“Making Known Christ’s Love”
April 24, 2016: The Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts 13: 44 – 52/ Psalm 145: 1 – 12/ Revelation 21: 1 – 6/ John 13: 31 – 35
Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos
The themes for the Season of Easter have been making God’s attributes known. This just echoes our mission as a Church: to know God and to make Him known. In Matthew 5, Jesus said, “Let your light shine so that they may see your good works and glorify God who is in heaven.” This is also basically St. Paul’s ministry. In Acts 13, St. Paul was preaching to the Jews something that was good. It was good news of repentance and the forgiveness of sin in Jesus Christ. He wasn’t telling them something that was bad or in itself just extrinsically offensive. He said to them, “It was necessary for word to be spoken to you (the Jews) first.” The Jews were God’s initial chosen people. It was not exclusive, but the Jews, first, were chosen. Luke 24:47 says that the good news of forgiveness was to be proclaimed to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem where the Jews were.
In Acts 3:26: “For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to you to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.” A sad thing happened in the reading today from Acts because it said that the Jews repudiated or rejected the message. They rejected the good news. The same good news they hated and rejected was a blessing to the Gentiles – to the ungodly in the eyes of the Jews. In the eyes of the Jews, Gentiles were unbelievers who were doomed to eternal damnation. The good news turned out to be a blessing to them and they rejoiced and glorified God.
Basically, what comes from our good God is good. All good things come from God, but it can be for us a curse or a blessing. It depends entirely on our reception of it. Something good coming from God can be good or bad, but it depends on how we receive it. God is good and He is good all the time. The good God was in Jesus Christ, and in the presence of the Lord, the good part of it is that there should be fullness of joy. How come only the sinners had fullness of joy in the presence of Jesus while the others had grimaced faces? This is because they rejected that which was good. The presence of Jesus Christ brought the fullness of joy to others, but to others, it brought irritation.
Defining the word unbeliever, in our judgmental stage when we were born-again years ago, we looked at other Christians with whom we did not agree with and we thought they were unbelievers. They worshipped and believe in certain things that we thought we need to save them and witness to them. An unbeliever is somebody who has heard the good news, who has seen and tasted the good news, and yet rejected it. An unbeliever is not someone who hasn’t heard because they haven’t had an opportunity to believe or to not believe. An unbeliever is somebody who has been given an opportunity to believe and chose not to; he is somebody who doesn’t receive something good.
Paul experienced intense rejection from the Jews, God’s very chosen people. They contradicted the gospel’s message and they blasphemed or slandered him. They incited persecution against St. Paul, a mere messenger of the good news. This was what they did to the prophets before and ultimately, what they did even to Jesus Christ. All these prophets and the Son of God all came from the good God. His intention of sending these people was good, but they were rejected. Why slander as blameless as Paul and Jesus? An unbeliever is blinded and their heart is hardened. The irony of this is that the ‘ungodly” Gentiles responded and they were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. God’s own people rejected the Holy Spirit. Those who were in the eyes of these very people that were sinners and unclean, the Holy Spirit filled them.
We must guard our hearts because it can overflow with the good theme and with praises to God at one moment, and we can curse God the other moment. What happened to Peter in Matthew chapter 16? In one part of it, Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said, “Wow, Peter, the Father in heaven revealed that to you!” A couple of verses after, he puts his foot in his mouth saying, “Lord, I will not allow anyone to crucify or kill you.” Jesus said, “Get behind Me, Satan!” Peter, who just spoke these precious words “The Son of the living God,” in his statement, shows us the potential of our tongue and it is motivated by what comes from our heart. Jesus said that bad things proceed out of the mouth, but they come from the heart. These things defile a man because out of the heart proceed murder, adultery, theft, slander, fornication, and false witnesses.
Jesus’ heart is seen in John 13. It starts with Jesus knowing that His hour had come – knowing that He would be persecuted, delivered unto the hands of the sinners, and the most hurtful part was that His own disciples would deny Him, abandon Him and betray Him. As far as Jesus was concerned, I think that this was the most challenging part, but John 13 says, “Knowing that the hour had come, Jesus loved His disciples to the end.” He loved them to the uttermost, eternally, including those who would deny and betray Him. Jesus washed the feet of Peter; Jesus washed the feet of Judas. He knew what was going to happen, and yet, He loved them to the end.
