As I’m a preacher who often searches for common threads in the lectionary texts, I noticed almost immediately the common thread in this week’s texts: newness.
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” – John 13:34
Though we’re in the Easter Season, we rewind to Holy Week and the very first Maundy Thursday, when Jesus hands down a “new” commandment. Effectively building on the primary commandment (love God) and the second one like it (love neighbor as self), Jesus now undergirds the “love” commandment with a new standard. His disciples are told to love each other as he has loved them. That “new” commandment escapes the limitations of ones’s heart, mind, soul, and strength, and it also escapes the limitations of self love. After all, if you barely love yourself, you will barely love your neighbor! The command may not be new, but the standard is new. Jesus has shown such love in his life and will continue to show it in his death. This is a new thing.
“If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” – Acts 11:17
Peter’s defense of his engagement with the “unclean” Gentiles reveals God’s hand in something “new” — at least, it appears new to the Jews, who’d always understood themselves and others in terms of ritual cleanliness. God, through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh, had made it clean. In the past, I’ve preached this text and took care to note that this story isn’t so much about dietary choices as what God was doing in the lives of people. If you’re in the U.S. in what is our election season, this is fine opportunity to chip at the walls we tend to build around this time.
“Young men and women alike, old and young together!” – Psalm 148:12
Like Acts, this week’s Psalm lays out a universal (and new) paradigm. All are called to be party to this command of praise, and yes, the restriction is still to Israel, but populations that tend to be excluded in that context and indeed all of nature are included. Again, there’s some correlation to the present in that, I’d say.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” – Revelation 21:1
Speaking of new paradigms, John’s apocalypse certainly gives us one. After the tribulation, after the most horrific and confounding visions, ultimately, God brings everything to a new state and new splendor. For an early church under persecution, the promise of all things made new would have been comforting. And for our time, we similarly hope for an end to injustice, suffering, and violence. Perhaps we look to eschatology for help in speaking to the distresses of our congregations and our world.
What about you, preachers? Where are you feeling called to go this week? What common threads do you see? Where could you use more help with your ideation? Let’s discuss!