This Sunday once again we find ourselves in familiar territory if one has spent any amount of time in church and youth camp, at least in the 1970's and 1980's. The Gospel text for this Sunday is paraphrased in that song with the refrain "... and they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our Love. Yes they'll know we are Christians by our love." It is also familiar territory to grumble and remonstrate how unfortunate it is that this is not the case in actuality. Whenever I encounter such a very familiar text, one that is almost over used and seemingly at the same time also misunderstood in that familiarity, I at first want to charge ahead and beat down all the misconceptions and misuse of the text. And it is not only the Gospel text of John 13 in our lectionary this week that has this problem but also the story of Peter and Cornelius and the Spirit's first descent upon Gentiles. This is perhaps less familiar but is popularly used in both by proponents of multi-ethnic/racial congregations and acceptance of homosexuality and other sexual identities within the church. Love and God's acceptance of the Gentiles. This really should be easy, and yet...
Peter concludes his defense of his actions with going to Cornelius and baptizing gentiles who had not been circumcised saying "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) and the church in Jerusalem responded "When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, "Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life." (Acts 11:18)
Suddenly this looks less like acceptance of difference as that no matter who you are God gives you the gift of repentance. How did Jesus love us? Jesus walked around Judea and Galilee preaching repentance and through repentance entrance to the Kingdom of God to all, and ultimately died so that said gift and repentance could be settled and guaranteed.
What the first Christians thought initially that only the people of Israel were offered this repentance. The good news and the love God offers is this opportunity to repent. This means that whoever we are whatever our identity, we need to repent, and the ability and the chance to do so is God's gift to the entire cosmos, and all humanity. Love one another as I have loved you remind one another about the gift of repentance and the world will know you are my disciples, and offer that repentance to everyone no matter what they do or how they identify. But this means all still need to repent.
Hmm... I think that's my sermon, more or less.