The Sixth Sunday of Easter (5/17/2009)

Lessons:    Acts 10:44-48     Psalm 98     1 John 5:1-6     St. John 15:9-17

Prayer of the Day:     O God, you have prepared for those who love you joys beyond understanding. Pour into our hearts such love for you that, loving you above all things, we may obtain your promises, which exceed all we can desire; through Jesus Christ, your Son and our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

[Jesus said,] 15:9 "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12 This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another."

St. Mark 15:9-17 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

This Sunday is a big day at Saint Peter. We will be celebrating with eleven Catechism students (including my son!) who have completed their studies, and who are now ready to become adult members of this congregation. I think I can speak for the whole catechism team and say that we have truly enjoyed the time we've spent with Alan, Catherine, Sydney, Olivia, Philip, Clarissa, Matthew, Ryan, Annalise, Brady and Tanner. In many ways, they are a faithful and energetic group of young people whose gifts (if we are wise enough to encourage them well) will strengthen our congregation in a variety of ways.

When they come forward this Sunday during our 10:45 service, they will publicly affirm their faith with us, and then I will ask them this question:

Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in Holy Baptism: to live among God's faithful people, to hear the word of God and share in the Lord's supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?  [Evangelical Lutheran Worship, page 237]

When they answer "I will, and I ask God to help and guide me" - as I know many of them will - they will be making their solemn vow to become active, supportive, committed and growing members of Christ's church. We will no longer think of them as children, but we will begin to think of them as adults. I hope and pray that they truly will become adults among us - fully involved in giving and receiving ministry through the life of this congregation.

As their status is about to change in our congregation, I have been thinking of the words from Jesus in this week's Gospel lesson. It is set during the last week of our Lord's life. He is gathered at the Passover table with his closest followers. He has fed them, washed their feet, noted that one of them will betray him and that another will deny him. Then, he begins to speak to them about what it will be like after he is gone. He gives them a new commandment (a "mandatum novum" in the Latin - which is why Thursday of Holy Week is called "Maundy Thursday"). And his new commandment is this:

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

Our call, as Christians, is to live as Christ-like lovers of one another. What does that Christ-like love look like? Jesus expounds: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." As he was willing to give everything for us, so too we are called to give everything for one another.

It is often the case that our younger members are the most willing - the most eager - to offer gifts of selfless love. Witness their expressions of joy as they bring a bag of groceries up to the food wagon on a Sunday morning. Witness the genuine compassion as they reach out to hug a senior member of the congregation who is seated next to them. Witness the eagerness with which they plan to travel to Mexico or Arizona or Vancouver, in order to serve others in Christ's name.

My hope for this group of eleven catechists is that they will lead us in loving one another as Christ has first loved us. May their generosity, their grace, their forgiveness, their compassion and their kindness spur the rest of us to live with one another in the same way. And may the love that we display for one another be a sign to the world around us that God continues to live in our midst.

Congratulations to these eleven friends of ours. I hope and pray that your three years of studying and practicing the faith have drawn you deeper into the promises of God. And I look forward to the ways that your love and service will enrich our common life.

Please join me in praying for them, and for all people throughout the church who will be affirming their baptism this Spring and this Fall. May this be a rich and powerful new beginning in their life with God. Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week's Gospel:

  1. In what ways did Jesus display a sacrificial love for others?
  2. When was it hardest for his disciples to practice that same kind of self-giving love?
  3. What impact did that kind of love have on the early church?

Connecting with This Week's Gospel:

  1. When have I experienced the sacrificial and self-giving love of my God?
  2. How has that love affected me? How has in influenced my faith?
  3. Who might I reach out to in love, as I respond to these words of Jesus?