“What God has made Clean”
St. John 13:31-35
The first reading for this morning, in which Peter retells his experience and vision in Joppa, is a powerful one for me. It was used many years ago by the Reverend Jim DeLange, Sr. Pastor at Saint Francis Lutheran Church in San Francisco, to announce his position on the role and place of gay men and lesbian women in the Church. This was, I believe, around 1984. It was prescient and powerful sermons that lead that local parish to lead the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the life of the Church. It is precisely why Luke includes it in his accounts of the ministry of Peter and Paul. It was the gateway to both seeking out and inviting in the Gentiles who lived in Asia Minor, and then later, Europe, Africa, and, if we are to appreciate the Thomas legend, India.
There is something about religion that always asks its adherents to step away from something, to avoid something. Thus many religions had dietary laws, or associational taboos that kept human beings from really encountering and appreciating one another. There were always the abominations, and we see them in our own time as well. Peter’s vision speaks against such perceptions, and wants us to hear God’s clear and definite call, “What I have made clean you shall not make unclean.
Two of the other readings point in this direction as well. The psalm after its reverie about the majesty of creation then goes on to include all of it in its ability to praise and honor God. Even the sea monsters and the deeps, which were always conquered and defeated by the gods of the Ancient Near East, even these are called upon to praise the God of Creation. Creeping things, that were clearly considered unclean, are bidden to praise God, along with all ages, and all genders. Psalm 150 has always put it so well, and Bach captured it so well in his Motet Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied. “Alles was Odem hat lobe den Herrn – All that has breath praise the Lord.”
Saint John the Divine hears a similar sentiment in his vision in Revelation, “Behold, I am making all things new.” The whole spectrum of existence is subsumed in the Lamb – the alpha and the omega. Everyone, everything, is gathered into the praise of the Almighty, and into the family that God makes God’s own. Love rules the day, according to the Gospel for this morning, and love show to others not only who we are but also whose we are = and whose they are. That is the sum of it.
But we need to go on a bit of a tangent from this foundational learning about God’s intentions for us – God’s own. Tomorrow will be Saint Mark’s Day, the 25th of April. I’d like for us to look at the Gospel of Mark from a distance, observe its patterns, and learn something about how to live in praise of God. Mark is known for several things – its brevity and thus a certain level of clarity. It is known for its dogged intention as Jesus makes a slow and certain progress to Jerusalem, and what will happen there. Finally there is Mark’s focus on the Kingdom, and the signs of its presence amongst the people. Mark’s Jesus also wanders to the edges of proper society – the Syrophoenician Woman, lepers, the blind and the lame – the people who bore in their being the messianic promise.
How might such a program our own mission and ministry here at Saint Mark’s? When I was at Saint Francis in San Francisco, someone actually suggested that we be informed by and follow the teachings of blessed Francis. It was a dream that didn’t happen. Might we, however, attempt the same thing here – devote ourselves to learning the Marcan way, the emphasis of his revelation of Jesus? Were we to do such a thing, we would have to begin with Baptism, for that is where Mark begins the story of Jesus’ life. Indeed, didn’t our own Christ-lives begin at such a font? I know a priest-friend, who whenever he preaches about baptism (which is often) makes it very clear that if anyone wishes to be baptized that it should happen them = like Philip and the Eunuch. I think I may suggest to the Altar Guild that the Baptismal Ewer full charged with water be present at each celebration of the liturgy – just in case!
And once we are affirmed and reaffirmed in our baptism – in our belonging to God, and our relationship with God, then we move on with our Marcan program of clarity and intent. We should be clear about the fact that we teach Jesus here, and his salvation. And we should announce our intent to share that good news every Sunday, every feast day, every day. You know what happens when the story is rehearsed. You know how it ends in Mark. It ends in fear and wonder. The women see the remarkable and immediately react. We know that their fear and wonder led them to the other apostles, and led them to tell the story. What will such fear and wonder lead us to do? To invite those that others consider unclean? To make welcome those that have been sent away elsewhere? To praise God for giving them to us? Know God’s goodness amongst yourselves, even when you have been hurt or harmed. God has made us clean for a purpose.