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

I LOVE THE LORD. I LOVE MY WIFE. I LOVE MY CHILDREN AND STEP – CHILDREN. I LOVE MY GRANDSON AND STEP – GRANDCHILDREN. I LOVE MY COUNTRY. I LOVE MY MINISTRY. I LOVE MY DOG. I LOVE MY CAR. I LOVE BLUEBERRY PIE. I LOVE THE THREE DAYS OF SPRING IN KANSAS. I LOVE GOING TO VISIT OUR FRIENDS IN NORTH CAROLINA. I LOVE CERTAIN TV SHOWS. I LOVE A PARTICULAR SINGLE MALT SCOTCH. I CAN SAY TRUTHFULLY THAT I LOVE A LOT OF THINGS, AND IF I TELL YOU THAT I LOVE SOMETHING YOU THINK YOU KNOW WHAT IT IS I AM SAYING. JESUS SAID, “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.” AS THEY SING ON SESAME STREET, “ONE OF THESE THINGS IS NOT LIKE THE OTHERS. ONE OF THESE THINGS JUST ISN’T THE SAME.” THAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH OUR USE OF THE WORD “LOVE;” WE ARE SLOPPY ABOUT IT.

AS WE CAN SEE, WE USE THE WORD “LOVE” TO DESCRIBE A HOST OF FEELINGS AND SENSATIONS. WE USE IT TO EXPRESS THE COMMITTED RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SPOUSES, WITH ALL ITS EMOTIONAL, ROMANTIC, AND SENSUAL CONNOTATIONS. WE ALSO USE IT IN PLACE OF WHAT WOULD BETTER BE DESCRIBED AS AN ENJOYMENT OR APPRECIATION OF SOMETHING. AS YOU MIGHT HAVE ALREADY GUESSED, WHAT JESUS IS TALKING ABOUT IN THIS GOSPEL PASSAGE IS RATHER DIFFERENT FROM THE WAY WE TEND TO LOOSELY USE THE WORD “LOVE.”

THE SETTING IS THE NIGHT OF THE LAST SUPPER. JESUS AND THE DISCIPLES HAD COME TO JERUSALEM FOR THE CELEBRATION OF THE PASSOVER; THE GREAT FESTIVAL OF THE LIBERATION OF ISRAEL. THE DISCIPLES WERE EXCITED BECAUSE IT APPEARED THAT JESUS, FINALLY, WAS GOING TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT SETTING THE PEOPLE FREE FROM THE ROMANS AND THE REPRESSIVE RELIGIOUS AUTHORITIES. THE DISCIPLES WERE PREPARED FOR SOMETHING “BIG” TO HAPPEN; AT LEAST ONE OF THEM WAS ARMED WITH A SWORD, AND ONE OF THEM WAS A ZEALOT SO WE CAN ASSUME HE WAS CARRYING WEAPONS. THEY WERE EVEN DISCUSSING WHO SHOULD HAVE WHAT POSITIONS IN THE NEW KINGDOM JESUS WOULD ESTABLISH.

THEN, THINGS TOOK A STRANGE TURN. JESUS WASHED THEIR FEET, WHICH CAUSED ALL KINDS OF CONFUSION. JUDAS, AFTER JESUS WHISPERED IN HIS EAR, STORMED OUT INTO THE NIGHT. JESUS TOOK BREAD AND WINE AND INSTITUTED A CEREMONY FOR RECALLING HIM IN THE FUTURE. HE TOLD THEM THAT HIS MOMENT OF GLORIFICATION WAS UPON HIM, AND THAT HE WOULD SOON BE LEAVING THEM. THEN, HE GAVE THEM THIS NEW COMMANDMENT; THAT THEY SHOULD LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS HE HAS LOVED THEM. BY THIS LOVE, EVERYONE WOULD KNOW THEY WERE HIS DISCIPLES.

THE KIND OF LOVE JESUS MEANT IS THE KIND OF LOVE HE IS ABOUT TO DEMONSTRATE FOR HIS DISCIPLES, AND FOR US; A HINT OF WHICH HE ALREADY SHOWED THEM IN THE WASHING OF THEIR FEET. THIS LOVE IS AGAPE; A VOLUNTARY SACRIFICING OF ONE’S SELF FOR THE SAKE OF ANOTHER. AFFECTION FOR, OR EVEN LIKING, THE OTHER PERSON HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH IT. IT IS AN ACT OF THE WILL, A CHOOSING TO DO WHAT IS THE BEST FOR THE OTHER AT THE EXPENSE OF THE SELF. TO LOVE EACH OTHER AS HE LOVED US MEANS TO FREELY CHOOSE A LIFE OF SERVANTHOOD, JUST AS THE LORD OF CREATION GAVE HIMSELF AS AN OFFERING FOR OUR SALVATION. BY GOD’S GRACE, ONCE WE RECEIVE THIS AWESOME GIFT, HE COMMANDS US TO LIVE TOGETHER IN SUCH A WAY, BY WORD AND DEED, TO DEMONSTRATE THIS GIFT IN THE LIFE OF OUR FELLOWSHIP. OUR LOVE FOR EACH OTHER DOES NOT GAIN US OUR SALVATION, BUT THROUGH OUR BEING SAVED BY THE GRACE OF GOD IN THE SACRIFICE OF JESUS, OUR LOVE SHOWS THE WORLD THAT WE ARE INDEED HIS TRUE DISCIPLES.

