6th Sunday of Easter (B)
May 9, 2021
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Introit from Psalm 66.
If you have something important to convey to a group of people, you must first get their attention. Depending on the situation, you could ring a bell, yell “Listen up!”, a coach might tell the team to gather round. I suppose you might be a little perturbed if I started my sermon the same way I start confirmation class: “Would you knock it off and pay attention!?” While that’s often necessary for junior high students, right now it might sound rude. Instead, let me use the words of Psalm 66, our Introit to get your attention: Come and hear all you who fear the Lord!
Why do I want you to gather around me? What do I want you to hear? Since we’re in church, that’s easy to figure out, right? I want you to know what God has done for me. And what has He done for me? The better question is what hasn’t He done for me? I’m blessed, more blessed than I deserve, and I am blessed as the author of Psalm 66 says, “Blessed be God, because He has not rejected my prayer or removed His steadfast love from me!” I’ve struggled with remembering the important truth that God hears my prayers. I know I don’t pray as often as I should, and to be honest, I don’t know why. Is it because I don’t like God’s answers? I suppose that’s possible; He doesn’t always answer the way I would like. Sometimes that’s because my prayers are selfish, other times it’s because He has something else in mind. But what does the Introit say? God hasn’t rejected my prayers; He hears them all.
Knowing this doesn’t necessarily change our behavior though; we still don’t pray as we should. I know that some of you are prayer warriors, I really admire you, but I think you’re a member of a small minority. We’re in such a rush we don’t pray, or worse yet, we don’t even think about it. But you know, even when you’re not praying, God has tuned His ear to your voice. Have you ever watched a war movie where the radio operator is hunched over his equipment, anxiously waiting for a response to his transmission? He listens intently so he can respond as soon as the voice comes on the line. This is what God does when you’re not praying. He keeps scanning, He keeps His ears open and ready to hear your prayers. When you pray, your words don’t drift off into the atmosphere, never to be heard from again, instead they fill God’s ears. Isaiah has the exceptionally beautiful promise: “Before they call, I will answer; while they are yet speaking, I will hear.”
Come and hear! Come and hear how God has never “removed His steadfast love from me!” I know that I haven’t always deserved God’s love, in fact, it goes deeper than that, because I know that I have deserved God’s anger, still He loves me. Is there anything better to hear? No matter who you are or what you’ve done, He loves you! Jesus says this in the Gospel: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” It can’t be said enough, He loves you and wants you to live in that love. Look to Him and know He loves you when you feel unlovable. Look to Him and know He loves you when you’ve messed up again or failed someone you love or even sinned against Him.
If you want to know God loves you, listen to what He says when you sin: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” His great love is seen in Jesus’ death for you. He forgives all your sins. It sounds simple, just five words, but in those five words is found everything you need to know. As Peter says in the first reading: “To [Jesus] all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.” That’s why He hears my prayers, keeps loving me, forgiving me. That’s why He hears your prayers, keeps loving you, forgiving you. It isn’t because of what’s in us because we’re not very loveable in our sins, we’re ugly. You’re forgiven because of what’s in Christ, a love beyond measure!
Peter was a great apostle and one of the Fathers of the Church, he also had a bit of a blind spot. He was a Jew, the Jews were God’s chosen people, and so he initially believed the Gospel was for the Jews alone. Peter, and some of the first Christians believed that the Gentiles were unclean and outside salvation. In the first reading, God shatters that perception by telling Peter not to reject what God hasn’t rejected. He’s telling Peter the old relationship between Jew and Gentile was changed. God said to listen, Peter did, and he learned that the Gospel is for everyone. Later when Peter returned to Jerusalem, he was criticized for eating and associating with the Gentiles. But when he explained what had happened, and how God had given these Gentile believers the Holy Spirit, the Christians in Jerusalem “glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.’”
They rejoiced in the truth that everyone who calls on the Lord will be saved. You too can gather around not just to hear, but to praise the Lord. In the Introit we said: “Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of His name; give to Him glorious praise! Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of His praise be heard.” We have the greatest news ever! There’s nothing better to hear than that God loves you and forgives all your sins. So how can we be quiet about what we have heard? We praise the Lord and by praising Him we tell the world about Him so that they too can praise Him.
When Peter visited Cornelius and the others, did you notice what he didn’t do? He didn’t give a theological discourse or seminary class. He simply told the account of Jesus: how He was sent by God, how He did miracles and freed those held by Satan. He told them the story of Good Friday, the Easter miracle, and all that had happened since. This is what you can do! Don’t you want everyone to hear about this incredible, life-transforming event? Don’t worry about what you’re going to say. Don’t worry about getting the words exactly right. Simply tell the story. Tell the story of how God hears your prayers, loves you forever, forgives you, and gives you eternal life. Speak about the love of Jesus that’s for everyone; including those who feel forgotten or unworthy. If Jesus died for you, He died for them. If He rose for you, He rose for them. No one is outside of God’s grace, no one is unclean. I’m not, you’re not, and neither are those who hear the Good News and believe. You are blessed my brothers and sisters in Christ, share that blessing. Let others hear you say, “Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul.”
So maybe there’s nothing wrong with me standing up here and shouting, “Listen up!” After all, this is a message for everyone and what better way is there to share this message than to cry out with a song in our heart and enthusiasm for what God has done. Listen up! I have good news for you, the Lord loves you! And His steadfast love for you will never end.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen