By The Rev. Sherry Deets
5 Easter – April 28, 2013
This section of John, begins with the account of the Last Supper and the moving words that summarize the whole: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” As this particular passage commences, the one we just heard, Jesus has already washed the feet of his disciples, Judas has just departed to betray him, and the rest of the disciples are in a state of confusion. At just this moment of drama and tension, Jesus’ offer words, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Which tells us, I think, a great deal about the kind of love Jesus is talking about. This surely isn’t romantic love, nor is it simply being nice, nor is it only loving those who love you back. Think about it: when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, Judas was there. Further, he will now demonstrate just how much God loves the world by dying for those who manifestly do not love him. Love is hard because it is self-sacrificing. It means putting the good of the other first, even when it hurts.
I find it striking that these are the words Jesus leaves with his disciples. I mean, he could have said, “Go out and die with me.” Or, “keep the faith.” Or, “when I am gone go out and teach and preach to all the world.” Or, well, any number of things. But instead he offered this simple and challenging words, “love one another.” Why? Because this kind of love is the hallmark, not just of God and Jesus, but also of the Christian church. As in the old camp song, Jesus agrees that the whole world will know we are Christians not by our sermons or our sacraments or our festivals or our buildings or our crucifixes or our family values … but by our love. It’s just that important.
There is a story in Isak Dinesen’s book Out of Africa about a boy named Kitau. He appeared at the author’s door one day to ask for a job as a domestic servant. She hired him but was surprised when after three months he asked her for a letter of recommendation to Sheik Ali bin Salim, a Muslim who lived in a nearby town. Dinesen offered to raise Kitau’s pay in order to keep him, but money was not his interest. Kitau had decided to become either a Christian or a Muslim, and his purpose in working for Dinesen had been to see, up close, the way a Christian lived. Now that he had worked for Dinesen and seen the ways of Christians, he would go and observe Sheik Ali to see how Muslims behave; then he would decide. The author remembers how she wished Kitau had told her that before he came to live with her.
Judas has gone out. This was Jesus’ last opportunity to get his point across to the disciples. No more parables or paradoxes, just a simple commandment: “Little children, love each other. This how everyone will know that you are my disciples.”
What kind of a love is this? A love that is expressed in service toward others — friends, family, even enemies (whether they be suspected enemies or known enemies). It is a love that knows no limits, no bounds. It is a love that is expressed best in the little deeds.
Mother Teresa used to say that “we can do no great things — only small things with great love.” It is the small things that Jesus did that serve as guideposts for us who desire to love as he loved. He not only washed the feet of his disciples, he also spoke freely with social outcasts like the Samaritan woman. He shared meals with saints and sinners and common folk like you and me. He took children on his knee and blessed them. He wept for his friend who had died before calling him forth from the tomb. He was not afraid to touch the lepers nor speak words of hope to the oppressive Roman soldiers.
Even as they were driving nails into his hands and feet, Jesus continued to express love in small acts. He prayed for those who were crucifying him. He found a way to care for his mother after his death.
If ever a person loved others in every aspect of life, it was Jesus. And I wonder if that is what it means to walk with one foot in this world and one foot in the next. Jesus says that it’s when we love one another that others will know that we belong to him. It isn’t what God has done for us that makes a differ¬ence. God has acted on behalf of all people everywhere.
What makes a difference is in the way we share that love with those around us. In the ‘random acts of kindness’ that we perform for one another as well as in the intentional acts of love we do for each other.
You know, we actually can and often do love one another. Sometimes the love command seems so challenging we assume it’s an ideal, a lofty goal that none of us will ever reach. But while we may not love perfectly, we do love.
So I invite you to recall a time this past week when you chose love. Perhaps it was looking out for the interests of a colleague, or overlooking the slight of a friend, or putting aside your own goals to help someone else achieve theirs. Maybe it was a large act of love, or maybe it was much smaller. But each of us, I’d bet, did in fact “love one another” this past week and it would be good to call that to mind.
But also think about a situation over the last week or two where we found it difficult to love one another. Maybe it’s been incredibly hard to forgive someone who has hurt you, or difficult to move beyond the disappointment caused by a family member or friend.
I’m asking you to recall both instances because the truth of the matter is that we do love, regularly, and we do fail, regularly. And church, I think, should be a place where we can give thanks for the former and pray about the latter.
Jesus gives us a new commandment. To love one another. Above and beyond Jesus’ command to love is his actual act of love. Jesus goes to the cross to demonstrate that, in fact, “God so loved the world.” Jesus did not go to the cross to make God loving, or to satisfy God’s justice, or to take on our punishment. Jesus went to the cross to show in word and deed that God is love and that we, as God’s children, are loved. So whether we succeed or fail in our attempts to love one another this week, yet God in Jesus loves us more than we can possibly imagine. And hearing of this love we are set free and sent forth, once again, to love another. Amen.
The text of this sermon is the property of the author and may not be duplicated or used without permission.