“Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” This little song is probably familiar to us all. Is there anyone that hasn’t heard this before? Or how about “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow black and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.” That sounds right. In today’s gospel, Jesus even refers to his disciples as “little children.” Sometimes it’s so wonderful to relax in the warmth of Jesus’ love, isn’t it?
Today’s text takes place during the last Passover Jesus had with his disciples. The “he” of “When he had gone out” is Judas. He had just left dinner to betray Jesus. Jesus has previous told his disciples that he would be betrayed and go to the cross, but they never quite got it. Just like we don’t always get it.
So, here we are with the last minute instructions Jesus gives his followers before his betrayal and crucifixion. These are called the “farewell discourses.” Let’s listen in and see what we can learn. “Little children…I give you a new commandment.” Now my reaction to COMMANDMENT is, “not ANOTHER thing I have to do!” I already have too much to do and am too stressed out for one more thing!
If we look at the other farewell discourses in John chapters 14 and 15, when we see commandment, it is plural, commandments. In this passage, it’s commandment singular. The one and only commandment being given is to love one another. It’s like the old Nike commercial, “Just do it!” Well, that seems pretty simple. People ought to love each other more and then the world would be so much better. There wouldn’t be all this fighting going on and people would be a whole lot nicer and easier to get along with. We’re all for that.
There is just one caveat however. Listen to the rest of the verse, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Yeah, that sounds good. We may wonder how that’s a caveat? Who is the “one another?” It may be ungrateful family members or friends. Perhaps the “one another” is the man with the sign that says he’s homeless. Maybe the “one another” is someone we disagree with at church. Or the selfish driver that cuts us off.
Now let’s give this some thought. After the Passover, what would be happening to Jesus? Can anyone tell me? We remembered it not so long ago on Good Friday. Jesus was on his way to his death. “Love one another AS I have loved you.” How did Jesus love? He spent his time not with the good, churchy people, but with sinners who were outcasts of society. Consider, for one, Matthew the disciple who was a tax collector. Tax collectors were considered collaborators with the occupying Romans by the Jewish people.
Jesus’ love brought him to the cross. That is something we can never escape. Luther speaks of one being a theologian of the cross or a theologian of glory. A theologian of the cross sees things as they are and calls a spade a spade. Being a theologian of the cross means understanding life through the lens of the cross. A theologian of glory wants all the praise and does things for people not because of God’s love, but because it will make him or her look good. Being a theologian of the cross versus one of glory is based upon our motivation. A theologian of the cross loves as Jesus loved, gives his or her life as Jesus did. It means living for others and not ourselves.
“Love one another AS.” Now what difference could such a small word like “as” make? In preparation for today, I found out that this little word in Greek means much more. Listen to this! It “pertains to being not previously present, unknown, strange, remarkable, also with the connotation of the marvelous or unheard of” (BDAG). So, let’s see how that sounds. “Love one another in a manner not previously present.” “Love one another in an unknown manner.” Love one another in a remarkable way.” Love one another in a marvelous way.” “Love one another in an unheard of way.” That is how Jesus loved his followers then and it’s how he loves us now. This is how WE’RE supposed to love. We cannot concoct a love like this on our own, no matter how much we may want to, no matter how much we try. It is only Christ’s love working through us and in us, welling up from the depths of our souls that creates this kind of love.
It is not just a souped up version of human love. It is not about just being a church of the warm fuzzies—a nice little club that meets together on Sundays and makes us feel good.
It is about divine, self-sacrificing love that lays down its life for a friend. It is about spending the night with someone who is sick or dying. It is about supporting one another when it is inconvenient—listening to the one who is hurting, caring for the broken in body and spirit. It is about volunteering our time to work at the soup kitchen, to be a mentor to a schoolchild. It is about helping to build a home for the homeless with Habitat for Humanity. It is about stopping on the road to aid a disabled motorist. It is about serving others and not ourselves. It is about being a church community that comes together in worship, prayer, and music—in Word and Sacrament. It is about participating in the Relay for Life. It is about reaching out in love to others through ministries like the Best Foot Forward Boutique downstairs.
By now we may be thinking, we do that loving thing pretty well around here. This may well be. But the whole point Jesus is making here is that this love is about more than he and us. Jesus is asking us to do more. He wants us to not only live our faith, but share our faith.
As Lutherans, witnessing, talking about our faith with others, may not come easily. One thing that does come more easily for us is responding to God’s love with actions. All across our area, nation, and world, Lutheran churches and relief organizations are reaching out to the needy with Christ’s love. We do need to share our faith and not be scared to talk about what God has done for us, but listen to Jesus’ teaching here on being a witness. “By this EVERYONE will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
So back to the beginning, Jesus does love us and we do know this because the Bible tells us so. But that isn’t the entire story. Because of that, we witness to God’s love by loving one another. A fellow blogger, Pr. Dan sums it up like this:
Jesus the Christ
Emmanuel, Lord with us
the God who created all
---- and sustains all
-------- and saves all
lived among us
---- taught us
---- cared for us
---- loved us
---- brought us new life
and left us with the command
Love one another
in the midst of strife and conflict
in the midst of war
---- Love one another
in the midst of families
---- Love one another
it is then we hear Christ
in the smile of a child
and the tears of a friend
the laughter in the halls
and the sun in the sky
Love one another
and in doing so
---- of God’s love for you