer of peace as we live in “in between” times. Through God’s eternal and abiding love, we find the hope and stability to weather the storms of life transitions within an ever-changing world. God’s love has always been with us and will continue to be with us, keeping us from drifting with the tides of divisive public opinion, persecutions, false prophets or the call of worldly idols. The hope and anchor of God’s unconditional love are present in the vision of the New Jerusalem presented to John of Patmos. God’s Almighty and unifying love are depicted in the story from the Book of Acts. God’s call to us to anchor ourselves to God and to each other is contained in Jesus’ commandment to love as we are loved by God. Before we go farther, let us go to God in prayer…
Peter is getting some blow-back from the Jerusalem-based Christ followers for his willingness to eat and hang out with uncircumcised believers. Peter tells the naysayers that it was God who gave him a vision that everything God had made was clean and should be treated that way. This included a Roman Centurion and his whole household to whom Peter had evangelized and witnessed the Holy Spirit baptize. Peter asks his detractors, “…who was I that could hinder God…?”
John of Patmos, in the final chapter of his Revelation from God, sees God’s Almighty love made manifest in victory over the forces of evil. The culmination of this vision is a return to unity in God as the New Jerusalem descends from the clouds. God is now back home with God’s creation and all of the first things (death, pain, mourning and crying) have passed away. The hope that anchors us all to God, is the promise that God’s Almighty love will win in the end.
Jesus is trying to prepare his followers for his impending death. In our reading from the Gospel according to John we hear the commandment from Jesus to love everyone as we are loved. Jesus knows that the coming transition from his earthly leadership to the leadership of the Holy Spirit will be disorienting. He knows that it will be easy for the disciples to fall back into their old ways of living if he does not give them something that can anchor them to their faith. Loving each other and all who come to believe, will provide the stability during times of trial, persecution and disorientation that come into every life.
We have been in a transitional time for a number of years from both the pandemic and the potential breakup of The United Methodist Church. It has been disorienting and anxiety provoking, and some have fled The UMC seeking a place of stability, safety and belonging. Many have wondered where God is in all this. Those same people have seemingly forgotten the words of Jesus and the power of Almighty God – a God who has anchored countless Christians through worldly trials, tribulations and transitions. How can the unconditional love of God and our ability to love like we are loved help us in our time?
Spiritual writer, Sarah S. Scherschligt, offer the following insight to us about the commandment of Jesus to his followers, “…Commandment means something specific here. The original [ten] commandments were given to the community of God’s people in the wilderness, in order that they would get through an unfamiliar and frightening place together. This is how we make it. This is what we do. The new commandment given to the disciples anticipates their disorientation and gives them the key to re-orienting in life after Jesus’ death: love each other [as you are loved].
Love is not just for their own good, though it certainly will help them through the tough times ahead. They love one another as an act of witness, so people will know that Jesus lives on. Their love becomes God’s glory. The glory of God which landed so unexpectedly in the flesh and blood of their mortal friend [Jesus] would continue its weighty presence on the earth through them. This is as much of a miracle as anything.
In this Easter season, the good news of Jesus’ resurrection changes everything – and yet, he is not here. This commandment of love – given to the disciples before his death and communicated to us after his resurrection – comes to us as the commandment that can help us through our profound disorientation. Love is more than our command. It is our inheritance….”
Did you catch that?! The commandment to love as God loves us is our inheritance as Christians. It has been passed down to us from those ancient ancestors who left the slavery of Egypt to follow Moses to the mountain of God. From there they followed Moses and other leaders to the Promised Land – this was all God’s doing borne out of God’s great love. The first Ten Commandments were distilled by Jesus down to the essence of their teaching. God’s love knows no division, no barrier, no human made limitation, no human pigeon holing. Sarah S. again on loving inclusion, writing, “…We will always wrestle with these questions, because we will always encounter and love people who don’t fit into our boxes. As a pastor, I take great comfort in knowing that questions of identity and belonging are as old as the church. I take my cue from Peter and his friends that the proper response to people wanting to join in is not ‘let us give you a quiz’ but ‘this is a reason to praise God.’
It gives me even more comfort to know the question isn’t actually ours to answer. The heart of Christianity is never what we do; it is what God does. The community of God’s people doesn’t spring up from our activity; it comes from God. Peter’s vision was, after all, from God and not of his own making. As long as we err on the side of love and stay open to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, we follow the commandment Jesus gave the community formed in his name: to love one another, so people will know we are his disciples….”
The heart of Christianity, the anchor that holds us in place, is what God is doing in our midst and the greater world, through grace. No matter what disorienting events happen in our lives, the lives of our churches, the life of The United Methodist Church or even in the greater Body of Christ, God’s Almighty and everlasting love is in control of what ultimately happens. God’s Almighty and everlasting love should always be the anchor to which we attach ourselves, rather than preachers, friends, family, doctrine, theology, social influencers and media personalities or anything else of human origin. Anything human will not solidly anchor us, because it is always finite, incomplete, and biased. Anchoring ourselves to imperfect and finite worldly things will always lead to more disorientation and less peace and stability.
God’s eternal love has stood the test of time – it is our inheritance, our heart and can be our anchor in these transitional times. No matter what life throws at us, we can rest peacefully, anchored by the security of God’s Almighty, active and ever creating love. Let us love one another throughout our lives like we are loved, amen!