Love with Abandon: Easter 5

Love with Abandon: Easter 5

Year C, The fifth Sunday of Easter
May 15, 2022

Year C:    Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35

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“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”[1]

These words of Jesus to the disciples are among the best known in the scriptures. Even many outside the church know that Jesus calls people to love one another. Some of you will recognize that this is part of the Gospel reading that we hear on Maundy Thursday.

Ironically, despite how well these words are known and how easily we might think we understand them, we know that we often fail when considering our own lives, the church’s history, and the world around us.

Loving even those closest to us can be tricky. Relationships with parents, husbands, wives, children, brothers, sisters, and friends can cause us difficulty and challenge us in our capacity to love, and that’s before we even consider the necessity of loving other people in the church and beyond, even our enemies.

You may have heard the news about the shootings in Buffalo. An 18-year-old apparently drove 200 miles to kill those who don’t look like him. Each time I hear news like this and other tragedies, it makes it even more difficult for me to fully live into Jesus’ command. Yet, the need to love one another is underscored even more profoundly in times like this.

Our Gospel reading takes us back to the final meal Jesus shares with his disciples. Judas has departed, and Jesus prepares them for what will happen next. Jesus knows that the disciples will not understand the implications of what has just happened and what is about to happen.

This is Jesus’ last opportunity to say what he wants to say. Instead of addressing the disciples as students, he addresses them with an intimacy that might be a little off-putting to these grown men. “Little children,”[2] he says. He’s essentially telling them, “listen to me now… it’s so important that we have this time together.”

Jesus had decided to get right to the point. Laying aside his usual way of speaking in parables and paradoxes, he decides to give what we might call an order, “I give to you a new commandment,” he says so simply, “that you love one another.”

Loving one another deeply and profoundly and putting aside hatred and animosity is very hard. And I certainly have not always loved others in that way. But, like most of us, I don’t always put aside my antagonism toward specific people or groups.

If you can imagine, it’s been four years since Presiding Bishop Curry preached at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan. Since then, much has happened in their lives and in the lives of the rest of the Royal Family and our world, but the Presiding Bishop continues to preach about the Way of Love and the Jesus Movement.

That message fits beautifully into our readings and music for today. In Christ, there is no East or West, North or South. All are called to be disciples, as we hear in Acts. In Revelation, everything is made new.

Bishop Curry reminds us, “When that lawyer asked Jesus what the greatest in the law of Moses is, Jesus answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, all your mind—that’s the first and greatest commandment. But the second is just like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”

And lest we think that we don’t know what that means, Bishop Curry defines for us exactly what it does mean.

“Love the neighbor you like and the neighbor you don’t like. Love the neighbor you agree with and the neighbor you don’t agree with. Love your Democrat neighbor, your Republican neighbor, your black neighbor, your white neighbor, your Anglo neighbor, your Latino neighbor, and your LGBTQ neighbor. Love your neighbor!” 

The reality of life often complicates our ability to see the fullness of God’s promise, but if we’re open, we can begin to see signs of hope streaming into our lives in a love that is about an experience of Christ’s love.

It was nine years ago yesterday that I graduated from seminary. One of my dearest classmates is a gay man. He grew up in a very conservative church tradition. His mother did not accept him and his husband for many years. However, over time, she came to accept and love them both and even lived with them, I believe, for a brief time.

One afternoon that week of graduation, she got into a cab, and the cab driver, somehow sensing a kindred spirit, told her how scared she was because her daughter was destined for hell. After all, she was gay. Robby’s mother told her to love. That’s all she had to do was love. That’s what she was called to do as a Christian.

The love that Jesus commands us to is a love that doesn’t just mean us saying “of course, I love you” in a passive way. Instead, Jesus’s love is adventurous, daring, good, and wondrous. It’s the love of Robby’s mother telling another person to love her daughter.

It’s a love that is selfless and self-giving. It’s a love that reaches out actively to other people, including those we count among our enemies.

Jesus is telling us to love. It’s truly an instruction and has formed the basis of Christian love, service, and community since the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Bruce Morrill, in his book Divine Worship and Human Healing: Liturgical Theology at the Margins of Life and Death, writes:

“What distinguished the followers of Jesus and successive generations of Christians was their outreach…the practical love they demonstrated in openly forming fellowship groups and local churches…”[3]

An essential element of early Christian practice that impressed observers, especially those who hadn’t heard Jesus’ message firsthand, was breaking down social boundaries and barriers and loving one another. They openly demonstrated practical love. It’s what we are called to do today.

The beautiful language of the King James version of today’s passage from Revelation contains the words: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, And there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away.”

How can we aid and comfort one another? Indeed, we can’t take away all sorrows, old age, chronic pain, death. We are unlikely to alter the path of armies or the destruction of natural disasters.

We certainly, however, can bring a note of hope and faith amid pain, chaos, and despair? Certainly, we can reach out to our neighbors. We can love another. We can assure one another that we are all integral parts of a living community, a community both within and without our church walls.

By worshipping together and praising God as our Jewish and early Christian forebears did, we join in community and are strengthened in faith.

Our community can stand as a witness to our neighbors. The Holy Spirit sends us out to love one another, pastor one another, and reach out to those we may serve, in ways great and small.

As the body of Christ here and now, we are called to follow Jesus’ instructions: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

A wise preaching professor once told me to preach with abandon. Today, I say to love with abandon.              

Go in Peace. And by this, they will know we are disciples, “if you have love for one another.”

Amen.

[1] John 13:34-35, New Revised Standard Version (“NRSV”)

[2] John 13:33, NRSV

[3] Bruce T. Morrill, S.J., Divine Worship and Human Healing: Liturgical Theology at the Margins of Life and Death, (Collegville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2009, p. 137

 


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