Easter 5, C
Revelation 21:1-6, John 13, 31-35
In her memoir Out Of Africa, author Isak Dinesen tells the story of a young man named Kitau. He comes to her door one day and asks for a job working as a domestic servant. She hires him and things seem to be going along well enough. About 3 months in, the young man comes and asks her for a reference to work elsewhere. He is applying for a job with Sheik Ali bin Salim. He has worked well. She offers to raise his pay. He explains that money is not the issue. He explains that he decided some time ago that he wanted to become a Christian or a Muslim, but had not decided which. So he took the job with her. Now he had seen the ways of Christian life. He wanted to change jobs because it was time to explore how Muslims lived. The author remembers wishing he had told her that BEFORE he took the job.
How very awkward to suddenly discover that you have unknowingly been appointed representative for all of Christianity, the model upon which it will be rejected or accepted. Kitau knew what Jesus made clear – what we sometimes forget. Our faith may be formulated in the creeds, the scripture, the liturgy. These things give our faith structure and form. But our faith, based in God’s love is made manifest not through creeds or statements, but through God’s own creation, through us. Not the cleaned up, heading for bible study, Sunday morning us, but the everyday sitting in sweats, scratching what itches, unedited, uncensored version of us. That is Christianity.
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”
This conversation between Jesus and the disciples takes place after they broke bread together, after he had washed their feet, after “he had gone out”. By “he” here, we mean Judas. He has gone out to betray Jesus. It is the beginning of the end and time is short. Gone is the time for parables and preaching, explanation and exhortation. There is time left only for a commandment, tenderly delivered. Little children, I am with you only a little longer…I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. One theologian notes “[This] new command is simple enough for a toddler to memorize and appreciate, and it is profound enough that the most mature believers are repeatedly embarrassed at how poorly they comprehend it and put it into practice.” (D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John)
Church father Jerome tells a story of John the evangelist, author of the book of Revelations and the Gospel of John. Christian tradition says that he lived to a very old age, and remained in active ministry, preaching at Ephesus into his nineties. As he aged, his preaching became more succinct and to the point. As he became more frail, eventually he was simply carried in on a stretcher to preach his sermon. “Children, love one another,” he would say, and then he would be carried out again. The next week up he came again on his stretcher, preached his 4 words, “Children, love one another.” and back out again. According to Jerome, this happened every week for weeks and weeks.
Finally, the congregation, wearying of the repetition, asked him about it. “Master, why do you always say this? “Because,” John replied, “it is the Lord’s command, and if this only is done, it is enough.”
Some piece of us argues. How can it possibly be enough? Radicalized young men cause death and mayhem at the Boston Marathon, Americans continue to fight and kill and die far from home, thousands die in Syrian civil war, millions of dollars are spent in the argument over who should be allowed to own and discharge what weapons, and still we can’t agree that everyone deserves food, water, education and a safe place to be. How can it be enough?
The girls had a chance to play with their cousin this weekend. Happy noises at one point degenerated to screeching, accusations and frustration. By the time the scene included throwing things, my youngest and her 5 year old cousin were separated. In the ensuing conversation, I asked my daughter what happened.
“She wouldn’t share, so I tried to trade.”
“She got mad.”
“I got mad.”
“She got more mad.”
So, she got mad cause you got mad, cause she got mad? What do we do about that?
“Maybe I should get ‘not mad’.” Hmmmm
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
“If this only is done, it is enough.”
It is in the doing that we struggle. How do we love the bombers, the radicals, the unclean, the violent, the “thems”, the “theys”, the “others”? It’s hard enough some days to be tolerably civil to the merely annoying, how do we manage the rest?
When we do a puzzle, or build a model, we follow the picture on the box. Jesus lived a radical, transformative love. He is the picture on our box. “Just as I have loved you, love one another” We are not called to feel love. It’s a spectacular, and actually fairly likely bonus, but we are not called to feel love. Jesus calls us to live the love that transforms the world. Live it knowing that the home of God is among us mortals; God is with us and in us. Live it as if Kitau were right there watching our every move. Live it so that the Kitaus, and the “theys”, the “thems” and the “others” in our lives might someday exclaim with the Reverend Thomas Troeger,
“Unbidden came Gods love,
not rushing from the skies
as angel, flame or dove
but shining through your eyes”