An Unending Circle of Love

A sermon based on Acts 2: 14a, 22-32
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on April 19, 2020 *2011
by Rev. Scott Elliott

This morning I am going to start by talking about an amazing animal that can literally live forever. I am not making this up.
The turr-i-top-sis nu-tri-cula species of jellyfish may be the only animal in the world to have truly discovered the fountain of youth.
Since it is capable of cycling from a mature adult stage to an immature polyp stage and back again, there may be no natural limit to its life span. Scientists say [it] is the only known animal that can repeatedly turn back the hands of time and revert to its [first stage of life].
Researchers are studying the jellyfish to discover how it is able to reverse its aging process. 1.
This jellyfish is
About as wide as a human pinky nail when fully grown . . .
[This Immortal Jellyfish] typically reproduces the old-fashioned way . . . And most of the time they die the old-fashioned way too.
But when starvation, physical damage, or other crises arise, “instead of sure death, [it] transforms all of its existing cells into a younger state” . . .
The jellyfish turns itself into a bloblike cyst, which then develops into a polyp colony, essentially the first stage in jellyfish life. 2
Until I heard about the Immortal jellyfish I didn’t know an immortal life form was really possible. I’d heard of the mythical immortal beings, including the phoenix, a bird which instead of dying burns up and is reborn out of the ashes. The phoenix has long been a symbol of Christianity and the resurrection of Jesus from the darkness of Holy Week, as well as our own re-birthing– being born again out of the messiness of life– through Jesus’ Love and Way. The phoenix’s mythical rebirth is sort of what the immortal jellyfish does. There are no flames or ashes but when it is in mortal danger it transforms itself to its first stage of life. And it can do it time and time again . . . forever regenerating.
The immortal jellyfish reminds of an off the beaten path pond that I often go to Ariel Foundation Park. A lot goes on in that little pond, and has been happening long before humans arrived on the planet. Algae and phytoplankton thrive. Fish eat and swim and leap. Turtles dive, surface and sunbath. Birds fly in to fish standing in or paddling on top of the pond. On or near that little pond I’ve seen ducks, geese, eagles, osprey, hawks, king fishers, woodpeckers, cardinals, robins, blue heron, white egrets and green heron. I’ve also seen beavers, deer, chip monks, squirrel, butterflies, spiders and, of course, gnats and mosquitoes. All them have been regenerating year after year a riparian system of life.
Thinking about that system – and the rejuvenating jellyfish– I imagine that rhythm of life – the stuff of creation that I witness at the park– has been going on for millions of years. That ecosystem possesses potential to be immortal. Sort of like the jellyfish, it can die, but has the ability to go on and on. Regenerating life in beautiful repetition. Humanity is connected in now to that ecosystem and many others– and as a species we have joined in the regenerating, striving to survive. No time in our lives has this been more apparent. We ask ourselves often can we regenerate as a species in a viable system in generations to follow. Can we survive?
Many consciously work toward that survival. We see a lot of that going on these days with most people doing so much good toward that end, in this global pandemic. Many, many people are responding to the pull to well being for self and others and creation. To help us continued on – to outlast the corona virus. The hope for humanity, and ecosystems– and the innate instincts of the immortal jellyfish – is that we survive and go on and on. So far there have been failures, but mostly success.
This regenerating is the circle of life, which offers examples of great hope of continuation, of renewed and new generations of life– especially . . . in times like we are in with the pandemic looming over us. The reality of immortality in the circle of life, this hope of continuation, is a good metaphor for what Peter is addressing in the part of his sermon we heard Laura read in our Lectionary text.
And I would be remiss if I did not take a few moments to point out the tragic fact that these words preached to Jews, by Peter, a Jew, about Jesus, a Jew, have been misused for centuries to claim Jews are “Christ-killers” as if Rome and a small number of Temple collaborators Was done all of Judaism. That’s just preposterous. Rome and its collaborators acting on Rome’s behalf killed Jesus. Anti-Semitism is not what Peter was preaching! Listen again to what Peter an Israelite said
You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know– this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. (Acts 2:22-23 NRS)
Peter is talking as an Israelite to Israelites about how humans, as a corporate whole, as a generation, let a fellow human, a fellow Israelite (Jesus) be killed by those outside the law, –outside . . . the . . . law– meaning ROME and its COLLABORATORS not following Torah! The. Law. Later, in verse 40, Peter refers to being saved from “a corrupt generation.” He means the corrupt and awful system killed Jesus. Rogue humans at Rome’s behest acted “outside the law” to kill Jesus.
Rome’s violence in the Promise Land, filled that time in history with violence, corruption, greed and oppression. That Rome used its hand chosen Temple elite agents to collaborate made it even worse. The name of God was evoked for Rome to do its evil. Peter is saying, we as humans under those circumstances failed. That failure led to those outside the law killing Jesus. Humanity as a whole systemically failed to stop the bad guys. And Peter can be heard to say, that although humanity was unable to stop the bad guys, God stopped them.
Peter put it like this, “God raised [Jesus] up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.” Quoting King David, Peter asserts
“‘I saw the Lord always beside me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh lived in hope.’” (v 26).
See while Israel could not in its present state stop Rome from killing Jesus, the God of Israel could regenerate– resurrect him AND did, and did not abandon Jesus. Peter exclaimed “This Jesus God raised up . . .”
Christians know this to be True. We know that Christ lives on. The Church is, in fact, the very Body of Christ! In that sense we can be understood as a second coming! We, the Church are the Body of Christ at work in the world. It’s a Holy Body continuing through the centuries. Each new generation of Christians regenerates the Body of Christ! Jesus was killed, but, we experience him as regenerated. Jesus lives on! That is why Peter says “‘his flesh lives in hope.’”
Jesus learned through his Jewish heritage that God is all about love and he taught and practiced and spread that love about, to his Jewish disciples and to everyone else he came in contact with. This included – as I mentioned last week– even his abusers. Jesus took the very Jewish lesson in Leviticus 19:18 to “love your neighbor as yourself” and made it the touchstone of his faith, the heart of his life, the stepping stone to the Way to God that he talked and walked and lived. He wore that love on his sleeve so much so he was – and is– experienced as love, as God incarnate. And when his life and Way were snuffed out on Good Friday by the occupying power in Israel – ROME– God did not let that stand, but regenerated that life and Way, including, through Jesus’ followers from that first Easter 2,000 years ago . . . right up to today.
And that Way and that life can survive and go on and on as long as Christians continue to be the hands and heart of Christ through the church. The Body of Christ is immortal, regenerated with each new Christian – and in Christian communities. Jesus and his Way, like the immortal jellyfish, and the riparian ecosystem, will go on. The circle of Love, like the circle of life, in its ordinary course offers great hope of continuation, of renewed and new generations of life and love as the Body of Christ. Christ is that hope. The Church is that hope. We are that hope. . . You are that hope.

* based in part on a sermon I first wrote in 2011