Jesus said, “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."
I’ve been thinking about this new commandment a lot over the last months. The commandment to love one another doesn’t say, “like one another” or “be nice to one another”--it’s simple--love one another. This was a new way of thinking for those early Jesus followers. Our gospel text puts this commandment in the setting of the last supper, after Judas has left the meal to make arrangements with the Pharisees and temple police for the arrest and trial of Jesus. And even in this setting of anxiousness and growing conflict, Jesus tells his disciples to love one another...that is how people will know who you are and to whom you belong...that you love each other. Jesus could have said, “you know...love the people who love you, love the people who do the things you enjoy, who support the political positions you do, who behave the way you want; love the people who will never disappoint you or hurt you or betray you. The rest...just let them go.” But again, that’s not what Jesus said...he said, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
It’s not an easy thing to do, this loving one another. As simple as it sounds, it’s one of the hardest things we are asked to do, because it means that we have to be vulnerable, we have to take a risk, and we have to be willing to forgive and be forgiven.
So how do we love one another?
I’ve been thinking about the militia that occupied Burns a few months back. I’ve been thinking about how their presence impacted the community, that people didn’t feel safe to go to church, that people are still struggling to recover and experience healing. Where was the love of neighbor as this militia took over a wildlife refuge and damaged a community’s sense of self? As Pastor Matt Littau has said, “light a candle for peace in Burns”...in other words, peace, the love for one another, is what will heal that community.
And I’ve been thinking about the situations in Paris and Brussels, in Pike County, Ohio and Appling, Georgia, in our cities and towns locally and globally, where men, women and children go about their daily lives with a sense of fear around them. Where is the love of one another in those moments?
I don’t know is the answer. I don’t know how we’ve managed to moved so far away from this command to love one another. When I hear about the traumas of our brothers and sisters, all I can do is pray for love...pray that someone will extend the love of Christ in those moments where there is only grief and sorrow. I want to believe that it happens. I want to believe that among those who are first responders, those who provide refuge and safety, and those who extend a hand in help do so because they are compelled by love.
It is this love--this love of neighbor, this love that heals instead of hurts, this love that extends beyond borders and walls--this is the love of Christ that is in each of us, and that we are commanded to share--if we can be open to it.
None of us is perfect. Sorry, but it’s true. Instead of love and kindness, we judge, we scream, we wage war, we ignore suffering, we deny mercy to those who need it...this is what we do instead of following Jesus’ command to love. Because IF all of us were perfect, IF all of us acted from a place of love, IF we responded to tears in a way that brought healing...life would be different.
We get glimpses of these moments of difference...these moments of the New Norm where we love each other as Jesus instructed.
At last weekend’s consecration of our new bishop, Patrick Bell, there was love. As the choir chanted Veni Sancte Spiritus, and the bishops gathered around Patrick in prayer...there was love.
When my unhoused friend Larry came to the church on Tuesday looking for help, not for himself, but a friend he had just made...a friend who was in distress, and Larry knew we could help...there was love.
When some of you take food to Ed & Patti, visit and share a greeting from St. Mark’s...there is love.
When others of you say a kind word to the guests at FISH...there is love.
When Eleanor, daughter Cathy and I gathered around Ken’s bed to say prayers and anoint him for death...there was love.
I saw a sign recently that said, “see the need, be the remedy.” The remedy is grounded in love.
I know it’s out there...this love that Jesus tells us to share with one another. I have experienced it first hand, as I’m sure many of you have as well.
In the Book of Revelation it says that the Messiah is making all things new...I believe this. The visions that the writer John shares are hopeful...after a time of oppression, injustice, and tribulation, John provides a vision of the New Norm...a vision where there is no more suffering, no more separation, but only welcome, the love of Christ in each of us, the new life of joy. We always have an opportunity to love one another, to make things new, to be the remedy...it’s our choice.
Let us pray:
Gracious God, lover of all, When it comes to love, we know how to be nice to people who have been nice to us and to be good to people who have been good to us, but this morning we ask your help...Help us to love one another completely, eternally, patiently, painfully, humbly, infinitely, powerfully, openly, consistently, deeply, redeemingly, purely, unselfishly, and marvelously...just as you have loved us. Amen. (adapted from https://williamdearnhardt.com/2015/12/31/a-new-commandment-and-prayer-for-2016/)
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.