May 19, 2019 (The Fifth Sunday of Easter)
Indian Hill Church
Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine
13:31 “When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:31-35, NRSV)
Let us pray: Dear God, you are the Alpha and Omega, First and Last, your glory outshines all the lights of heaven: we pray that you will pour out your Spirit of love and compassion upon us, so that we may rejoice in the splendor of your works while we wait in expectation for the new heaven and the new earth you promise when Christ shall come again. Amen.
It was a surreal Tuesday afternoon that spilled over into Wednesday morning. The Indian Hill Rangers and other police departments set up a command center in our parking lot. They were searching Red Bird Hollow for a missing young man. Unfortunately, it had a very tragic outcome. They found his dead body on Wednesday around noon. George was very helpful in his role as a Police Chaplain in supporting the family and the search crews. This tragic situation is another stark reminder of the seriousness of depression and despair. It is every parent’s nightmare, is my child that hopeless that they see no way out, no way forward, no hope that they would take their own life. Despair, fear, grief, loss, anxiety all leads to the bottomless pit of darkness and depression. I couldn’t help but think of these men and women searching for this young man as shepherds looking for the lost sheep or motivated by love for one another…
Henri Nouwen, in his wonderful book Our Greatest Gift, writes:
We are fearful people. We are afraid of conflict, of war, of an uncertain future, of what the stock market might do today or tomorrow, of illness, and most of all death. And fear takes away our freedom. When we can reach beyond our fears to the one who loves us with a love that was there before we were born and will be after we die, oppression and illness, even death will not be able to take away our freedom once we have come to that deep inner knowledge— a knowledge more of heart than of mind— that we were born out of love and that we will die into love; that every part of our being is deeply rooted in love; and illness, evil, even death will lose its power over us. Jesus said, “I will not leave you alone. I will not abandon you. You are mine forever!”
This is the promise Jesus gives his disciples in our Gospel reading for today. We have been hopscotching our way through John’s Gospel this Easter season, so here is some context. The Gospel passage for today is a section of John’s farewell discourse, where he, Jesus is preparing his disciples for his departure. In the passage he calls them “little children.” The questions are what you would expect from a little child who has been told that a parent is going away: ”Where are you going?” “How long will you be away?” “Who is staying with me? Can I go with you?”
In response, Jesus gives a promise. His promise is clear and unequivocal: “I am not going to abandon you. I will not leave you orphaned. The love made known to us in Jesus Christ will not abandon us.
His promise is not empty because he also issues a challenge to his disciples. They are gathered in the Upper Room for what we call the Last Supper: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” Jesus has already washed his disciples, and then Judas leaves the twelve to carry out his plot to betray Jesus, and the rest of the disciples are in a state of confusion. At just this moment of drama and tension, Jesus’ offers this challenge, “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 seems so simple, but it is really not, is it? Jesus is not talking about romantic love, and he is demanding more than simply being nice. He is not saying love those who love you back. Think about it: when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, Judas was there. Jesus washed his feet! See, it is hard. Love is hard because it is self-sacrificing. It means putting the good of the other first, even when it hurts.
Jesus could have said to his disciples as he was preparing to leave, “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 “Keep the ministry going and maintain it for me.” But No, instead he offered this simple and challenging word, “love another.”
What is it about love? The love he is pointing to is the love that defines God and Jesus but also of the church. As the old camp song says, “they will know we are Christians by our love,” not by our sermons or our sacraments or our festivals or our buildings or our crucifixes or our family values … but by our love. That is, it! Our love!
First Jesus assures us that he will be with us. There is a wonderful passage in the Old Testament book of Isaiah where the prophet says that God will stay with us through difficulties as well as through joyful times, and then there is this poignant line where he says, “Even if others desert you, I will never leave you.” And that is so crucial for our lives. That is so crucial for the fabric to that holds us together.
Do you remember when you were scared at night? You may have heard strange noises or had a bad dream and your mother or father came in to hold you and to assure you that they were there, and everything was going to be all right. It is that kind of comfort and assurance that are contained in this promise of love.
Have you ever noticed how over and over at crucial points in the Bible, God says, “Do not be afraid. Let not your hearts be troubled.”
A consistent theme, during this Easter Season is important for us to remember that the Risen Christ is with us. In a moment we will celebrate his presence at this table. And what he says to us is not only that you will never be abandoned, but also that you do not have to be afraid “for I have claimed you. You are mine forever.”
“A new commandment I give you that you love one another.” In other words, what enables us to live together in families, to deal with our differences in community, to work together in the body of Christ which is the Church; what transforms our relationships is the power of God’s love. It is more powerful than any of the barriers that we put up. It can bring a family together and enable a family to deal with trials and tribulations. It can make a community, even a divided community learn to live together and work together.
“A new commandment I give you that you love one another.” In other words, the God who created us and claimed us is not through with us yet. He is continuing to work among us to build a community in our families and in this world, where all people dwell in God.
No judgment. Only love. Love one another, as Jesus has loved.
Our congregation is really good at caring relationships. Prayers, casseroles at funerals, concerned phone calls, handwritten notes — these seemingly small gestures are true extensions of this love that Jesus calls for. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Caring relationships can speak louder than words. Showing love for one another is the greatest gift we can give. May it be so, as Jesus’ new commandment bears fruit in all of us.
Let us pray: