The Fifth Sunday of Easter
Pastor George Pejakovich
John 13:31-35

AS WE CONTINUE OUR TIME HOPPING AROUND IN THE GOSPEL OF JOHN THIS EASTER SEASON, WE FIND OURSELVES TODAY BACK IN THE UPPER ROOM AFTER THE LAST SUPPER. JUST AFTER JUDAS HAD GONE OUT TO COORDINATE HIS BETRAYAL OF JESUS, SETTING INTO MOTION THE IMMINENT PASSION OF OUR LORD, JESUS HAD SOMETHING MORE TO SAY TO HIS FAITHFUL DISCIPLES. JESUS KNEW WHAT WAS ABOUT TO HAPPEN, AND, IN THE FACE OF HIS SUFFERING AND DEATH, HE TOLD THEM THE THING THAT WAS MOST IMPORTANT TO HIM AND, THUS, WHAT MUST BE MOST IMPORTANT TO HIS DISCIPLES. “I GIVE YOU A NEW COMMANDMENT,” HE TOLD THEM, “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.” HE HAD SPOKEN OF LOVE BEFORE, BUT NOW, IN THE URGENCY OF THE MOMENT, HE WANTED TO ENSURE THAT THEY REALLY GOT THE POINT OF WHAT HE MEANT; SO HE COMMANDED THEM TO LOVE.

WE TEND TO THINK OF LOVE AS A FEELING, AN EMOTIONAL STATE, AND WE ARE OFTEN VAGUE IN THE USE OF THE WORD “LOVE.” IN ONE SENSE, IT IS AN AFFINITY TOWARDS SOMETHING (AS IN ‘I LOVE PIZZA’) OR TOWARDS SOMEONE (AS IN ‘I LOVE JUSTIN BIEBER). IN ANOTHER SENSE, IT IS A PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL ATTRACTION TO AND, HOPEFULLY BETWEEN, TWO PEOPLE. THIS KIND OF EMOTIONAL LOVE CAN BE DEVELOPED AND STRENGTHENED OVER TIME, AS IT IS AN INSTINCTUAL PART OF OUR BEING. AS INFANTS, WE LEARN TO RECOGNIZE THE FACES OF OUR MOTHERS AND FATHERS, AND THE ONES WHO CARE FOR US AND PROVIDE FOR US IN OUR DEPENDENCY. NORMALLY. AS WE GROW, THIS KIND OF EMOTIONAL ATTACHMENT IS EXTENDED TO THE FAMILY, TO ANOTHER PERSON IF THE ATTACHMENT IS RECIPROCATED, AND, IN A LESSER STRENGTH TO A WIDER GROUP, LIKE THE TRIBE; THOSE WHO ARE MOST LIKE OUR FAMILY – MOST LIKE US. AS THIS EMOTIONAL ATTACHMENT CAN BE STRENGTHENED AND DEVELOPED, IT CAN ALSO BE STIFLED AND CRUSHED BY REJECTION AND ABANDONMENT. EMOTIONAL LOVE, THEN, WHILE IT CAN BE FULFILLING IT CAN ALSO BE HURTFUL AND DEPRESSING. THIS IS NOT THE LOVE THAT JESUS WAS TALKING ABOUT.

HE COMMANDED HIS DISCIPLES TO LOVE ONE ANOTHER. TO OBEY A COMMAND IS A CHOICE, BECAUSE WE CAN ALSO CHOOSE NOT TO OBEY. SO THE LOVE THAT JESUS COMMANDED IS AN ACT OF THE WILL, NOT A FICKLE EMOTIONAL STATE. IT IS NOT BASED ON AN ATTRACTION OR AFFINITY TOWARDS THE OTHER, BUT IS GROUNDED IN THE ACT OF THE WILL TO LOVE THE OTHER AS JESUS LOVED US. SAINT JEROME WROTE THAT WHEN THE APOSTLE JOHN WAS VERY OLD, HIS MESSAGE TO THE FOLLOWERS OF THE WAY WAS REDUCED TO THIS; “MY LITTLE CHILDREN, LOVE ONE ANOTHER.” HE WOULD SAY THIS, JEROME WROTE, WHENEVER HE WAS CARRIED INTO THE GATHERING OF THE WORSHIPING COMMUNITY, BECAUSE THAT WAS THE COMMAND OF HIS LORD. AS IT IS WRITTEN IN THE FIRST LETTER OF JOHN, “WE LOVE BECAUSE GOD FIRST LOVED US.” BECAUSE OF THE LOVE OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS, WE CAN CHOOSE TO LOVE OTHERS AS CHRIST LOVED US; AND THIS IS WHAT THE CHRIST COMMANDED OF HIS DISCIPLES, AND WHAT HE COMMANDS OF US.

