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Love One Another
A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Gale Davis on April 28, 2013

Easter 5C   2013

Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35

As you have probably guessed by now, I do not consider myself a fundamentalist.  In other words, I do not take every word of the bible to be literally, factually, true.  I do believe it contains truth, indeed even “all truth.”  However, I also believe there is a difference between “fact” and “truth”. 

So, while it may not be “factual” that Peter had three visions as reported in Acts this morning, the truth is not diminished one way or the other by how factually accurate it is.  That truth is that all are called to be God’s own.  That truth is that Jesus came for the whole world, not just a small middle eastern sect, and it is very real. 

Now, all that being said, I do take some portions of the bible as factually, literally true.  We all do.  And like every Christian sect, fundamentalist, evangelical, orthodox, catholic, anglican, and protestant of every denomination, conservative and liberal,  we all pick and choose the biblical passages we take factually or literally to be true.  We may deny that we do this, but the more I am around churches and church folk, I find such picking and choosing to be an accurate observation  of religious practice over and over again..

So, in the spirit of full disclosure, there are two passages I take literally all the time.  And they are the two that I find the most difficult, because no matter how hard I try, I am unable to do what they command. One of them is in today’s gospel. The other is very much like it--(but, that’s a topic for another sermon another day!)

Jesus said to the disciples, “Just as I have loved you, you should love one another.”  Factually, I don’t know if Jesus said that in this particular context of the farewell discourse or not.  But I do believe that he did say it, and in it is a commandment that we are, as followers, admonished to live each and every day of our lives.  Love one another.... 

Why is it that the most simple of commands are the most complex and difficult to master?

If we follow the thread of the lessons for today, we know that we are being instructed in just what it would mean to “love one another as Jesus loved us.”  Peter’s revolting dreams about eating with people who regularly consumed all the foods that Jews find abhorrent -- by law, foods that are part of the covenant and religious identity that marked them as God’s people --may seem a little silly to us today.  And I have tried to think of a Christian equivalent from our era, and none comes to my mind.  (These things are usually seen more clearly in hind sight).  However, being at a table with those foods being served and eating with people who ate them regularly was truly repulsive, heretical and filthy to first century Jews, which, remember, Peter, like Jesus and all the disciples, was.  Yet, Peter knew when the gentiles arrived at his door seeking his message of salvation, that God’s intention was that they, those lobster-eating, bacon-loving gentiles, be included, no matter what they ate for dinner.

“Love one another as I have loved you” became something bigger and harder in that moment than maybe we can understand.  But then again, maybe not.  For as convinced as we are that God is love, and because that is true, we followers are to love as God does. It is nearly impossible for us to do it, no matter how hard we try.   Each of us has or knows people, as individuals or whole groups, that we find impossible to see as “one of God’s own -- just like us.” Each of us has marvelous excuses about why that is so and why we are allowed to make an exception for “that person” or “group of people.” We all know that “good Christian folks” have used race as a way of labeling people for an “exception“to this “love one another as I have loved you” commandment. 

We can easily see it in history, though it is tougher to see it in our own behavior.  We see it when one group of immigrants is ostracized and treated as “less than” those who had settled 50 years before.  Yet such exception making is in our culture today in many ways. We still separate and label people as unclean, much the way Peter did the gentiles who ate foods that were taboo.  But of course, we have “valid” reasons for our prejudices and exclusions. 

So, who are today’s “gentiles”?  The poor?  The outcast?  The unemployed?  Those on “welfare?”  Perhaps its immigrants ... The Muslims?  Natives of India?  Gays and lesbians?  Or Latin Americans?  The uneducated?  The conservatives?  The liberals?  We live in a culture that thrives on separating folks into categories and labeling them.  And we don't even have the pretext of it being for religious reasons, not if we take this commandment seriously.  We, I would observe, label others in such a way as to make sure whatever labels we personally fall under are not the ones on the bottom so that we can be assured we are OK.  So, we can justify our exception to “Loving one another as God loves us.”

I stand before you today knowing that I am as guilty as anyone of this behavior, which is one of the reasons I am certain that Jesus did command us to live constantly loving one another as he loved us.  Jesus often asks the impossible.  Jesus understood God’s vision of the Kingdom of God in a way that is nearly impossible for us to grasp.  Love reigns in that Kingdom, and when love reigns, such labeling, such injustice wielded by one group of God’s beloved against another, such exceptions and justifications are impossible. 

We humans have a hard time with that kind of Love -- it is too inclusive and too powerful.

Yet, it is precisely that Love to which we are called, the kind of Love that sacrifices one’s self, one’s life, even one’s hard-earned and righteous place in the world and certainly one’s money. We are called to Love beyond our comfort zones, beyond where our sense of “safety” lies.  We are to Love without condition, and with a Love that is so forgiving that the sins of the other are not only pardoned, they are forgotten -- dissolved in the ocean of overwhelming Love.  To confront hatred and lunacy and prejudice and ignorance with Love so that we might bring this world into the reign of God’s love is what we followers are called to do.

We get glimpses of that Love from time to time in our lives.  One such glimpse I had was when I held my first grandchild, Elisabeth (now 13 and still perfect).   It was in the time before 9/11, and I flew from Boston to San Jose to help out right after she was born.  Her parents met me at the gate and held her out for me to take in my arms.  And I wept -- I still weep when I think of that moment.  For until I held that precious child and looked at her sweet face with a dimpled chin, I had not understood what unconditional love was.  I had no idea I could Love so much, so instantly, and so completely.  I knew I would do anything for her, give up anything for her, even my own life.  And that Love has only grown since then, for her, for her Matt and cousins, Madeleine, Sebastian, Imogen and Finn.  But in that moment when I first held her, it was as if the Kingdom of God opened up for me, and I understood, oh so briefly, what the world, what eternity could be like, if we had the courage and will to truly be literalists about this particular piece of scripture and Love one another as God loves us, all the time, all people as God does.  Well, imagine what the world would be.  It truly would be the Kingdom of God here and now.

I have not always been able to love others as I love my perfect grandchildren, but having had that glimpse, I do endeavor to try.  My way is to not only pray for, but to involve myself (and encourage you also) in work and action that we become ones who are holding out that vision of Love ruling the world. 

To that end, I invite you to use the remaining time in Easter (three more weeks!) to think about the moments in your life when you caught a glimpse of God’s love, and the Kingdom that Love can create.  I invite you to share those stories with me.  I would love to hear them.  Because together, our stories -- factual and real -- for us reflect the truth about the Kingdom of God that is coming.  Our glimpses are our way forward toward that kingdom.

Love one another as I have loved you.  Easier said than done.  But possible, one moment at a time.  May your moments be full.  May they testify to the One who is Love for all.

Amen.

Last Published: May 2, 2013 11:34 AM