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“It’s So Simple, And Yet…Not”
By Rev. Jennifer Christenson
For Christus Lutheran Church, Greenville, Wis.
April 28, 2013

John 13:31-35 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John%2013:31-35&version=NIV

Five weeks into the season of Easter is an odd time to find ourselves back on the night in which Jesus was betrayed. Our gospel reading for today is part of the very same gospel reading from Maundy Thursday. That’s the day in Holy Week when we remember Jesus’ last night with his disciples. That fateful night when he washed their feet and Judas, the “he” noted at the beginning of the reading, has slipped out into the night to do his dark deed of betrayal.

It’s in that context, part of Jesus’ final hours with his disciples before the cross and resurrection would change everything… It’s in that context that the new commandment central to this reading is given: “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

Truth be told, this “new” commandment wasn’t really all that new. Way back in the book of Leviticus the people of God are instructed to love their neighbors as themselves, to, essentially, love one another. This concept shows up in lots of cultures around this time as well.

What IS new, what is different is the manner in which the disciples are called to love. Love one another as I have loved you, Jesus says. Let the world know who and whose you are by the love you have for one another, love that is carried out in my name and to the glory of the Father in heaven.

Let the world know who and whose you are, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

It sounds so simple, you’d think it would be a cake walk. Love one another. Just love each other. But not love as in sit around and think nice thoughts about one another. Not even just say “I love you” to each other all of the time.

Love, as in love actively as Jesus did; love fiercely and ferociously as Jesus did.

I’d say that the church, the various gatherings of Jesus’s disciples that have existed and labored and lived since the time this commandment was given… The church has done both a fantastic and absolutely horrible job at keeping this commandment to be known to the world by the love we have for others.

Let’s start with the good stuff.

For example, the insistence of the early church on taking care of widows and children, the most vulnerable at the time. Tabitha/Dorcas, whose story we heard in last Sunday’s reading from the book of Acts is just one shining example of this kind of care and concern.

Down through the centuries the church has been a place where the poor have been fed, the naked clothed, and the sick and hurting tended to. The church has been a safe haven for those in need of refuge whether for political, religious or other reasons.

Likewise, the church, Jesus’ gatherings of disciples in our day and age has its own examples of living out this love commandment. We partner together with other congregations to feed hungry children through organizations like Feed My Starving Children. Just last week nine children from around the world gained sponsors from people right in this congregation through Compassion International. The ELCA’s malaria project, which our youth and Sunday School kids supported, helps to combat this very preventable disease. Our prayer chain and prayer chains around the globe lift up the names of people who are suffering, rejoicing, or in need of healing and more. The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod last week in response to the bombings in Boston sent their squadron of therapy dogs, a group of golden retrievers trained to give comfort and security in times that are anything but comfortable and secure. This same organization sent their dogs to be with the survivors of the shooting in Newtown, CT last December too. And, check out that baby shower table in the back of the gathering space – a visible outpouring of love and compassion to people we likely may never meet.

So yes, at times, we as God’s people, we get it oh, so right. We as God’s people, those who are blessed to know of Jesus’ love are out there sharing that love and giving of ourselves, our time, and our hard-earned dollars to show that love to another one of God’s children.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

It’s not all sunshine and roses, of course. It’s very likely that everyone here can think of at least one, if not ten or twenty or more examples of ways we as God’s people have acted in less than loving ways toward one another, whether it’s toward our fellow believers, or those who don’t yet know the all-consuming love of God in Christ Jesus.

Too many people out there flat out avoid churches and Christians and anything to do with Christianity because of the message of hate and condemnation that we as God’s people sometimes spread and because of the terrible, unloving, ungodly things we do in the name of God and religion. Too many times, and all too easily, our human sinfulness, whether as individuals and as groups of disciples known as churches, clouds, muddies up the message of love and compassion Christ has called, has commanded us to share.

Acting in a loving manner, in all times and in all places is difficult, if not impossible for us fallen sinner/saints. Anyone who has ever loved another person, whether spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, child, parent, friend knows that while love can be a many-splendored thing, it can also be really, really complicated, messy, and difficult.

That is likely why Jesus had to go so far as to command us to do this, to love one another as he loves us.

It is said that this commandment was given to and intended for the disciples, the community of faith only. Meaning, it’s an insider commandment: love your Christian brothers and sisters as Jesus has first loved you. Jesus tells them he is leaving and then essentially says, “OK folks, try not to tear each other apart while I’m gone.”

Some might say that this is a bit limiting – to say it’s meant just for the community of faith, but I don’t think so. And, I don’t think so because love, just like not-love, is contagious.

If we are treated in a loving manner, we feel loved and therefore more likely to love others. Likewise, if we are treated in a less than loving manner, we feel not-loved and therefore are more likely to be less than loving toward others.

And, if “outsiders” to Christianity look in and see a community of people who treat each other with compassion and respect and who tend to one another’s needs and who work together to care for the community around them…they’re going to want in. Or at the very least be more likely to want in. To learn more, to see why these people are all so loving, what drives them, what leads them, which is…Jesus. Our loving one another can help people to see Jesus.

Likewise, if they see a bunch of people at each other’s throats and being surly and unkind…well, most of us experience enough of that on the highway and the information superhighway known as the internet, why expose ourselves to more of it?

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

This is a truly critical commandment. It’s so simple: just love. And yet, so difficult: just love even people who aren’t so loving, who don’t love us, who hold different beliefs, who might even want to harm us.

Which is why Jesus gives us this commandment when he does: on his last night with his disciples. In part, so they’ll remember that one thing, if nothing else.

And it’s why Jesus gives us this commandment in the WAY he does too: Love one another…as I have loved you.

As I have loved you. You, me, try as we might, we can’t just conjure this love thing up from scratch. This love, this Christ-like love we are called to share, is given to us, poured out on us. It’s poured out in baptism, it washes over us in and through the Word of God, it is fed to us in the bread and wine, the body and blood of Holy Communion.

Jesus loves us. Jesus loves YOU, even when we’re grumpy and not loving or loveable. Jesus loves us, forgives us, redeems us, even then. As St. Paul marvels, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. And Jesus does this so that we feel love, we know love, we experience love and therefore can be loving ourselves. Jesus does this so that we understand and know what loving one another looks like and is all about, so we have half a chance at turning around and doing the same in his name.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

If you have love for one another. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s the simplest, most difficult thing you and I will do.

And yet, if but one more person gets to experience the transforming, life-giving love of Jesus you and I are already graced to have…well, praise the Lord and Hallelujah, how awesome is that?


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