Grace Presbyterian Church
May 6, 2018, Easter 6B
The One Commandment
Today’s scripture from the gospel of John, you might notice, picks up where last week’s reading left off. As a result, we continue to deal with this word “abide” and its attempt to capture the sense of deep, rooted indwelling to which we are called in Jesus, like branches of the vine. Sure enough, there it is again in verses 9 and 10; “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.” He then goes on to add that he has given his disciples these words for their joy; “so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete.”
Then comes possibly the most important sentence in this gospel – yes, maybe even more important than 3:16:
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
Truly, if I had the nerve I’d stop the sermon right here. If we at all call ourselves followers of Christ, that is surely all we need to hear, right? Love one another.
Except, of course, that’s not the whole statement. Look again: “that you love one another as I have loved you.” That’s something different altogether, if we’re honest about it. This isn’t warm fuzzies, or some easily ginned-up feeling. This is love that is tough, enduring, persistent, and even self-sacrificing if it comes to it – as Jesus will soon show to his disciples.
This reading is part of rather lengthy discourse from Jesus, often called the “farewell” discourse among biblical scholars. Here Jesus really is trying to prepare those disciples for the fact that, before much longer, Jesus will be gone. Not just crucified-and-in-the-tomb gone, though that is certainly part of it; but even after the crucifixion and resurrection, after some time and a few more stories with his disciples, Jesus will be physically departed from the earth. In the way the disciples had known him for these three years, Jesus will no longer be there.
How are the disciples supposed to get through that separation? How do Jesus’s followers keep going without Jesus? There will be other things (Jesus breathes on the disciples in John 20 and instructs them to “receive the Holy Spirit,” for one thing), but the most basic and elementary thing is to, as he says, love one another as Jesus loved them and loves us.
Sounds so easy, right? Ha.
We aren’t always the most loveable creatures in creation. We vex and torment one another, we can be breathtakingly rude to one another without even thinking, we gripe, we needle, we make ourselves impossible for others to love. And that’s not even taking into account the serious crimes we commit against one another.
If we are going about this business of loving one another entirely of our own efforts then we’re basically doomed before we start. But that’s not how it goes. It isn’t only about loving one another the way Jesus has loved us; it’s also about loving one another asJesus loves us, continuing and ongoing love that not only dwells in us but moves through us to the world and all of us in it.
What is both good and new about the good news is the wild claim that Jesus did not simply tell us that God loves us even in our wickedness and folly and wants us to love each other the same way and to love God too, but that if we will allow it to happen, God will actually bring about this unprecedented transformation of our hearts himself.
What is both good and new about the good news is the mad insistence that Jesus lives on among us not just as another haunting memory but as the outlandish, holy, and invisible power of God working not just through the sacraments, but in countless hidden ways to make even slobs like us loving and whole beyond anything we could conceivably pull off by ourselves.
Even with this knowledge that it is the work of Jesus through the Holy Spirit that even enables us to love as Jesus loves us, it is still darned near impossible sometimes just to get out of the way, to let that love go despite our petty grievances and grudges against that other.
But when we do…oh, when we do… .
You may remember Madeleine L’Engle’s novel A Wrinkle in Time, or you may have seen the movie a couple of months ago. L’Engle, a devout Episcopalian, infused the plot of that book quite precisely with the power of love. Indeed, it is made clear to Meg, the young heroine, that the one thing that will enable her to find and rescue her father, lost out in the cosmos, is not her intellect or cunning, but her love for her father, indeed her love for her whole family – her mother and her younger brother especially.
In truth there is really one other good part to this passage, one that makes it a good thing the sermon didn’t stop after verse 12. Jesus calls the disciples his friends. Not “disciples.” Not “apostles” – that word doesn’t show up until Acts. He calls them his friends. So great is the depth of Jesus’s love for them, for us, that we are no longer servants; we are friends. And like the hymn we’ll sing in a few moments says, “what a friend we have in Jesus.”
Our commandment is this: to love one another as Christ has loved us. If we can be such sticklers about those Ten Commandments represented by this little token over here, will we ever step up and be so committed to obeying this one commandment?
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Hymns (from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal): #311, Here, O Lord, Your Servants Gather; #251, Christ Has Arisen, Alleluia; #465, What a Friend We Have in Jesus; #703; Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me