Gospel: John 10:22-30
1st Reading: Acts 9:36-43
2nd Reading: Revelation 7:9-17
Last December Nick and I found a babysitter one Saturday and went on a date. Nick looked up the movie times on the internet and we made all the arrangements. When we got to the theater we bought our tickets and went in. But just as we were to enter the theater, we saw the doors were closed and the movie had started about 20 minutes before. We had planned to see the movie Lincoln on the recommendation of many of you. But it was not to be. Our childcare was on a schedule so we went Christmas shopping and probably a good thing we did because otherwise we would probably not bought each other anything for Christmas.
This week Nick finally rented Lincoln on BlueRay and as I read the lessons for today, I couldn’t help but see a connection. Often Steven Spielberg includes Messianic characters in his stories—characters that have attributes of a Messiah or Christ. And many of his characters are like the prophets. It makes for an interesting story, with all the difficulties of life, but also with a message of hope. This movie was no different.
As I read this lesson from Revelation, I pictured a throne room. Lord of the Rings came to mind, and Lincoln. Lincoln didn’t exactly sit on a throne, but in a figurative way, he did as President of the United States. It was interesting to see who surrounded Lincoln in the Oval office and around the White House. It was interesting to spy on his conversations, to see who groveled and who resisted and who gave him the straight facts and who pussy-footed around. There were a few close friends and confidantes that were there because they believed in him—even though they disagreed with him about approach and his optimism and his drivenness, among other things. Most people were they because they wanted something. They wanted a job or they wanted control of something or they wanted power and influence. And it turned out, Lincoln wanted something, too. I don’t know if he was really so single-minded as he was portrayed in the film, but he wanted an end to slavery. He indicated that he had been troubled about it for as long as he could remember, since he saw a slave-ship as a boy. And even more than that, it seemed he was truly interested in the well-being of the country. For him, ending slavery was the best thing for everyone in the long-run, and he didn’t stop at anything to make that happen.
Lincoln found himself using bribery to get the votes he needed to abolish slavery and get it in the Constitution, giving jobs to outgoing Democratic Representatives who would vote with the Republicans to end slavery. In some ways it was dishonest. But as the film progressed, it seemed more and more that Lincoln was really giving these Democrats a chance to do what they knew was right in their hearts, so that on the day of the vote, those on the side of right encouraged each other so that even more were swayed to vote for the amendment.
Now see this throne room in the book of Revelation. It is one view of what the next life may be like. Basically, it is people expressing their devotion to God day in and day out, without end. It is an eternal worship service. Here, people are gathered, not to get something for themselves, but in pure awe and thankfulness and wonder. They are here to express their love and gratitude to one who gave them life and brought them to eternal life. And these are martyrs—the ones whose robes have been washed in the blood of the lamb. They’ve given their lives for God. They’ve suffered and died for God. Yet they don’t blame God or want anything from God. They just want to be near God.
Now God’s throne room on earth is different. Many times we approach God with our wishes and our agenda. Some wanted to see another miracle from Jesus. Some liked the lunches he provided. Some wanted to be told they were A-OK and get that stamp of approval, so they could keep living life the same way they always had been. God doesn’t hold it against us when we come to him with our agenda. But God is also clear that His agenda will proceed. And God’s agenda is love.
In the first reading, today, Tabitha dies—a lady disciple! She was an example to others. She did many things that helped other people. She was loving and she was loved. And she died. Peter was called in. He’d never raised the dead before. But he was called and he came. He followed the steps that Jesus did when he raised the little girl. Tabitha was restored to life and to community.
I know that I don’t expect to raise the dead. Whether this happened exactly as it is reported here or not, this story is still very important. It tells us that sharing new life isn’t just for Jesus to do. We are to spread new life in whatever ways we can. This week many people had the opportunity to spread new life. Maybe dead people weren’t raised, but maybe some were saved from death by quick thinking passersby who removed barriers from the Marathon route, others who made tourniquets from their own clothing, and those who carried people to triage tents to receive care. Isn’t this new life? Many people opened their homes to perfect strangers from around the world who couldn’t get back into their hotel rooms or get flights out of Boston. People didn’t let this horrific incident keep them down, but they got up and they got to work, doing what needed to be done. And new life came from this. Friendships that will last a lifetime began this week when people worked together to help each other. God’s agenda of love was lived this week, despite someone’s attempt to bring about the opposite.
In the reading from Revelation, a picture of one possibility of what might be when we are all gathered together in God’s Kingdom, people of all tribes and languages are gathered. There is no division, no other agendas. Everyone is together, in relationship, in love, in peace. There is no hunger or sadness or thirst or heat. Everything is in balance.
Jesus was clear that his Kingdom is coming to this earth. This might be a picture of heaven after we die. But Jesus asked us to live that loving Kingdom now. God is making this a reality through us. In 20 years we’ve cut malaria deaths in half. Now instead of a person dying every 30 seconds from malaria, it is now every 60 seconds. The reality of God’s Kingdom is coming into this world. Where do you see God’s Kingdom of love and unity showing up?
In the Gospel lesson, Jesus is walking in the temple—the king is in the castle. People are surrounding him, wanted something from him. They want to trap him. They want to gain power for themselves. They want to be rich and smart and comfortable. They don’t want anyone messing with their way of life. And Jesus tells them plainly enough. “It isn’t about you and your comfort. The messiah isn’t here to make your life easy and fun and give you everything you want. The Messiah is here to follow the Father’s agenda of love. Love is about relationship. It is about unity. So get with the program, the agenda of love.” God is love. God’s son, Jesus, is love. We are God’s creation, made in God’s image, the image of love. We belong to each other. We belong in relationship and balance with each other. So why don’t we act like it? We are only destroying ourselves and each other.
The film Lincoln shows us, accurate or not, a leader whose purpose is unity and love. He does not stop at any means to abolish slavery because of his love for his country and his fellow human beings. As he pleaded and bribed and told amusing stories and shouted and twisted words, he brought about the best in people and the best in this nation. He used love, his relationships with people to help them come to the right decision for the good of everyone.
God is also a single-minded leader who uses a variety of means to turn us toward love. Sometimes threatening, sometimes bribing, sometimes reminding, and many times telling stories, God reminds us of why love matters, what love looks like, and most importantly, helps us see that vision of a day when we will all be loving and all in unity. “Tell us plainly,” we cried. And he did not fight back when we hung him on the cross, but taught us what it means to truly love and be in unity in this life and the next by giving us eternal life and love.