I think in many ways Jesus gives us one of his scariest commandments on the Fifth Sunday of Easter! He says, “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.” (John 13:34-35).
Well, you say, why should that be so scary? Sounds like a simple command to me – love one another. Of course we should do that! Yet, it may not be as simple as it sounds when first we hear it. For one thing, Jesus does not simply say: “Love one another,” does he? He says, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
And just how did Jesus love his disciples? Well, he left his home and family in order to prepare himself to give his entire energy and attention to teaching and forming those disciples into the kind of community which could carry on God’s mission when Jesus’ earthly work was done.
He spent three tough years traveling about Galilee and Judea, living on the generosity of strangers, putting himself in jeopardy time and time again by hanging around with people who were unacceptable to “polite society,” teaching a dangerous message about the kingdom of God and, in the process, alienating both the religious establishment and the political “powers that be” because they were so threatened by that message.
Jesus concluded that public ministry by marching into the teeth of the opposition in the holy city of Jerusalem, fully aware that there was a plot against his life and that such public preaching would likely lead to his arrest, “trial”, and execution. And that those twelve disciples he had so carefully and lovingly nurtured would probably cave in and desert him when the going got rough, leaving him a spectacle of failure in the eyes of most people.
That’s how much Jesus loved his disciples! Enough to give himself totally to them, make their education and formation his highest priority, model the kind of life he expected them to live no matter how dangerous that was, and ultimately forgive them for betraying him and running away after all he had done for them! And that is the kind of love Jesus commands us to have for one another! That’s the kind of love we are to have for one another right here at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church!
But it gets worse than that! For Jesus goes on to say: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another!” In other words, it was not because of their brilliant teaching or miraculous healings that people would know that they were Jesus’ disciples. It was not because of their piety or even their holiness that people would know that they were Jesus’ disciples. It was to be because of how they loved each other that people would know.
I think that must have been in Peter’s mind in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles as he wrestles with whether God could possibly accept these filthy, unclean Gentles also as disciples of Jesus Christ! All Peter’s life he had been taught that these people were sinners, that they were so unclean that he would be putting himself in jeopardy just by eating with them…or even by eating the same kind of food that they ate! Now, he has become convinced that God is saying ‘not to make a distinction between them and us…and that “what God has made clean” he was not to call profane! (Acts 11: 12, 9)
In other words, he was being asked to love people he never thought he could love because it was only by doing so that they, and people around them, would know that he was a disciple of Jesus! He was beginning to learn that, while John the Baptist, had baptized with water, he and these Gentiles were baptized with the Holy Spirit – with God’s Spirit…with the Spirit of love!
Well, this morning we will be confirming and receiving into The Episcopal Church! And that means that we are going to be praying for the strengthening in their lives of that same Holy Spirit…with God’s Spirit…with the Spirit of love.
And you, members of their families and members of this parish, are going to promise that you will “do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ.” You’re going to promise to pray and to be the kind of witnesses which will help these people grow into the full stature of Christ…and that you are going to support them in their Christian life.
Do you know that that’s going to require of you? It’s going to require that you make the kind of sacrifices for them and for St. Mark’s, Glen Ellyn that Jesus made for his disciples! You’re going to have to be willing to work and pray and give so that St. Mark’s Church will be around for years and decades to come to nurture these folks in their Christian faith and life.
You’re going to have to build up this community by meeting in small groups and loving one another – through thick and thin, whether you agree with one another or not (frankly, whether you even like one another or not!) – with the kind of love Jesus had for his disciples. Because it is only when people see that kind of love that they will know that you are Jesus’ disciples, and will be drawn to join you here!
Because ultimately, it will not be because of our beautiful liturgy (as much as we love it) that people will know we are Jesus’ disciples. It will not be because of our fine music program (as beautiful as it is!) that people will know we are Jesus’ disciples. It will not be because of eloquent words from this pulpit that people will know we are Jesus’ disciples.
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, “Jesus said, “If…you have love for one another!”
What kind of love? Sacrificial, risking, patient, forgiving love – for one another. “Just as I have loved you, “Jesus said, “You also should love one another.”
Remember that, beloved, if you want this church to grow…and to be around…and to make a difference! Love one another. As he loves you!