Last weekend I had the privilege of preaching at FUMC, Grandview as part of their stewardship campaign. The given scripture texts were:
Deuteronomy 6:4-6. Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. (NRSV)
John 13:34-35. “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.” (CEB)
The following is a brief excerpt of what I shared with the congregation on Sunday – and what God continues to reveal to me!
The text from Deuteronomy is often referred to as the Shema. The Shema is a prayer used to open many Jewish services as not only an assertion that there is
only one God, but also a connection back to the Ten Commandments. If you are familiar with Jewish culture, perhaps you have heard of or seen a Mezuzah. The Mezuzah is a piece of parchment or paper with the words from the Shema inscribed on it. The parchment is rolled up like a scroll and placed inside the case and nailed to the inside of the doorjam.
As resurrection people, the Shema needs to be seen through the lens of Jesus’ teachings. Our second scripture passage comes from the Gospel of John right after Jesus has washed his disciples feet and predicted that one of the disciples will betray him. Jesus understands that this time on earth with his disciples is coming to an end. There is a sense of urgency as Jesus conveys the importance of this new commandment – to love each other.
Jesus doesn’t command us to love those who are easy to love, but to love others – all others at all times. This includes the person who cut you off in traffic, the politically offensive friend on facebook, and those in your life who simply annoy you.Some days loving others seems like an impossible goal. And yet, through Jesus, God experienced all those difficult-to-love people in the world firsthand. God knows that some folks or situations are just more challenging to love. And still, we are given the command to love others.
The text in John comes shortly after Jesus washes his disciple’s feet. Foot-washing was a task left to the lowliest of servants. These men had not recently had pedicures and I imagine their feet were disgusting. But Jesus takes the basin and towel to serve his disciples by washing their filthy feet. Jesus did this, not because the disciples were his friends and never made any mistakes, he did it to show his love. He did it knowing that he would be betrayed by several of the men whose feet he cleaned. Jesus is modeling for us unconditional love for all, even those who seem unlovable.
This new commandment given to us by Jesus is not an option. It should be taken as seriously as the 10 commandments. Do we consider loving others as important as not murdering? Not only does Jesus command us to love one another, even those who are difficult to love, Jesus tells us that this is the mark of a disciple. Likewise, the Shema was also considered a mark that set Jews apart. By reciting and praying the Shema, one is committing to putting it into practice and living a life congruent with loving God with everything we have.
How do we love others? Is it simply being cordial, polite, and kind? Our culture and society has given us a skewed vision of love. It is romantic, pretty, and clean when we watch LOVE on TV or in the movies.
Those of us who love in real life know that it is messy and challenging – nothing like the fairy tales. Love is not a feeling, like the movies would have us believe, but is a decision. You decide to love your spouse, parents, siblings, or children even when they are sticky, ornery, and frustrating. Each day before my feet hit the floor, I make the decision to love my husband…and often need to make the decision several times through the day! If loving was simply being cordial and polite, it wouldn’t be the mark of a disciple.
If Jesus meant that all we needed to do was tolerate each other, Christians would never make waves. The love that Jesus is referring to is not tolerance. Jesus did not model tolerance, he loved in a radical, feet-washing, completely counter-cultural kind of way. He loved in a way that completely changed the world.
Not only is love a necessary challenge, but love is also essential for changing the world. There is no denying that our world is in trouble. I am not a pessimist and know that there is a lot of hope for peace and compassion. We are in control of making the world a better place and through following Christ’s example, we can change the world. Is one person capable of changing the world? Definitely – if that one person loves radically – radical love is contagious.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. changed the world because of his radical love. Only a few years before his tragic death, he preached these revolutionary words, “throw us in jail and we will still love you. Threaten our children and bomb our homes and our churches and as difficult as it is, we will still love you… But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves, we will so appeal to your heart and your conscience that we will win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.” This was Dr. King’s example of agape love –unconditional love that can only come from God.
This kind of love is not logical and frankly doesn’t make any sense. But is it not the love that Christ showed to all? As Jesus was hanging on the cross, in pain and dying, he was praying for those who were tormenting him. The Gospel of Luke records Jesus from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
In order to love God with all that we have and are, and to love others, we need to be willing to let go of hurt, apply forgiveness, and allow ourselves to radiate God’s love. Neomonastic Revolutionary Shane Claiborne calls this “a scandalous grace.” Are there those in your life that you need to show scandalous grace?
Young people are taught as children to be polite and kind – both excellent things – but are not often taught of the scandalous grace of Jesus. when they grasp this radical concept and are given a place to share their voice, the world is different.
The United Methodsit church values the input of young people and considers every member equal, regardless of age or maturity in the faith. When children are baptized into our faith tradition the congregation takes an active role in responding to the child and their family. The congregation promises to “surround them with a community of love and forgiveness that they may grow in their service to others.” We have made this vow universally to all baptized young people – whether we were present a their actual baptism or not.
Are the young people in your midst aware of the radical and scandalous grace of Jesus Christ? How are you empowering them to live out their call and share their voice, even when it is counter cultural?