Sunday, May 10, 2015

God’s Mission: Love One Another

When Judas was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Human One has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify the Human One in himself and will glorify him immediately. Little children, I’m with you for a little while longer. You will look for me—but, just as I told the Jewish leaders, I also tell you now—‘Where I’m going, you can’t come.’
“I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.” (John 13:31–35)
This passage begins: “Judas had gone out.” And Jesus knew exactly what that meant. This was His last opportunity to say what He needed to say, and He knew it. Instead of addressing His disciples as students He addresses them in the most intimate way possible. “Little children,” he says to grown men, “Listen to me now… I am about to go somewhere where you cannot come. So, it’s important that we have this time together now.” And when Jesus gets to the moment of telling them His important message, He doesn’t waste any time. This is not one of those occasions in which Jesus spoke in parables. He did not couch His important news in a story or a lengthy sermon. Jesus decides simply to give an order. “I give you today a new commandment,” He said. Are you ready? “Love each other”—That is it!

This passage in John’s Gospel has stood at the center of Christian theology for…well, since the beginning. Those who are followers of Jesus Messiah are people who love! We love our neighbors as ourselves, we love our enemies, and we love each other! This commandment given to us by Jesus gives us our identity!

But I do have one question about these words of Jesus…

What was new about this commandment? Did you catch that in your reading? Jesus said, “Disciples, today I give you a new commandment: love each other.” My question is this: What was NEW about that commandment? God had long ago commanded His children to love each other. All the way back in Leviticus 19:18, God commanded Israel:
Love your neighbor as yourself. (Leviticus 19:18)
We know that the Jews knew this passage very well. Do you remember that lawyer that questioned Jesus just before Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan? Luke tells that story this way:

On one occasion, an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the law?” Jesus replied. “Have you read it?”
That lawyer answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:25-27)
This commandment was so well known; even the lawyers knew it by heart! Jesus said, “Today I give you a new commandment.” But I ask you: what was NEW about this commandment? I’m not the first person to ask that question. Students of the New Testament have always asked that question. One of those students, a man named Cyril, had an interesting point of view. He said Jesus’ command to love was not new, but the kind of love to which Jesus was calling His disciples was new, or, better said, the degree of that love was new. Here is how he said it…
The law of Moses mandated the necessity of loving our brothers as ourselves, yet our Lord Jesus the Christ loved us far more than he loved himself. Otherwise, he would have never descended to our humiliation from his original exaltation in the form of God and on an equality with God the Father, nor would he have undergone for our sakes the exceptional bitterness of his death in the flesh, nor have submitted to beatings from the Jews, to shame, to derision, and all his other sufferings too numerous to mention… It was indeed something new for love to go as far as that! (Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of John)
There is nothing novel about “loving each other.” Even pagans know deep down that we should love each other. But the kind of radical love to which Jesus calls us, washing the dirty feet of His disciples, giving up His throne in heaven to join us here in a world of child abuse, terrorism and racism, giving up His life not only for those who would choose to love Him, but also giving up His life also for those who would choose to kill him! When Jesus called His disciples to this “new” commandment I wonder if they fully understood where that love would lead them. I wonder if you and I have fully grasped the implications of this “new” commandment.

Today is Mother’s Day, an appropriate day to talk about love. All around this country mothers are being recognized for their contributions to all of us. But, I’ll be honest: Mother’s Day is always a difficult day on which to preach. Not because I have a hard time saying good things about mothers, but because I know this day is a “mixed bag”. For some this day brings back memories of sitting with mom on the porch swing drinking lemonade when you were only eight! For other people, this day is a reminder of a cruel childhood. Some in this room are expecting their first child. Others have tried for years but simply cannot have children. It’s hard to preach on Mother’s Day! I always struggle with finding “good news” for everyone: Mothers, soon-to-be mothers, those who want to be mothers, and all the rest of us who have very positive or very negative views of that word: mother.

I ran across this “poem of sorts” last week that really speaks to this issue. This was written by a woman who wanted preachers to say the right things on Mother’s Day. She lamented that on Mother’s Day so many preachers say the wrong things. This is what she suggested we say today:
  • To those who gave birth this year to their first child—we celebrate with you.
  • To those who lost a child this year–we mourn with you.
  • To those who are in the trenches with little ones every day and wear the badge of food stains–we appreciate you.
  • To those who experienced loss through miscarriage, failed adoptions, or running away—we mourn with you.
  • To those who walk the hard path of infertility, fraught with pokes, prods, tears, and disappointment–we walk with you. Forgive us when we say foolish things. We don’t mean to make this harder than it is.
  • To those who are foster moms, mentor moms, and spiritual moms–we need you.
  • To those who have warm and close relationships with your children–we celebrate with you. To those who have disappointment, heartache, and distance with your children–we sit with you. To those who lost their mothers this year–we grieve with you. To those who experienced abuse at the hands of your own mother–we acknowledge your experience. To those who lived through driving tests, medical tests, and the overall testing of motherhood–we are better for having you in our midst.
  • To those who are single and long to be married and mothering your own children–we mourn that life has not turned out the way you longed for it to be.
  • To those who step-parent–we walk with you on these complex paths.
  • To those who envisioned lavishing love on grandchildren–yet that dream is not to be, we grieve with you.
  • To those who will have emptier nests in the upcoming year–we grieve and rejoice with you.
  • To those who placed children up for adoption—we commend you for your selflessness and remember how you hold that child in your heart still.
  • And to those who are pregnant with new life, both expected and surprising–we anticipate with you.
  • This Mother’s Day, we walk with you. Mothering is not for the faint of heart and we have real warriors in our midst. We remember you.
In sum, mothers: we are attempting to love you as God loves you. And that is the very best gift we have to give you on this Mother’s Day.

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