Marked

John 13:31-35

Acts 11:1-18

We start the second part of our Eastertide series this morning with a focus on “Marked by a loving God”

What marks us, noticeably identifies us, can encompass several things.   We can be marked as part of a particular family by a family trait, the family name, the particular section of the pews in which we sit.

We can be marked by our skills, talents, style of dress, theological point of view, political affiliation.

Marked by our professions, our gender, our age, our position in the community.

Sometimes what noticeably identifies us, marks us, limits our opportunities to achieve our goals, other times it helps us get there.  It was interesting that in the Big Bang Theory’s finale show, Amy Farrah Fowler’s acceptance speech for the Noble Prize in Physics encouraged girls who love science to keep pursuing that career, not letting anyone tell them they are not good enough or can’t achieve excellence in that field.  “It is the best job ever,” she said with enthusiasm.

She needed to offer that encouragement from a world stage because traditionally girls are marked for other careers, marked as less than adequate for pursuing a career in science.  I wondered as I listened to her speech how much of it was acting, and how much came from personal experience, as in her life outside of acting, in her life as Mayim Bialik, she is an author and holds a PHD as a neuroscientist, and likely experiences some of the negativity that comes with being marked as something other than what you aspire to be.

This morning’s scriptures in essence address this idea of being “marked,” of something noticeably identifying us, naming our potential.

Jesus is glorified – marked as elevated and special – in his willingness to accept betrayal, suffering, and death on a cross that each of us might be saved.  As he is glorified in his sacrifice, emptying himself to serve others, so is God the father.  The Son glorified in the Father, the Father glorified in the Son.  Marked as a God of love, willing to do what it takes to bring us into relationship with God and each other.  Marked as the only one without sin, the Lamb of God.

As he talks with his closest disciples on the night he was betrayed, Jesus marks those of us who follow, marks his disciples throughout the generations, with a new commandment:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

A loving God marks us as those who love one another.  Not only when we want to, when we agree with each other, when we like each other, when we have something to gain by loving one another.  We are marked as Disciples of Christ when we love one another in all of our interactions with each other.  In every word, every value judgement, every side comment, every decision, and every action.

Peter’s understanding of the rules of his upbringing were well developed and left little or no gray areas.  He didn’t eat those foods deemed unclean by the laws of his ancestors in the faith.  He didn’t do anything that had the potential of making him unclean according to the law, as he understood God to have defined it. He was marked as a faithful follower of the God of Abraham by what he ate and who he ate it with.

Then comes this vision from God.  We know it is from God, because at the point Peter sees it, he has no idea God is sending him to the home of Cornelius, to share the message of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.  He is just trying to catch a nap in the sunshine.

We know Peter isn’t ready to accept God may be changing the rules, that God wants Peter to understand clean and unclean in a new way.  It takes God three times for Peter to see the vision, three men to unexpectedly invite him to come with them, Cornelius to share he had a message from God as well, and the Holy Spirit to fall upon his listeners before the message becomes clear.

As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with[a]water, but you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit.’ 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”

17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”

Those who follow Christ are marked by the love they show others, empowered by the gift of the Holy Spirit working in their lives.

Marks of a Christian life include the fruits of the Holy Spirit as named in Galatians 5:22: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Marks of the Christian life provide evidence that a person is moving on to perfection as John Wesley defined it, reflecting love of God and love of neighbor, with faith, hope, love, and humility among them.  Wesley expounded on those basic marks in the Character of a Methodist, noting that the marks of a Methodist were marks of Christianity.[1]

“While he thus always exercises his love to God, by praying without ceasing, rejoicing evermore, and in everything giving thanks, this commandment is written in his heart, “That he who loveth God, love his brother also.” And he accordingly loves his neighbor as himself; he loves every man as his own soul.”[2]

Bishop Marcus Matthews shared on several occasions while leading the people called Methodist in Upper New York, that his daily prayer was that he be more Christ-like today than yesterday. As I practice ministry, this daily prayer and holding myself accountable to self-assessment of evidence in my life of these marks is critical.  I think that is true for all followers of Christ.

Evaluation of how each of us is progressing on our movement to perfections comes in reviewing Wesley’s three simple rules: am I doing no harm, am I doing good, am I staying in love with God?  We can hold each other accountable looking for ways we are more loving, joyful, hopeful, peaceful, patient, giving, than yesterday and challenge ourselves and others to move from focusing on what we want, to focusing on what God calls us to.

There are Corneliuses all around us.  In our families and in our communities.  People who know there is more to life than what they are experiencing and are looking for something to show them what it is.

We have the gifts of the Spirit.  We need to use them, to open ourselves to the visions that show us where the rules we thought God laid out so clearly, God may be redefining or clarifying so that others may hear the stories about how following Jesus makes all the difference in an OK life and an abundant life.  We need to love one another, when loving one another is difficult.

Sheldon Cooper does not believe in God, or so he says.  He finds it appropriate to just state the facts as he sees them and as they affect him personally.  He doesn’t mean to hurt others, but he does.  I won’t spoil the ending of the closing episode for those of you who have recorded it to watch later, but I encourage you to take a look at his acceptance speech and see if others loving Sheldon in spite of himself ultimately transforms who he is.

How much more can we do that for those around us with the power of God’s Spirit working within us.  Living Marked by God in love is transformational, not only for us as individuals, but with all with whom witness that we love one another because Christ loves us.

 

[1] Richard P. Heitzenrater, Wesley and the People called Methodists: Second Edition (Abington Press Nashville 1995, 2013) location 2436 of 7266 Kindle edition

[2] John Wesley “The Character of a Methodist” location 110 of 188 Kindle edition

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