What a challenge to us! If you are like me and being honest about this, we would admit that it is easier to love somebody who is lovable and it is difficult to love somebody who we think does not deserve to be loved. The ultimate demonstration of this love was found in Jesus because He was willing to go to the cross for the sake of the very people who crucified Him, who denied Him, who betrayed Him, and who abandoned Him. Jesus calls this glorification, the hour of His glory. To be spat upon, to be looked upon as a criminal, to be insulted, to be tortured and to be crucified, which is the most cruel death, Jesus calls it glory because it is the ultimate demonstration of love. Love is when somebody would be willing to go through humiliation, pain, and betrayal because he loves his very offenders. This is the Cross; God’s glory. This brought glory to Jesus and glory to God.
What is our idea of glorification? Is it man’s praise or the offering of our lives for the very people who offended us? What is our Charismatic Protestant theological idea of glorification? Perfect health? Bodies that don’t get sick? Teleport ability? Going through walls? No more tears? Are these our ideas of glorification? Is it Jesus’ idea of giving His life for the sake of others (you and I) who by the way don’t deserve it? We don’t deserve it, but Jesus wants glory for us, which is why He commands us to also love like He did because His going to the cross, His demonstration of love glorified Him. He wants us to share the glory also by exercising the same love, which is why He commanded His disciples to love one another just as He has loved them. He loved them to the end, unconditionally. He did not choose whom to love. In fact, Jesus said, “Don’t choose whom you will love. If you only love your relatives, your family, then, what difference does that make between you and the Gentiles? Prove to be children of God by loving the unlovable. By this kind of love, men will know that you are My disciples and you are children of the Father.”
Our former Patriarch Adler said in his homily on his 10th Anniversary that CEC will continue, but we will not be known for our theology, for our being three streams or being a convergence movement or our skills, talents or gifts, but for our relationship, for our love for each other. Guess what? CEC people are not a bunch of lovable people. Our current Patriarch Craig Bates told me at my consecration that people won’t want my skill or abilities, but to teach them how to love when it is difficult to do it; to teach them to trust when they have been betrayed. This is exactly the way Jesus loved, trusted and risked the kingdom of God. He risked it by putting it in the very hands of the person who denied Him three times in one evening.
It is a tall order for me to teach people who have been hurt, people who have been betrayed to trust again and to love unconditionally. It is difficult, but the good news is that we have God’s grace in us. You will hear people say, “They offended me. You don’t know what they did to me. You don’t know how much it hurts.” What I have to say is the good news: Jesus dwelling in our hearts can give us the grace to forgive despite our ill feeling. Don’t justify our ill-feeling. Don’t justify the fact that we have been hurt. Have we been crucified?
Jesus commanded us, “Love just as I have loved you,” to the end, eternally, unconditionally. Love the very people that are unlovable because they need it at the most. We say, “I can forgive, but I can’t forget. I can’t forgive, but I don’t want to see their face.” My question is: do we want God to tell us the same thing like, “I can forgive you. Get out of My face.” We don’t want this so God expects us to love just as He loved us and still does. The Cross draws all men to Jesus. Love draws all men to Him. As Christians, as missionaries, we are to love because our intention is to draw all men to Christ.
Looking at the people around us today, these are our brothers and our sisters. These people are family. They are not objects of our hate, of our anger, and we are to love them to the end. Jesus washed the very feet of the people who would deny, betray Him, and abandon Him. The acts were not yet done and yet Jesus already loved and forgave them. Jesus loved them unconditionally. Like Him, don’t love only if your conditions are met. Don’t withhold love because you think you have good reason to. There are no conditions. Proverbs says to not withhold good from him to him it is due. To whom is good due? It is to a person who is undeserving because he is lost. He needs love. Probably, the reason he is lost because nobody gave him love. Isn’t it true that the black sheep of the family is one who believes they did not get the most love from their parents? They are the most needy one. Don’t withhold good from them; it is due them.
Bless people. It is up to them to reject like the Jews did when St. Paul gave them something good. You give your peace. Remember the 70 missionaries that Jesus sent by pairs? He instructed them that when they enter a house say, “Peace be to this house. If they receive it, it stays with them. If they reject it, the peace comes back to you. As far as you are concerned, you give your peace.” After washing the feet of the disciples, Jesus asked them, “Do you understand what I just did to you? What I did was to love without conditions and you would understand if you have that love.”