IN THE SECOND CENTURY, TERTULLIAN, AN EARLY CHURCH FATHER, WROTE THAT THE LOVE CHRISTIANS SHOWED FOR ONE ANOTHER ATTRACTED THE ATTENTION OF THE PAGANS. “WHAT MARKS US IN THE EYES OF OUR ENEMIES,” HE WROTE, “IS OUR LOVING KINDNESS. ‘ONLY LOOK,’ THEY SAY, ‘LOOK HOW THEY LOVE ONE ANOTHER.’” THIS KIND OF LOVE, THIS AGAPE LOVE, IS DIFFERENT FROM ALL OTHER KINDS OF LOVE IN THE WORLD, BECAUSE IT IS AN ACT OF THE WILL, NOT OF THE EMOTIONS, THAT IS DONE WITHOUT THOUGHT OF REWARD OR RECIPROCITY. IT IS THE LOVE THAT OUR GOD AND FATHER HAS FOR US, AND IT IS THE KIND OF LOVE WE ARE COMMANDED TO HAVE FOR EACH OTHER; AND IT IS NOT EASY AT ALL.

IT IS NOT EASY TO LOVE THE BROTHER OR SISTER IN CHRIST WHO TALKS ABOUT YOU BEHIND YOUR BACK. IT IS NOT EASY TO LOVE THE ONE WHO INSULTS YOU, WHO DISMISSES YOUR IDEAS, WHO TREATS YOU WITH CONTEMPT, OR WHO DOES ANY OF THE MYRIAD THINGS THAT SINFUL HUMAN BEINGS DO ALL THE TIME, EVEN AMONG THE SAINTS OF GOD. YET WE ARE COMMANDED TO LIVE AS A SERVANT EVEN TO THOSE WHO REJECT OUR SERVICE, IN SPITE OF THE PAIN TO OURSELVES; BECAUSE NOTHING WE WILL SUFFER WILL EVER COME CLOSE TO THE SUFFERING OUR LORD AND SAVIOR BORE FOR US.

I HAVE TOLD SOME OF YOU THIS TRUE STORY, SO IF YOU HAVE HEARD IT LISTEN AGAIN. A NUMBER OF YEARS AGO, A YOUNG LUTHERAN PASTOR BEGAN HIS FIRST MINISTRY TO A LITTLE COUNTRY CHURCH. THE CONGREGATION WAS COLD AND DISTANT; MANY MEMBERS NOT SPEAKING TO EACH OTHER. DURING HIS FIRST SERMON, A FISTFIGHT BETWEEN TWO OF THE USHERS BROKE OUT IN THE PARKING LOT. HE HAD TO PAUSE HIS SERMON TO BREAK UP THE FIGHT BECAUSE NO ONE ELSE WOULD. AT THE PASSING OF THE PEACE, NOTHING HAPPENED. AS SOON AS THE SERVICE ENDED, THE CONGREGATION FLED OUT OF THE CHURCH LIKE IT WAS ON FIRE. THERE WERE NO FELLOWSHIP ACTIVITIES AT ALL. THIS WENT ON FOR SOME MONTHS, UNTIL, AT WIT’S END, AND AFTER MUCH PRAYER, HE DECIDED HE HAD TO SIMPLY LOVE THESE UNLOVABLE PEOPLE. HE LOCKED THE SIDE DOORS TO THE CHURCH, SO THE ONLY WAY OUT WAS PAST HIM, AND HE WAS A BIG GUY WHO FILLED THE DOORWAY. AS EACH PERSON TRIED TO LEAVE, HE WRAPPED HIS ARMS AROUND THEM AND HUGGED THEM, SAYING, “GOD LOVES YOU, AND SO DO I.” AT FIRST IT WAS LIKE HUGGING LOGS, BUT, AFTER A WHILE, SOME STARTED TO HUG HIM BACK. IT TOOK SOME TIME, BUT PEOPLE STARTED TO SHOW SIGNS OF LOVING BEHAVIOR TO EACH OTHER, AND, EVENTUALLY, THE CONGREGATION BECAME A LOVING, JOYFUL GATHERING OF THE RESURRECTED LORD.

PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO WHAT HAPPENS DURING WORSHIP, ESPECIALLY DURING THE EUCHARIST; YOU WILL SEE A LOT OF BOWING TO ONE ANOTHER FROM THE PRIESTS, THE VERGERS, THE SERVERS, AND ACOLYTES. THAT IS A REMINDER THAT, EVEN IN OUR VERY ACT OF WORSHIP, WE ARE SERVANTS TO ONE ANOTHER. IT DOES NOT MATTER WHAT ROLE WE PLAY IN THE LIFE OF THE FAITHFUL GATHERED IN THIS PLACE, WE EACH ARE A SERVANT TO ALL. IT IS IN THE LIFE OF SERVANTHOOD THAT WE SHOW TO THE WORLD THE LOVE WE HAVE FOR EACH OTHER; THE LOVE CHRIST HAD AND HAS FOR US. BY THIS LOVE, THE WORLD WILL KNOW WE BELONG TO THE LIVING LORD.
AMEN

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