The Mark of the Feast
May 09, 2021*
By Pastor John Partridge
John 15:9-17 Acts 10:44-48 1 John 5:1-6
With today being Mother’s Day, I thought that I would start by thinking about what it is that many of our Mother’s taught us. But right up front, I want to recognize that not everyone has had a positive experience with their mothers. Some of the people we know, and some of you who are reading this, experienced verbal, mental, or physical abuse and for that, or other reasons, you do not have a positive association with Mother’s Day. Similarly, I want to recognize that Mother’s Day is a source of pain for some of you who wanted children, but either couldn’t have them, or lost them. I get it. We made friends with many people who shared these kinds of experiences and walked with us, and encouraged us, along our adoption journey. But for all of you for whom Mothers’ Day is a day to be avoided, as well as for all of you who have fond and loving associations with this day, I hope that you will bear with me and not avoid today’s message because while a loving mother is a human ideal, it is just part of our human experience that God uses to point to something better.
When mothers do their jobs well, we remember them for teaching us how to dress ourselves, for our sense of fashion and style, for teaching us values, and although it takes a while for us to realize it, for demonstrating the value of sacrificing ourselves to meet the needs of others. Our mothers taught us how to cook, how to clean, how to count, how to share, how to be nice, and a host of other things that we learned by demonstration, rote learning, osmosis, and sometimes mind-numbing repetition, but when motherhood is done well, one of the things we remember most… is love.
And that leads us to the first of today’s scriptures where, in John 15:9-17, Jesus explains why demonstrating love to others is important:
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
Jesus says that God loved him, and because of God’s love for him, Jesus showed his love to us. But just to be sure that we know what love is, Jesus offers us a block of instruction. First, we are encouraged to stay inside of Jesus’ love and the requirement to do that, is to obey the commands of Jesus. That seems straightforward, but to be sure that we understand, Jesus explains further saying that our obedience isn’t intended to make us slaves, but to bring us joy. And the command that we are supposed to obey, is this: Love each other in the way that Jesus loved us. Jesus says that he chose us and appointed us to go out into the world and bear fruit that will last for eternity. And finally, Jesus repeats his definition and his instruction for clarity and for emphasis, “This is my command: Love each other.”
Out of all the commands of God, and all the teachings of scripture, that Jesus could have highlighted, and out of all the things to which our relationship with God might have been connected, Jesus doesn’t choose anything that we could judge to be oppressive, or onerous, or burdensome but instead summarizes all the commands of God necessary for our rescue as salvation as simply, “love each other.”
At some point, someone in our lives showed us what love looked like. For many of us, it was our mothers, but even if it wasn’t, Jesus says that love is something that we learn from experience, and something that we pass on to others. God loved him, so Jesus loved us, and now it’s our job to pass that love on to the people, and to the world, around us.
But as simple as that is, the disciples had a problem understanding what it meant to love the people around them. The Jewish tradition, at that time, was that the promises of God, and virtually all of God’s instructions, were intended for the Jews, and for the Jews alone. When God said to love your neighbor, the traditional understanding of many people was that God meant that you should love your Jewish neighbor, that while it was important to love the person that belonged to your church, or that belonged to your religion, it wasn’t necessary to love the people that didn’t go to church, or that belonged to a different religion. But that wasn’t what Jesus taught, and although it took a while for it to sink in, the disciples began to understand what that meant. In Acts 10:44-48, Peter is preaching to a group of people who are both Jewish and non-Jewish and as he does, something unexpected happens…
44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tonguesand praising God.
Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
When Peter is speaking, the Jewish believers witness the Holy Spirit of God as it enters into everyone, both Jew and Gentile, the insiders, and the outsiders, and they were astounded. They were sure that the Gentiles didn’t count. For their entire lives they had been taught by their church leaders that the rules and God’s promises only applied to them and not to the outsiders. But their eyes told them something different. It was clear that when God said everyone, God meant… everyone, and so Peter invites the Gentiles to be baptized. This is an important point. Because that was a big deal. While circumcision was the mark that said a man belonged to God’s people, the people of Israel, the Jews, baptism was the mark, the symbol, that signified that people belonged to Jesus, and to his church, and to the people that would become known as Christians. Baptism was the mark of belonging, and the mark of being invited. Rather than calling it the mark of the beast, it was the mark of the feast, because it revealed to the world that you belonged to Jesus.
And if that wasn’t clear enough, John amplifies and clarifies that message in his letter to the church in Asia in 1 John 5:1-6 where he says:
5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
6 This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies because the Spirit is the truth.
John says that everyone (there’s that word again) that believes that Jesus is the savior and rescuer of the world is a child of God and the way that we show our love for God is to carry out his commands and love his children. But John wants to be even clearer. He says that Jesus was born into the world both by water and by blood. Both “by water” and “by blood” are metaphors. Saying that Jesus came by water is a reference to Jesus being born as a human being to a human mother and that makes Jesus like us. But John also reminds us that Jesus came into the world “by blood” which is saying that Jesus was born into the world through death. While we generally think of death as how we leave this world, Jesus rose from the dead and lives for eternity, so John is saying that just as we are born to our mothers in this life, Jesus was born into a new life by passing through death.
But what does that mean, and what difference does it make?
What it means, is that when we are born to a mother, we are born into a family and born into this earthly life. But when we meet Jesus and accept him as the savior and rescuer of the world, we are born into something bigger than our earthly family.
And it makes a difference because while the example of sacrificial love that good mothers demonstrate for their families is important, it is only part of the story. When we put our faith and trust in Jesus and accept him as the savior and rescuer of the world, we are born into a new, bigger, and more important family that will last forever. As much as good mothers might model sacrificial love, Jesus is the better example of real and perfect love.
Everyone is invited to belong, the insiders, the outsiders, the imperfect, the screw-ups, the loving, the unloving, the church people, the people that have never set foot in a church, and everyone that ever needed a second chance. Everyone means everyone.
We are all invited to belong, to receive the “Mark of the Feast” if you will, and to be baptized and demonstrate to the world that you belong to Jesus.
Jesus chose you and has given you the task of going out into the world and bearing eternal fruit.
And along the way Jesus commands us to do one thing…
Love each other.
Because everyone means… everyone.
You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/GolLW9LrWsQ
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.