In 1John2:9-11, it says, “He who does not love is blinded. He doesn’t know that he is wrong.” God is good all the time. He gave us the ability to forgive, to love and to proclaim it. We are to use that ability according to God’s intended purpose: for the good. From Him all things come and we cannot blame Him for our misuse and the resulting hurt of what He gave which is good. Adam could not blame God for the presence of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because that tree came with a manual of instruction. It says, “Don’t eat of the fruit of this tree.” Adam partook of it and who is to blame? It is Adam. We cannot blame God for creating fire that warms us, that gives life for us, that is a tool for preparing food. If we touch the flame and we get burned, will you blame God for its creation? God gave it for our use, but not to touch it. God gave us water for life and sustenance, but if drown, we cannot blame God for its creation. God created food that is good for the body, but if we eat too much, it is our fault and we suffer the consequences.
God created everything good to be used in moderation. With riches or material things, if we use or abuse them, it will be to our own hurt. The intention of God giving them to us is good. Flame from fire, drowning, fighting over riches and greed is not God’s fault. He blessed us with good things. If we disobey and we don’t follow the instruction manual and abuse or misuse the good things, the good will simply turn to bad.
Ezekiel 18:29 says, “But the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not right.’ Are My ways not right, O house of Israel? Is it not your ways that are not right?” Isn’t it that God giving us fire is good, but getting burned is that which is wrong? Ezekiel continues, “Therefore, you repent, not Me.” God’s intention is good. The heaven is where God is, providing blessing to the obedient; hell is a state or a place where God is, but people hurt themselves with His goodness.
In Jesus’ presence, to some, there was fullness of joy. To others, it was hell for them. They couldn’t stand Jesus in their presence. Proverbs says that he who finds a wife, finds a good thing. A good thing is from a reputed manufacturer. The reason the unit is not good for us is because most likely, we don’t follow the instruction manual that it came with. The instruction says, “Take care of this, love this, and it will be useful to you and you will enjoy having the gift.” It is not its fault that you do not use it according to the instructions in the manual. It is a good gift from God.
Sex is God-given. It is a blessing and it is beautiful and productive. It is the instrument for the propagation of life which makes it very good. The perversion of it is bad and can destroy life. It can destroy the life of a rape victim because of the wrong use and the abuse. Is it God’s fault? Is it His way that is wrong? It is the perversion, and this is what it to be blamed.
Recently, I closed the door of my vehicle. I happen to leave my finger in the doorway and I slammed the door on my finger. I was in pain and my children asked how it happened. I did see that it was not good that we had the van. I did not blame anybody. The vehicle has been very useful to my family; it served its purpose, even in my ministry. I may be stupid enough to leave my finger in the way, but I am not immature as to think crookedly to blame the van. It was my fault.
God’s gifts are good, but we have to learn to love and to follow the instruction manual. Why is evil, pain, and hurt in the world? It is the wrong use of God’s good gifts. The instruction manual says to love. Don't destroy one another with the blessings you have received from the good God. Jesus Christ did not refuse to love undeserving people, but served and loved them. Blaming God, blaming things or people He gave is never right. The things that God gives, the people that God gave in our lives are basically good and they will be “of benefit” to us if we follow the instruction manual to love them.
God blessing us with people is good. His blessing us is good. The people themselves may not be good or may not be bad, but even if our appraisal of them is bad or good, love them unconditionally. The loving may correct the bad if there is bad. Peter denied Jesus three times, but He rescued him and forgave him and caused Peter to demonstrate his love for Jesus by dying a martyr’s death. He indeed reversed his denial of Jesus.
In the imperfection of children, to some parents, it brings smiles to them because they enjoy their children; to others, they are irritated. The noise of children to some grandparents is music to their ears; to others, it is a deafening cacophony of nonsense. In our home, my two boys have their own room; my four girls have their own; but they all love going to my room. I was given an advice to just enjoy this stage in their lives which I think is something that causes me irritation because one day, I will miss this. One day, they will be grown-up and they will be teen-agers and they will stay in their bedrooms and their ears will be plugged with music that is playing all day. They will not have anything to do with me.
The blessing of God is good, not bad and it depends on our reception. Love that which God gave to us – things, people and enemies. God intended them to be of good to us. When you come to me during Thanksgiving Offering, what I would pray is, “The blessing of God is yours in fullness to receive, to enjoy, and to share.” I do not say to withhold, to abuse and to misuse. Share in love. Love one another which is a commandment of our Lord because this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.