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The Advent Breakfast is postponed to Sunday, Dec 8.

“It is Better to be Sometimes Cheated than Not to Trust”: The Fifth Sunday of Easter

Sunday, May 19, 2019:
Acts 11:1-18
Rev 21:1-6
John 13:31-35

Risen Christ,
your wounds declare God’s love for the world
and the wonder of your risen life
gives us compassion and courage
to risk ourselves for those we serve,
to the glory of God the Father. Amen.
Common Worship: Additional Collects (2004)

I came across a line by Samuel Johnson, from a periodical that he published. Johnson was an 18th century Anglican writer and Shakespeare scholar. It goes “It is better… to be sometimes cheated than not to trust” [The Rambler, 18 Dec 1750]. Fast forward to the 20th century, to Tennessee Williams, writer of A Streetcar Named Desire, in the play Camino Real, and he comes from a different point of view: “We have to distrust each other. It’s our only defense against betrayal” [Camino Real, 10, 1953].

We might ask: in our own time, and in our own lives — without getting too deeply into our respective relationship histories — what approach do you think is preferable? (Assuming it’s such an either/or choice, which maybe it isn’t.) And I’ll admit, I’m hardly an expert on literature, so for me the question is associated with Lando Calrissian. He’s the character in Cloud City with the cape, the original owner of the Millennium Falcon, who first shows up in The Empire Strikes Back, the second Star Wars movie. Should Han and Leia and Luke have trusted him? Because — and plug your ears if you need to protect yourself from 35-40 year-old plot spoilers — Lando ends up betraying our heroes into the hands of Darth Vader. But, we can’t ignore that it’s Lando who, in the next movie, is the one who blows up the Death Star.

A different sci-fi/fantasy story, The Book of Revelation, assures us that the day is coming when we won’t have to agonize over these decisions. The end, the goal of God’s story is about the end of tears, the end of death and mourning, or crying, and pain. The first heaven and the first earth, and the limitations and conundrums and conflicts of that come with them, will give way to something new, as God comes down to dwell with mortals, with us.

But until that day, when the Reign of God comes, we’re stuck dealing with our conflicts and conundrums; our choice between trust and distrust. It’s interesting that the last bits of Revelation depict a sort of park or garden situation, with a river, trees, with healing properties. It’s a return, of sorts, to the Garden in the Book of Genesis. That origin story that starts off with such beauty and promise, but within a page or two, devolves into a situation of alienation, between God and people, and people and people. “[The fruit] was a delight to the eyes,” we read, “and the tree was to be desired to make one wise, [so] she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.” We’re told explicitly that Adam is right there: right there at the tree, right there by the crafty serpent. But later on when God asks what’s going on, Adam tries to shift the blame: “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate,” he says. He glosses over how he was right there the whole time. Here in this story our situation of distrust of ‘the other,’ of our neighbour, is expressed, and placed right at, or at least just after, the genesis, the beginnings of our human race.

And the alienation and competition continues. Adam and Eve’s family is far from picture perfect: Cain murders Abel. We might move ahead to the story of Abraham and Sarah: the couple chosen by God through whom salvation will come. And there’s a bitter rivalry within that household, between Sarah and Hagar. A couple of generations later, Abraham and Sarah’s grandsons, Jacob and Esau, will wrestle each other within the womb of their mother, Rebekah. I mean, imagine what that ultrasound would look like! But it’s another example of alienation and conflict at the very core of people, families, communities, and nations.

And as we’ve journeyed through Holy Week and Easter, we come to the story of Jesus. Connected to the line of Abraham and Sarah, Jesus faces this human conflict head on. And he experiences — in fact, run over by the very wheel of this cycle of violence. The Church’s proclamation, however, is that that wasn’t the end of him. It wasn’t the end, but a new beginning, a new chapter. And what begins with Jesus on Easter, we have faith, will transform our limitations and conflicts, our tears, our death and mourning, our crying and pain, and bring about a new creation.

The first buds, the first signs of life of this new reality we heard about in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Where Peter’s assumptions, confirmed by the scriptures and practices of his faith tradition are challenged, and transformed. He takes what must have been a difficult leap of faith by following the movement of the Spirit. To see, and actually live in a way where you trust that God is bringing about reconciliation, where previously there had been division, and distrust, and a labelling of the other as “profane.”

Imagine, not just how big a leap of faith this was for Peter, but how difficult this must have been for the early Church to wrap its head around. The rest of the Acts of the Apostles, and Paul’s letters, reveal the excitement, but also the tension, and the backsliding that come from the Church’s attempts at responding in faith to this vision of the sheet being let down from heaven. And this story continues in our own day, with excitement, and tension, and backsliding… And fear, and division, and labelling, and name-calling… We are ever in this situation of being pulled between the hope and promise of the new creation, and the alienation and conflict of the old one. The choice between trust and distrust.

As we struggle with this, our guide is the person and the words of Jesus, who says “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

Can we express that love, within the Church, to one another? And can we extend this love beyond the Church, in anticipation of God’s new creation, to those who are often labelled as ‘others?’

© 2019 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter