A New Commandment

April 24, 2016

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA
5th Sunday of Easter – 8:00 am service 
Acts 11:1-18; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35

Earlier this month, on April 4th, I was listening to NPR as I was getting ready for my day. They were talking about this day being the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Each year, as part of the retelling of that story, an excerpt from his final speech, given the night before, is always included.

The year was 1968 and King was in Memphis, Tennessee speaking on behalf of the sanitation workers, among other things. In his speech he shared that the flight out of Atlanta that morning had been delayed because, knowing that King would be on-board, they had taken extra security measures to ensure the plane and its contents hadn’t been tampered with. King had also heard of threats after arriving in Memphis. Yet, in his speech on April 3rd, he ended with these familiar words:

King_Last_Sermon

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I’m happy, tonight.

I’m not worried about anything.

I’m not fearing any man!

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!”[i]

Whenever we hear this speech, we hear in it the prophecy of Martin Luther King’s own death.

We hear a similar prophecy in Jesus’ words from today’s gospel reading. In some ways it’s odd to hear them in the midst of the Easter Season. They make more sense as the lead-up to the crucifixion, which is certainly the placement in the gospel itself. Jesus had ended his public ministry and now was gathered with his inner circle. He’s letting them know what’s about to happen and his acceptance of it.

Yet, hearing it now in our liturgical life, having passed the mid-point of the 50 days of Easter, we hear the words not as a foretelling of the crucifixion, but a foretelling of the Ascension. It says:

Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.

And then Jesus gave them this instruction:

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.

imageAs I reflected on this familiar verse, I was surprised by the phrase “I give you a NEW commandment.” It doesn’t seem new to me, but maybe that’s because I’ve been hearing it over and over for most of my life.

But, perhaps it’s “new” because in John’s gospel, the standard of love has shifted. In the other gospels Jesus says “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But here, Jesus has upped the ante. It says “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

Now, this is the same Jesus that is the good shepherd. The one who lays down his life for the sheep. That’s a pretty tall order to ask. Yet, many of the disciples, the very ones he gave this new commandment to, had to face the same challenge – and laid down their lives as well.

But, beyond that, what other things do we see Jesus doing as acts of love? I am opening the conversation this morning to include your voices in the question and in the answer, so please join in as you are lead.

When you think about the stories we hear of Jesus life, what types of things – actions or messages – convey the kind of love that his followers are expected to emulate?

(Engaged the congregation in the conversation, and below are some of the things said)

Washing of the disciples’ feet

2016 footwashingThis was not just an act of care, but it’s about the master not being greater than the servants – perhaps the first “non-compete clause.” Competition can be the root of so much divisiveness.

‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. (John 13:12-17)

Opening boundaries to those who had been “othered”

syrophoenician2-53870_222x180

  • Healing the Syrophoenician woman’s child (Mark 7:24-30)
  • The Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7-42)
  • Eating with the marginalized / outsiders

And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax-collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax-collectors, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ When Jesus heard this, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’ (Mk 2:15-17)

Breaking down the barriers that separate us, even across religious lines

coexistRelationships matter more than religious dietary and purity rules:

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go… Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!”… Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” (Lk 10:1, 4-5, 7-9)

Making God’s message of love accessible – simplifying the Ten Commandments down to two: Love God, Love your Neighbor.

 

Caring for and healing those in need

CK 7

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Mt 25:37-40)

 

Reconciliation with Peter who had denied Jesus

Three times denied, yet Jesus also provides three times for Peter to be reconciled and forgiven, asking him: “Do you love me?” in John 21. And with each reply of “Yes” by Peter, Jesus instructs him to “Feed my Sheep.” Follow.

Self-care & Prayer

IMG_0931If we don’t take care of our own needs and our spiritual health, we are not able to love others. Jesus took time to get away for quiet prayer. This fortified him for the work he did and created his capacity to love.

Comforting those in distress

  • Calming the turbulent sea
  • “Peace be with you” & “Do not be afraid”

Non-violence

Jesus moves us to a higher place – turn the other cheek and love your enemies

‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

IMG_5319

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. (Mt 5:38- 45)

Even admonishing the disciple who put up a fight the time of Jesus’ arrest

Turning over the tables = Tough Love

jesusmoneychangers1This was an act of returning the temple to its intended purpose, not as a place of commerce, but as a place of prayer.

Then Jesus entered the temple* and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, ‘It is written,

“My house shall be called a house of prayer”;

   but you are making it a den of robbers.’ (Mt 21:12-14)

Sometimes we need to act in a way that doesn’t look or feel loving in order to help someone find a better path for their life.

These are just some examples of how Jesus demonstrated love. We learn these things about Jesus life with the hope that we will live this kind of life, loving others as Jesus loves us.

It is by living into these acts of love that we SHOW that we are Jesus’ disciples.

If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

mercy-grace

 

 

 

[i] Martin Luther King Jr. “I Have Been To The Mountaintop” Speech (FULL TEXT), Huffington Post, 01/20/2014 12:48 pm ET | Updated Jan 25, 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/20/martin-luther-king-mountaintop-speech_n_4632452.html (Accessed April 22, 2015).

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