May 28, 2000 ~ St. Peter's, San Pedro ~ Susan Russell
Easter 6B: Acts 11:19-30; I John 4:7-21; John 15:9-17
"This is my commandment; that you love one another as I have loved you." Jesus was running out of time when he spoke these words to the disciples. This part of the Gospel according to John is part of the last great series of teachings Jesus offered to those who had followed him -- up and down the hills of Galilee and Judea -- as he proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom of God -- the Reign of God -- already begun in their midst. He speaks as the clouds of the impending crucifixion gathered over Jerusalem ... as the leaders of the establishment threatened by his words plotted his arrest, trial and conviction.
They'd heard it all before -- those disciples gathered to listen to Jesus teach. WE'VE heard it all before -- those of us who gather weekly to hear the Word of God and seek its meaning for our lives! Don't this Sunday's readings bear a striking similarity to last week's? Last week we heard, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" and "let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action." So what part of this didn't the disciples get, that he had to keep saying it over and over again? What part of it don' t WE get -- that we, too, must hear it again and again?
I was driving home from the vestry retreat last Sunday -- mulling these and other questions -- when a song came on the radio: an old "Indigo Girls" tune ... one of those ones you've heard so many times you don't even realize you' ve memorized the words until you find yourself singing along. And suddenly I heard myself singing along, "The hardest to learn was the least complicated."
"The hardest to learn was the least complicated." Sometimes the stunning simplicity of an idea is what makes it the hardest to learn. And so we have to hear it again -- and again -- and AGAIN ... until we can finally "get it." We're asked to trust that God loves us so much that we can risk loving in return. Not very complicated ... but hard, hard, HARD to learn -- and harder to do! And yet, if we listen, we can hear that call to love again and again -- and again... as if God is saying, "Let me try this again ..." "Let me put it to you THIS way ..." "PSST ... over here!"
When I was on vacation last month, I had the privilege of presiding at a House Blessing for my dear friend. She's an Episcopal church musician who has roots in the Cherokee nation ... so we had a great time weaving all these bits together into a liturgy to celebrate the home she has created. One of the readings was from the "Cherokee Feast of Days":
"The invisible circle gathers all we love close to us. We are part of the earth, part heaven, one with every living thing. For this reason, we love. To love is the command of the Great Spirit, and all nations and people must obey." "The Word of the Lord"
And we all said, "AMEN!"
Love IS the command of the Great Spirit -- of the God who created us, redeemed us and sustains us. Love IS the circle that gathers us together -- that transcends culture and conflict, dogma and doctrine -- if we let it. Robert Shahan, the Episcopal Bishop of Arizona said recently: "Faith is what you are willing to die for. Dogma is what you are willing to kill for." I thought of that at one point during that wonderful liturgy of celebration and blessing -- as we prayed from the New Zealand Prayerbook, sang from the Episcopal Hymnal and read from the wisdom of the Cherokee. I looked around the room -- a circle of those whose lives were closely linked by love -- of God and of each other -- and I thought "this is it -- this is ... for all too brief a moment ... 'thy kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.'" He died to give us this faith to live for -- not to leave us with dogma to fight over.
This is my commandment; that you love one another. Not "this is my commandment -- that you agree with each other." Not "this is my commandment -- that you understand everything. But that you love one another.
Jesus was running out of time in Jerusalem as he spoke these words to the disciples and the lectionary is running out of Easter Season as it speaks those words to us today. The Great 50 Days of Easter are about done -- this is the Sixth Sunday of Easter -- next week is Ascension Sunday and then Pentecost. And the lessons will shift from stories of those who experienced the newly risen Lord to those who responded to that experience by going out to tell -- to evangelize -- others. It is appropriate that our attention should turn in that direction ... remember what the rector preached during Lent?
Lent isn't the time to change the world -- it's the time to look inward -- to work on those things in US that need changed. Easter and Pentecost -- THAT'S when we go out to change the world. It's time to get going -- and what better marching orders could we have than those Jesus gives us today: This is my commandment; that you love one another. But wait a minute Of course we love one another ... we're Christians, aren't we? Doesn't it go without saying? Again, I'm reminded of a song ... the one from "My Fair Lady" where Eliza Doolittle sings in frustration "Don't talk of love ... SHOW ME!" There's a world full of Eliza Doolittles out there just waiting for the Church to BE the Church -- to "Show them" that we mean what we say -- that we practice what we preach -- that we do, indeed, love one another: even in our disagreements.
How good a job are we doing at that part? Better all the time. I tell you, I have never been prouder to be a member of this church than I am today: never been more convinced that the Spirit is moving in ways we could never have dared asked for or imagined; never been more grateful that my journey led me to St. Peter's, San Pedro ... or for the opportunity to be in ministry with this rector and this vestry and this congregation.
But it doesn't stop there. In one of those great synchronicity things, this week -- as I was preparing to preach on these very texts -- I was invited to be part of The New Commandment Task Force : a reconciliation project operating at the national church level. I am both humbled and excited by the invitation -- and want to share with you a little of the work we will do together:
"The New Commandment Task Force is tasked with promoting reconciliation in the Episcopal Church by (a) teaching the members of the Church to be more loving in their words and actions toward each other as they deal with their disagreements, and (b) conducting four Regional Reconciliation Meetings designed to find reconciling ways to deal with the Church's internal disagreements over issues related to human sexuality. The group's name is derived from two biblical passages:
John 13:34ff: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
John 15: 12ff: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you."
It is not expected that this effort will lead to agreement on the subject matter of the issues -- it is hoped instead that the effort:
For instance, Republicans and Democrats disagree on a lot of things, but when either side loses an election -- or even a series of elections -- that side doesn't go out and try to start another country! The two sides disagree regularly, sometimes vehemently, but they still deal with each other in the same institution.
Or consider the image of a married couple where one spouse is Jewish and the other spouse is Christian -- and where the couple lives in happy cooperation. These Jewish and Christian spouses have far, far greater religious differences than any two Episcopalians. Why can't the factions in ECUSA do business more like that couple? "
We can -- and I believe we will. I believe that the love that binds us together is infinitely stronger than any issue that threatens to divide us. I believe that the "hardest to learn may be the least complicated" but that the hard work is worth it. And I believe that the creed we say each day in chapel is just "uncomplicated" enough to sum it all up:
I believe in God above.
I believe in Jesus' love.
I believe the Spirit, too,
Comes to teach me what to do.
I believe that I can be
True and loving Lord, like thee.
This is my commandment; that you love one another. May the Lord who has given us the will to do these things, give us the grace and power to accomplish them. Alleluia. Amen.
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