The Rector’s sermon for May 6, 2018    



Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17


“You did not choose me, but I chose you.  And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last...and I’m giving you these commands so that you will love one another.”  Last week we went into great detail connecting the image of the vine and the branches to our connectedness to Jesus.  Today he draws on that image and gives us a new and almost impossible commandment:  love one another as I have loved you.


If we could peak into a room with a marriage counselor and a couple planning to get a divorce, we might see this:  two unhappy people, barely speaking to each other.  They surely loved each other once, but for so many reasons, that love has faded…maybe it’s disappeared altogether.  Their lawyer suggested that they seek counseling before they plunge into divorce.   Of the many options available to the counselor, there is one that he certainly will not use because it is surely doomed to fail.  He will not stand up, look them square in the eyes and say, “Jesus said, ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another.”  No marriage counselor, no lawyer and no judge would be so bold or so naïve to try that. Yet this will be preached—from every pulpit—everywhere—today because that’s exactly what today’s scripture says: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Even in the best marriages and the best relationships, loving one another as Jesus loved (and all the time) is a tall order!  How can we keep what seems like an impossible commandment?


Earlier in John’s gospel, Jesus spoke about the “new commandment”: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” The fact that Jesus brings this up a second time shows how important it is to him, and therefore, should be to us.  Now one thing should be clear right at the start.  One commentator puts it this way,

“Jesus is not talking about a particular set of feelings or emotions. He is not telling his disciples to concoct some particular combination of dreaminess and quickened pulses at the sight of a beloved.  It is clear that ‘love’ means service, means action, means a life of self-sacrifice for the benefit of others.”


Another commentator wrote,

“The difficulty is increased when you realize that by loving God and your neighbors, Jesus doesn’t mean loving as primarily a feeling. Instead he seems to mean that whether or not any feeling is involved, loving God means honoring and obeying and staying in constant touch with God, and loving your neighbors means acting in their best interests no matter what, even if personally you can’t stand them.”

Oh, my!  Is that difficult or what!   One of the things that seems to throw a monkey wrench in the works is the word “commandment.” We think of commandments as law, and how can Jesus be issuing a law regarding love? We have enough laws already.  There are laws about how fast we drive, how much money we have to pay in taxes, how much we can drink and drive, what changes we can make to our property,  and so forth.  Do we really need another law telling us to love?  Especially when the “others” we are told to love are a mixture—like ourselves—of easy-to, hard-to, and impossible-to-love.  Add to that, the reality that the simple act of loving one another is often very demanding. Loving one another asks for a full range of emotions and thoughts, including patience, forgiveness, empathy, compassion, thoughtfulness and wisdom. Loving one another also asks for time and attention, which is, as one commentator says, “the most precious, and fleeting, and scarce thing we have.” Do we really need another law telling us to love?


Need it or not, here it is: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” So, taking Jesus at his word (a very good thing to do!), let’s see where this meets us in our lives today.


In the passage preceding today’s reading, Jesus talked about the vine and the branches. We heard about that in great detail last week!  He said a branch doesn’t bear fruit unless it abides in the vine.  Building on that image, Jesus now relates that same principle to love.  “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” This is not a one-step process where you can check that off your to-do list.  Jesus wants us to abide in him and in his love from now on—from now through eternity.  Jesus wants us for life!  And he adds, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”


Now you might say at this point, “Oh great, I knew it was too good to be true. How can I ever keep all of God’s commandments?” And you would be right…except for the fact that our Savior is telling us to do this.  He makes this all possible.  And He goes on to tell us the result: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”  Abiding in God’s love leads to keeping his commandments and ultimately to complete joy.   After repeating the command to “love one another as I have loved you,” Jesus goes on to say, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends ...” The greatest example of this is Jesus himself.  The Son of God went to the cross to take the punishment for the sins of the whole world.  No greater love than this…to lay down one’s life for one’s friends…


Last October we were stunned by the largest mass shooting in this country in modern history.  It happened in Las Vegas, where 58 people were killed and nearly 500 were injured by a lone gunman firing from a hotel room onto a crowd at an outdoor concert.  And in the days that followed, stories became known of people risking their lives for others: 

·       One man helped lead over 30 people to safety, only to be shot twice—in the arm and the neck. An off-duty police officer then saved him, actually putting his fingers in the neck wound to stop the bleeding as he was taking him to safety.

  • A young mother lay on top of her daughter to shield her from the bullets. Both got out safely.
  • A husband died while protecting his wife. She lived to tell the love story.
  • One man saved the life of another by using his belt as a tourniquet.
  • Another man went back into the danger zone, and helped save a 17-year-old girl.


And we can only imagine how many lives were saved and protected by people willing to lay down their lives if need be.


 “You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer ...” says Jesus.  Notice with each pronouncement in this scripture, Jesus keeps elevating the importance of love and obedience and the importance of abiding in God’s love through him.  He tells his disciples they are his friends.  Friends, not servants.  And they are his friends, not on the basis of anything they’ve done for him, but on the basis of what he’s done for them.  He’s made known to them “everything that I heard from my Father.” Beyond that, Jesus says, “You did not choose me but I chose you.”  That passage was written on a card that I received on my first Cursillo in 1981, and it changed my life.  And Jesus adds more good news: “And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name,” and he completes his pronouncement by repeating once again, “love one another.”


Because of Jesus’ great love for all of us, this “impossible commandment” is not only doable, but it’s an ongoing part of the Christian’s life.  It is Jesus who takes the initiative in all of this.  Jesus does the choosing and appointing. Jesus does the saving. Jesus invites us, his friends, to abide in his love and to love one another. An impossible command?  No!  Because he abides in us and we in Him, nothing is impossible!

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