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Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17

A bit of news… As many of you know from a letter that was sent by email last week, and sharing the news in-person with a few groups and individuals, I have announced my retirement from serving as Co-Pastor of Church of the Cross effective September 2 of this year. My last Sunday will be September 1. As I said in my letter, this was a difficult decision. I have loved serving in ministry at Church of the Cross! And while I have envisioned this day for some time, I will be very sad to leave. But I will turn 65 this summer, and with a growing family of grandchildren and other interests and concerns, the time seems right. With the leadership of Pastor Lyndon and Council and others, I trust this congregation will continue to change and grow in the ministry God intends of loving the world as Jesus loves. I am filled with gratitude for the privilege of sharing in ministry with you for what will be 22 years this summer, and 38 years since my ordination. There will be more to say. But for now, I want to say a profound thank you to you and to God for ministry together at Church of the Cross and beyond.

           Now that’s out of the way, friends… I have been wondering, as the statement in the worship folder says, if a life of faith in God’s Spirit, if ministry, is all as clear and as challenging as, loving as Jesus loves? Is this what every call to ministry, ordained and non; every worship gathering, every season and holy day, every song and sermon, every baptism and meal at the table, every prayer; every funeral, memorial and wedding; every church meeting (and I can’t imagine how many church meetings I have attended!); every potluck, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and coffee, coffee, coffee, and tea; every conversation, encounter, visit; every study, class, program, event, Zoom meeting; every project, partnership, expanded and extended ministry; every protest, parade, sign, article, presentation; every convention, assembly, conference, workshop, class; every building, hall, office, house;  all this and more, everything in service of this gospel, this ministry, God’s mission, has it been and is it all about, loving as Jesus loves?

           These are some of the last words in John’s gospel of a soon to die, Jesus. Two more chapters follow, but they are more about Jesus’ death and heartfelt prayer for his followers and those who come after. These words about loving, abiding in Jesus’ love, keeping Jesus’ commands of love as Jesus keeps the commands and abides in God, are critical for the disciples’ to hear and follow, after Jesus. And, Jesus says, for their and our, complete joy! This is Jesus’ last commandment, that we love one another as Jesus loves. And there is no greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. And this is precisely what Jesus is about to do. And tells his followers, this is who they are, friends. Jesus’ friends, who know God as Jesus shared God with them. Friends chosen by Jesus, to bear fruit, to love as Jesus loves, as he lays down his life for his friends.

           Is this everything we need to know and do as followers, as friends of Jesus, to love and lay down our lives as Jesus loves? Friends, is it as clear and challenging as this love?

           The clarity and challenge of loving as Jesus loves, became for Peter and others, the tearing down of barriers between Jews and Gentiles that previously seemed unimaginable to cross. The book of Acts tells a detailed story of a Roman centurion named Cornelius who sees a vision of an angel telling him to call for Peter. At the same time, Peter, in another community, sees a vision and metaphor of animals considered unclean, now seen as clean before God. Peter goes to Cornelius, and in meeting his household and community of friends, shares with them the story of Jesus crucified and risen. And in the reading for today, Peter and the others witness these Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit of Jesus just as they had. And in words similar to what we heard last Sunday that Boston spoke of with an Ethiopian Eunuch, upon hearing from Philip the story of Jesus, asks, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” Peter declares, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And Cornelius and his family and community are all baptized. And did you hear the last phrase of the story? And they asked Peter to stay for several days. Have they become friends? Friends chosen by Jesus in love to bear fruit that will last, to love as Jesus loves, together?

           What barriers need to be torn down for us by Jesus’ love? Today is Red Dress Day. National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and Two Spirit People in Canada. To remember and honour them, neighbours, aunties, nieces, sisters, grandmothers, mothers, and daughters. Committing to see greater safety and justice and accountability in our communities and nation for Indigenous women and girls and gender diverse peoples. The Moosehide campaign continues to raise awareness by wearing a pin of moosehide and sharing information about its purpose with others. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls final report and recommendations, titled, “Reclaiming Power and Place,” needs continuing reading and attention and fulfillment of its recommendations. How do we love as Jesus loves, laying down our lives for Indigenous women and girls and two spirit people, as friends?  

And so also for 2SIA+LGBTQ siblings, and the long history of being excluded and harmed by the church, to gain full expression, safety and support within the church and society, to be all God intends them to be. That barriers and all forms of hate for our queer siblings be torn down and for continuing reform within ourselves and this congregation, and within the wider church and society, by loving as Jesus loves and laying down one’s life for beloved queer siblings and friends. Today, at the 30th Augustana Human Library presentation at the University of Alberta Augustana campus in Camrose and online, parents of Mathew Shepherd, a young gay man who 25 years ago was killed in an anti-gay hate crime, will talk about their journey of supporting causes important to their son, social justice, diversity awareness and education, and equity for queer people. (The information is in our newsletter if you wish to join)

And for all Queer, Indigenous, Black, and other people of colour within the church and our communities, to stand in love as Jesus loves, against racism and prejudice, injustice and inequity, for social and economic and religious barriers to be torn down so that the truth of past harm and destruction and death be told, and paths to reconciliation and redress toward right relationships together are created and strengthened including with the lands that we need to care for together.

And among our multifaith neighbours, and the terrible suffering in Gaza and the Holy Land for Palestinians and Jews, and the calls for a ceasefire and the return of hostages, in university student encampments and other protests and concerns for safety in the face of hate speech and growing intolerance. It is so difficult to know what the clear and challenging call of God’s Spirit to love as Jesus loves is telling us to say and do, that will bear the fruits of justice and peace that will last, for our neighbours and the world. What is clear, is reaching out in love to Muslim and Jewish neighbours and friends, however we can, meeting people where they are, and standing in love over hate and violence is to love as Jesus loves. I know even these words can be divisive and questioned, as are our sign messages, our speaking out or not, our showing up or not. The clear and challenging call to love as Jesus loves is not simple or simplistic, nor an excuse for not acting or being silent in the face of these challenges and all the suffering, But by grace to live and act in love together as Jesus loves, giving our lives for friends, being forgiven and beginning again, learning and changing and growing is our clear and challenging call and purpose for all we do and are as people and a church community of Jesus together.

Friends, the clear call and challenge of loving as Jesus loves leads us to right and good relations in all our diversity together for the well being of all God’s beloved, including the earth, as friends. This is Jesus’ commandment, to love as Jesus loves us all, loves you! And to give our lives, as Jesus gave his life, for all as friends, for complete joy! Our purpose in everything we do is for love and joy in Jesus, as friends, everyone! Let it be so, in all our relations. Amen.