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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Sermon on JOHN 15 9-17

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

In the last night before his betrayal, arrest, crucifixion and death, one could argue that this giving of the commandment to love is in the Gospel of John, the culmination of all that Jesus has come in the world to teach.

Love one another as I have loved you.

Not the Golden Rule. Not do unto others as you would have them do unto you. But rather:

Love one another as I have loved you.

For the observant Jew there are 613 commandments in their Scriptures that they are called to follow. On the other hand, when we hear the word “Commandment” we might think of the Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai; the Ten that perhaps we once memorized as children, one at a time, with our name on a chart and little Gold stars next to our names as each one became part of our memory, if not our life. (1) Thou shalt have no other gods. (2) Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain. (3) Thou shalt sanctify the holy-day. (4) Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother (5) Thou shalt not kill. We should fear and love God that we may not hurt nor harm our neighbor in his body, but help and befriend him in every bodily need (6) Thou shalt not commit adultery. (7) Thou shalt not steal. (8) Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. (9) Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house. (10) Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his cattle, nor anything that is his.

So, what do we make of this new commandment, now nearly 2,000 years old? Does it replace the old ones? Does it become the 11th (or by another reckoning, the 614th commandment?).  What do we make of it? Everything was well and good, wasn’t it? With the Ten Commandments we knew what we were supposed to do and not do. Love the Lord. Don’t kill. Don’t covet. Honor our parents. And so on. And then along comes Jesus with the command to love and not just love but to love as Jesus has loved us.

The challenge before us today is not to see this as one commandment among several or even among many, but rather that with these words Jesus interprets our very lives as Christians through how we embody his command to love, how we have lived it out. In his words and actions, Jesus declares this commandment the one by which and through which all we say and do in this life will be reckoned.

Love one another as I have loved you.

This command has significant and undeniable meaning for us. It means that we do not get to hide behind convenient passages of scripture that when taken out of context defend our own failure to embody this commandment and even worse, support and defend its opposite. This has been the pattern of behavior by some Christians for much of Christian history. Evil in all of its manifestation  has been perpetuated upon entire groups of people in the name of Jesus. We have to own that. It is part of story into which our own lives have been written. We have to own that and at the same time we must allow Jesus’ commandment to love to own us. To renew us. To transform our way of being in the world.

Let the true measure of our faith not be that we have looked upon our neighbor and found fault, found weakness, found differences, but rather  that we have in Jesus’ words, found the greater love, in laying our own life down for theirs.

“No one has greater love than this,” says Jesus, than “to lay down one's life for one's friends.”

Nearly five hundred years ago, when Martin Luther was writing the Small Catechism, the transforming power of Jesus’ command to love showed itself in the way in which Luther took the negative commandments – the “thou Shall not” commandments – and offered in his explanation of their meaning actions that embodied this love.

So the commandment not to kill takes on the added action of helping and befriending our neighbor

The commandment not to covet our neighbor’s house takes on the added responsibility of helping them and being of service to them in maintaining it.  

So the commandment not to bear false witness takes on the added responsibility of defend our neighbor, thinking  and speaking well of them, and put the best construction on everything that they say and do.

Consistent with Luther’s teaching and embodying the commandment to love, it is not sufficient to merely not kill, not steal, not covet, not to cheat on one’s spouse, but in their fullness these commandments invite us to action in the world for the sake of someone else, whether that person is our neighbor, our spouse or a stranger.

A life of love as Jesus would have us live it is so much more than live and let live or do no harm. It is active. It is engaged in the world and for the welfare of others. It is love incarnate. A laying down of one’s life for the sake of the other.  And let us recall that when Jesus was pressed to answer the question: “And who is my neighbor” he did not answer with a tape measure in hand, by proximity, how close they lived to you or how well you knew them, but by erasing limits, tearing up old ideas, and showing that our neighbor is the one in need. And so our neighbor is everyone, my friends. Anyone. 

Where will find the strength, the wisdom, the passion to love by laying down our life for another’s life? To love another as Jesus loves us? Luther tells us that it comes through faith: 
“Faith, Luther says, “is God's work in us, that changes us and gives new birth from God…” He declares that “It changes our hearts, our spirits, our thoughts and all our powers. It brings the Holy Spirit with it. Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this  faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn't stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without  ceasing.”
Faith enough to love as Jesus invites us to love, commands us to love, shows us to love in and through his very life, God gives to us. Not for some, nor to only a special few, but for all. 
The question is: Are we willing to trust God enough to lay down our life in order to live to love as Jesus loves?
Are we willing to trust God enough to lay down our life in order to live to love as Jesus loves? AMEN!

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