Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 9, 2004
The Gospel: John 13:31-35
Sermon: "The New Commandment of Relationship with God"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 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.' 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."
The New Commandment of Relationship with God
Fifth Sunday of Easter - May 9, 2004
Many of us have heard stories of incredible bravery at times of great trial, terror or tribulation. We have heard many such stories in just the last few years. For example, a group of passengers on an airline fight back against the terrorists aboard. They have heard of other planes crashing into the Pentagon and the Twin Towers. As a result, they fight back and the plane crashes in a field in Pennsylvania. Recently, an NFL football player gave up his career to join the forces in Iraq. Regrettably, he won't be coming home to play again. In both of these cases the people gave their lives for something in which they believed.
However, I would like to draw our attention to the way these people have acted as described in our culture. Their actions are described as giving up their lives for others. The phrase "to give up" means to surrender. When a crook is caught by the police sometimes they will say, "I give up." When a person is being beaten in a chess match they might tip over their king. The action means they give up, they surrender, they yield to their opponent. When someone does an act such as the people on that airliner, we use the same phrase. The connotation is that they gave up, they sacrificed, their lives for others. Yet, while sacrifice is a part of the meaning it falls short of really describing what they have done.
What they have done is not give up their lives; they have given away their lives. They have offered their careers, their hopes, their dreams, their very lives, because of what they believed. They were willing to take the risk to see the end result come out differently than what had been before or might be possible.
Another great example of this kind of offering is Martin Luther King. He spoke boldly for equal rights for all. He took actions, peaceful marches, in order to help people see the difference. For his speeches and his actions he received threats from some people. These threats continued as he spoke and acted. They became more violent, angrier and larger in number. He knew the course he was setting for himself and yet did not change. He was willing to give away, not give up, his life for what he believed.
Where do these people get this idea? Where do they come up with this concept of giving away one's self for the sake of others? The example is before us today. In today's Gospel reading Jesus is teaching his disciples. The setting is the Upper Room. The disciples have been eating the final meal with Jesus. Jesus has already washed all of the disciplesí feet. Jesus has washed all of their feet and eaten with all of them including Peter and Judas. Even after eating part of the meal and having his feet washed, Judas leaves to go and betray Jesus. What is more amazing is Jesus knows and sends him on his way. He also knows Peter will deny him and tells Peter so. Yet, Jesus has eaten with them and washed their feet. What an amazing act. Yet, these actions are only part of the story. Now, Jesus calls them together, Judas is absent. He tells them his work is about finished. Where he is going they can not come. He gives them a new commandment. The commandment is to love.
But wait a minute. The Torah already teaches them to love. They know they have been taught to love God with all their heart, mind and strength. They are to also to love their neighbor. This teaching does not sound new. How can loving be new?
Yet, it is new. For this commandment is centered in Jesus giving away his life for the world. God is love and Jesus is the embodiment of God's love for the disciples. Jesus giving away his life embodies grace, not sacrifice. All of the actions of Jesus are full of grace and love. His teaching has been full of love. His healing has been full of love. His acceptance of the poor, the hurt, the women, the lepers has been full of love. Jesus has given away the love of God as an act not of sacrifice but of the fullness of God's love for all of creation, for all people, for all time. Here we are now with the disciples and Jesus is preparing them for the time when he will give away his life. Jesus will give away his life as an act of fullness not sacrifice. This action is an example of the fullness of Jesus' relationship of love with God and the fullness of God's love for the world. Furthermore, Jesus' disciples are invited to share in this love. When Jesus calls them "little children", he acknowledges them and accepts them. They are called to acknowledge him and accept him and enter into the fullness of the loving relationship Jesus and God share together.
One of the most remarkable aspects of this evening is Jesus' invitation to them. Think about this concept for just a minute. Jesus knows that Peter will deny him. Jesus knows Judas will betray him. And yet, Jesus invites them into this deep abiding love of God. Is there any doubt as to the depth of God's forgiveness? God's forgiveness is deeper and broader than we can possibly imagine.
And thank God it is. For there is one other aspect to consider in this short reading. Saying we will love each other is much easier than doing it. Keeping this commandment to love as Jesus has loved us is not easy. I remember a woman who really did not like the idea of passing the peace. Some people say they don't like it because it disrupts the service. All of this greeting is just noisy and bothersome. She really understood the meaning of the passing of the peace. She didn't like it because she did understand it. She said, "I don't like the passing of the peace. Sometimes I don't want peace with my neighbor. Sometimes I'm upset with them and would rather hit them with a two by four." She understood the meaning of the passing of the peace.
We are called to love one another. We are called to love one another as Jesus has loved, does love, and will love us. It is the same grace filled love that God and Jesus share and that God has for each one of us. To drive the point home Jesus gives the commandment in the midst of denial and betrayal. So, we have been given a new commandment. We are commanded to love gracefully and fully even in adversity. We are called to love even when we are hurt and betrayed, even when our love has been denied. We are called to stay in the community even when someone in the community might have hurt us for love does not turn away. Finally, we are invited to love right where we are. We might not ever be in a situation where others might be in danger. We might not ever be asked to be like Dr. King. We don't need to be. For God asks us to share in this love in our daily lives. The recipients of God's love from us could be next to us on any given day at any given moment. Or the person might be next to us and not receive God's love from us. The choice is ours. We have been commanded to love. What will we decide to do? AMEN