IN OUR FIRST LESSON FOR TODAY, WE CAN SEE THE WORKING OUT OF THE WILL TO LOVE IN THE CHOICE PETER MADE. MANY PEOPLE HAD HEARD THE GOOD NEWS OF CHRIST JESUS AND WERE FLOCKING TO BECOME A PART OF WHAT WAS KNOWN AS ‘THE FOLLOWERS OF THE WAY.’ MANY OF THOSE WHO WANTED TO BECOME FOLLOWERS OF JESUS WERE GENTILES, AND THOSE WHO WERE JEWS, INCLUDING THE APOSTLES, HELD THE POSITION THAT A GENTILE HAD TO BECOME A JEW BEFORE HE OR SHE COULD BE A FOLLOWER OF JESUS. JESUS WAS JEWISH, AND CAME TO FULFILL THE LAW, SO TO FOLLOW JESUS ONE HAD TO OBEY THE LAW OF GOD BY OBSERVING ALL 613 COMMANDMENTS OF JEWISH RITUAL PURITY. THUS THE GENTILES WERE EXCLUDED UNLESS THEY BECAME JEWS LIKE THE ORIGINAL DISCIPLES.

PETER’S VISION, WHEN IN A TRANCE-LIKE STATE HE SAW A GREAT SHEET DESCENDING FROM HEAVEN WITH ALL KINDS OF CREATURES, CLEAN AND UNCLEAN, AND BEING COMMANDED TO KILL AND EAT, MUST HAVE SHOCKED HIM TO HIS CORE. HOW COULD HE, A RIGHTEOUS JEW, EAT THAT WHICH WAS UNCLEAN; WHAT THE LAW COMMANDED HE NOT EAT? THREE TIMES THIS HAPPENED, AND HE WAS TOLD, “WHAT GOD HAS MADE CLEAN, YOU MUST NOT CALL PROFANE.” THIS WAS WHEN PETER REALIZED THAT HE HAD BEEN OBEYING THE COMMANDMENTS OF SEPARATION, AND NOT THE COMMANDMENT OF INCLUSION; THE COMMAND TO LOVE. WHEN THE MEN FROM CAESAREA ARRIVED TO REQUEST HE COME TO A GENTILE’S HOME, THE HOLY SPIRIT TOLD PETER TO MAKE NO DISTINCTION “BETWEEN THEM AND US.” WHEN HE WENT WITH THE MEN TO THE HOME OF THE GENTILE WHO ASKED FOR HIM, HE WAS STUNNED WHEN, AS HE PREACHED TO THEM ABOUT JESUS, THEY WERE FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT. WHEN HE WAS LATER CHALLENGED BY HIS FELLOW APOSTLES ABOUT PREACHING TO AND EATING WITH GENTILES, PETER’S RESPONSE WAS A PROFOUND EXPRESSION OF WHAT JESUS MEANT BY “LOVE ONE ANOTHER.” PETER SAID, “IF THEN GOD GAVE THEM THE SAME GIFT THAT HE GAVE US WHEN WE BELIEVED IN THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, WHO WAS I THAT I COULD HINDER GOD?”

LOVE, THE TRUE LOVE WHICH COMES FROM GOD AND WHICH GOD IN CHRIST COMMANDS US TO SHARE WITH EACH OTHER, IS NOT LIMITED TO THOSE WHO ARE LIKE US, OR MEMBERS OF OUR FAMILY, OR TRIBE, OR NATION, OR EVEN TO THOSE WITH WHOM WE HAVE AN EMOTIONAL AFFINITY. WE ARE CALLED TO WILL THE LOVE THAT GOD HAS FOR US TO EACH OTHER, AND THE LOVE THAT THE FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST ARE TO HAVE FOR EACH OTHER IS THE SIGN OF GOD’S LOVE FOR ALL HIS CHILDREN; EVEN THOSE MOST NOT LIKE US.

THE THINGS WHICH DIVIDE US ARE ALL HUMAN THINGS; POLITICS, SOCIAL ISSUES, ATTITUDES REGARDING RACE, CULTURE, EVEN WHAT WE WEAR. IN CHRIST, HOWEVER, WE ARE A NEW CREATION, GOD’S OWN PEOPLE. WE ARE CALLED TO BE LIKE THE EARLY CHRISTIANS WHO SHOWED THEIR FAITH IN THE RISEN CHRIST BY LOVING ONE ANOTHER. WHEN THE EMPEROR HADRIAN INQUIRED ABOUT THESE CHRISTIANS, AS THEY HAD BY THEN BEEN CALLED, THEY WERE DESCRIBED TO HIM IN THIS WAY: “THEY LOVE ONE ANOTHER. THEY NEVER FAIL TO HELP WIDOWS AND THEY SAVE ORPHANS FROM THOSE WHO WOULD HURT THEM. IF THEY HAVE SOMETHING, THEY GIVE FREELY TO THOSE WHO HAVE NOTHING. THEY DON’T CONSIDER THEMSELVES BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN THE USUAL SENSE BUT INSTEAD BROTHERS AND SISTERS THROUGH THE SPIRIT OF GOD.”

THE LOVE WE HAVE FOR ONE ANOTHER IS THE SIGN OF OUR LOVE AND FAITH IN OUR RISEN LORD, AND THE CALL OF CHRIST TO ALL THE “OTHERS” OUT THERE WHO SEE THAT LOVE AND WONDER, “WHAT IS IT ABOUT THESE CHRISTIANS?” “BY THIS,” JESUS SAID, “EVERYONE WILL KNOW THAT YOU ARE MY DISCIPLES, IF YOU HAVE LOVE FOR ONE ANOTHER.”
AMEN

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