Sermon Archives

Sunday, April 24, 2016
The 5th Sunday of Easter, Year C
The Reverend Vicki Hesse, Associate
That's It

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.

In 2007, Professor Randy Pausch gave a speech entitled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” at Carnegie Mellon University.  It became a best seller, “The Last Lecture.” The talk had been part of a series that invited professors to share reflections on their professional journey while encouraging a freedom to talk about their own interests.  This “Last Lecture” tradition endures even today.  The pervading question is, “what legacy would you like to leave?”  In this spirit, faculty members showcase their particular knowledge and encourage the intellectual curiosity of students and the community.

Today’s gospel text, which begins, “When Judas had gone out…” marks the beginning of the end. Jesus wraps up his conversations in a kind of Last Lecture, teaching the disciples of their distinctive mark. The intimacy of the conversation is striking: “Little children,” he says to the grown adults around the table, “listen to me now…I’m getting ready to go where you cannot come.  It’s important we have this time now.”

We all can relate to this kind of final, intimate, intense conversation that we all will have or have had with loved ones.  The moment lasts an eternity: it is at once a sacred, honorable time – and many of us would rather not have it. Yet, we are compelled into it. It is not easy.

Jesus lays it out clearly (not in his usual way of speaking in parables).  “Love one another.”

That’s it.

As one NT scholar[1] wrote, “[this] new command is simple enough for a toddler to memorize and appreciate and it is profound enough that the most mature believers are repeatedly embarrassed at how poorly they comprehend it and put it into practice.”

“By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Honestly, how embarrassing it is for us Christians to remember that Jesus wanted us to focus on this one thing. It’s hard to put into practice, maybe because it is so radical, focusing on love within and among members of the faith community.

A friend of mine recalled a conversation she had with a brother of SSJE – Society of St. John the Evangelist, an Anglican religious order. “Why do you say the confession every. single. day?” she asked the brother.  He replied, “Because we live in community. We need to say it.”

But, Jesus explained, the community’s love for one another was – and is – the distinctive mark of Jesus’ disciples.  Jesus was aware of the crippling divisions within the Christian community – then, and now.  A brief google search reveals that there are between 30,000 and 40,000 Christian denominations worldwide. [2]  There is nothing easy here, Jesus reminds his disciples. 

“Love one another,” he says, in the midst of their betrayal of him.
“Love one another,” he models, with servant love by washing feet.
“Love one another,” he insists, while giving away his life for God.
Love one another, and you will know grace and love and that deep peace which the world cannot give. And, it will be difficult.

There is a story[3] in Isak Dinesen’s book “Out of Africa” about a boy named Kitau. The author recounts Kitau’s arrival at her door one day to ask for a job as a domestic servant.  She hired him, but just after three months he surprised her: asking for a letter of recommendation to his new employer, Sheik Ali bin Salim.  The Sheik was a Muslim who lived in a nearby town.  Dinesen tried offering to raise Kitau’s pay in order to keep him, but money was not his interest. 

Kitau was discerning whether to become 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.  After this, he would decide.  The author remembers how she wished Kitau had told her that before he came to live with her.

Pause

The newness of this command is not that it had never before been taught (it is in Leviticus.)[4] The newness is found in the source of that love As one commentator said, “You are to love one another – not by copying my fruit, but by connecting to my vine. You don’t mainly imitate, you participate.  Your love for each other is not a simulation of mine, but a manifestation of mine… this is how all people know you are truly my disciples.”[5]

To love one another means to find a new relationship with our community – which is the wounded and the resurrected body of Christ. It means:

To trust one another with our vulnerability, and to risk loving recklessly
To accept our own and each others’ wounded and aging bodies, and to see each other with transformed eyes of boundless grace
To forgive one another for denying God’s goodness in us, and to see the face of Christ in the one sitting beside us

This coming week, I will attend a conference in Dio Tx called “Invite, Welcome, Connect,” which will teach both clergy and lay leaders how to encourage a culture of Love One Another.  We will share ideas and learn how to grow our congregations into flourishing, and vital communities who Love One Another. 

See, our distinctive Christian mark is how we love one another.  When Christ’s love takes deep root within us, as at our baptism, we glorify God just for being. As one mystic[6] reminds us, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” When we love one another, especially in our mutual brokenness, God’s light heals enters our community and makes us whole, revealing God’s glory.

And lest we think that this commandment is only for those in our human community, on this Earth Day weekend,  I wonder what would it be like to understand Jesus as saying, "Love my creation with all your heart" and, "Love my world as you love yourself."  With that perspective, how might humanity treat the earth and all it holds?

Many of us feel nourishing love when we connect with the natural world: the sun and moon and stars, the ocean and river, mountains and meadows, (all that is listed in Psalm 148) our connection to all beings, human or not.  Might “love one another” mean living lightly, spending our time on earth in healing the world? Might “love one another” mean cheerfully taking only what we need and allowing the rest to sustain other creatures? Might we see ‘every day as Earth Day,’ and love one another, humans and non-humans alike?

This is not easy work, being Jesus’ disciples.  Judas had gone out.  Jesus gave the simple, yet hard, commandment. No more parables or paradoxes.  He said, “little children, love one another.”

May God’s glory shine through God’s Love that is unbounded, through God’s forgiveness that is unending and through God’s acceptance that is unfettered.

Love one another.

Amen.


[1] D.A. Carson, “The Gospel According to John (Leicester, England: APOLLOS, 1991), 484, as offered in “Feasting On The Word: Pastoral Perspective: John 13: 31-35,” Fifth Sunday of Easter, p.468

[2] Cited at https://theway21stcentury.wordpress.com/2012/11/23/how-many-christian-de... on April 22, 2016

[3] Inspired by “Feasting On The Word: Pastoral Perspective: John 13: 31-35,” Fifth Sunday of Easter

[4] Leviticus 19:18

[5] Cited at http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/as-i-have-loved-you-love-one-another on April 22, 2016

[6] Quote from Rumi cited at http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/103315-the-wound-is-the-place-where-the-...