Sometimes it is just good to sit with a Bible passage for awhile and watch what begins to percolate just by virtue of re-reading the words.I thinkthe adult study group does this occasionally when they use a method of meditation on the scriptures called “lectio divina” – the practice of reading the same text multiple times, perhaps in different voices and allowing time for silence and reflection and insight between readings.That’s what I ended up doing as I prepared to write today’s thoughts.
As I read today’s verses, I found that with repeated readings my attentionkept coming back to the same phrase again and again:…”as I have loved you.” They are the second half of Jesus’ commandment: “Love one another – – as I have loved you.” And I began to ask the question “How did Jesus love his disciples?” What were the ways in which he loved them that he wanted them to emulate in their love for one another?And what guidance do Jesus’ ways of loving his disciples give to us as we try to love one another as he loves us? As I read the familiar stories over again, I was impressed by how down to earth and practical the ways are in which Jesus demonstrated what he meant by wanting us to love each other as he loves us.Nothing fancy or unobtainable.
One of the first things I came across was an impressivebit of the wisdom he imparted to them along the dusty roads of Galilee:Don’t make a big show of your religious piety in front of other people to impress them. Given who he was and who he would become, this was a very loving bit of guidance for his friends.He seemed to want them to know that being pious in front of other people isn’t always the best way of being loving toward them.This was a simple but profound example of his way of loving his friends.It seems like he was saying it is far more important to simply be with others in a kind and compassionate way rather than trying to “save their souls,”that sometimes religious piety can really get in the way of beingloving toward other human beings.
Jesus taught his disciples to pray – again, not in a terribly pious way – just a simple instruction: “When you pray, pray this way:Our Father who is in heaven, holy is your name…..And in the process of teaching them to pray, he taught them about forgiveness…..that it is our responsibility to be forgiving – – to wrestle with what it means to forgive when we have been transgressed upon and to realize that we too need to be forgiven – repeatedly and often.I hadn’t thought about it before, but this was an incredibly loving thing to do – to teach his friends about the centrality of forgiveness in loving as he did.It is a way in which we have experienced his loving us down through the centuries.It is a way in which we are to love each other as he loves us.
Jesus taught his followers about priorities – not to worry about whether they had the right clothes to wear or whether they would have enough to eat and drink. On Thursday, I was walking with my rabbi buddy, Lori Shaller.Our conversation went to the vacation Armen and I are anticipating – – thinking about what to pack and what to leave behind and the inconvenience of having to make do with less in order to avoid paying for checked luggage and so forth.Suddenly we realized that we were only trying to solve a very 1st world problem in our conversation in a world where so many human beings cannot even dream of a vacation much less worry about what to take and what to leave behind.Even today, this simple teaching may help us to set our own priorities as we find our way through modern concerns about the distribution of wealth and about our food and energy consumption in a world where people pack everything they own in a blanket to flee to a place of safety – not knowing where their next meal will come from.
Jesus taught his friends that worrying about anything was wasted energy.A corollary teaching might be that if you are worried or anxious about anything in life, take a small bit of action in the direction of the source of the anxiety and watch what happens when you begin to take charge.Being able to convey this truth to one another in any kind of crisis or anticipated crisis is a gift of love.Perhaps it helped to assuage the anguish and fear the disciples felt as they mourned their dearest friend’s death on the cross.In their fear and anxiety about the future, Jesus gave them word to do.In the process of taking action, they became courageous – – able to do more than they ever thought they could.What a powerful way of loving his friends.
Beyond practical wisdom for every day, Jesus also loved his disciples by taking care of himself.They witnessed him withdrawing from the hurly-burly of life that surrounded him to rest and to pray.They witnessed him returning to the work strengthened and rested from time spent alone with God.
What a gift of love he gave them in that alone – modeling for them the way to nurture their relationship with God as a way of sustaining themselves through whatever life would throw at them. When we care for our own spiritual nurture, we give a loving gift to all with whom we have relationship.
If that were not enough, Jesus prayed for his beloved friends in the most magnificent prayer that we find in the later chapters of John’s gospel.Just before he died Jesus prayed for his friends this way: Father,I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Protect the ones you have given me in your name – that they may be one as you and I are one – -so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.”
Jesus loved his friends by being present with them when they were grieving.He understood the disappointment and pain and anger ofMary and Martha when their brother died and Jesus wasn’t right there.He cried with them and he loved them through their anguish – and then he celebrated with them in their joy when Lazarus rejoined them in life.
Jesus loved his disciples by loving their families too – attending to Peter’s mother-in-law when she was sick.He tended to his dear friend, John, by placing John together with Mary at the foot of the cross so that they could comfort and care for each other at his death, so they could become family for each other.
Jesus’ love was the kind that called the disciples to be bigger and better than they thought they could be.It was the kind of love that directed them down off the mountain top to do the work of healing and forgiveness when they would have preferred to stay on the mountain surrounded by light and the presence of God.Think of the joy and satisfaction they would have missed if they had simply stayed in the high spiritual ethers.Jesus loved them enough to send them to work in the world -bringing compassion and healing and wisdom to others.
And then there were the times when he did his best to let them see who he really was – – his most authentic God given self.He gave themteachings designed to awaken their highest consciousness about God, about him and about themselves, pleading with them to find strength in his love for them so they would be able to offer that strength to others – -abide in me – – let my words and my wisdom abide in you – – when it comes to things of the spirit – ask me and I will be with you to give you what you need.Jesus loved them most passionately when he tried to share with themhis deepest connectedness with God.
There were the practical things that Jesus did to show his disciples how much he loved them too.He shared his power.He entrusted his disciples with the power to heal, to transmit the teachings and the wisdom by which he lived his own life.He served them – he washed their feet.He fed them with the most basic symbols of life – bread and wine.
And then – – – he commanded them to take all the love he gave them, all the ways in which he showed them love – – he commanded them to “love each other as I have loved you.”
So – I take all this to mean that if we are to love one another as Jesus has loved us, we are simply to follow the ways in which he shows us love.
We pray together and alone for one another.It’s what he did.
We offer lovingkindness and forgiveness to one another.It’s what he did.
We bring our energies of healing and compassion to each other when there is death or illness.As a community we call each other to be our highest and best selves as we live out our various callings in the world.
We study and worship together to bring out in each other and in ourselves the wisdom and Christ consciousness of JesusWe share power and responsibility for the work of the church as we move forward.
And we feed and nourish one another and the community through table fellowship and the sharing of bread and cup.
Part of these final gatherings with the disciples was to prepare them for life together without Jesus’ physical presence among them – and after he commanded them to love one another as he has loved them, he laid a big truth on them: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”In the context of the gospel story, we know that he was preparing to die – – and that his death would be to their benefit in some way. But the verse confronts us with a conundrum because for centuries, people who have decided to follow the Jesus way of living have struggled with howliterally this wisdom is to be taken.
When I look at all the other ways love is demonstrated by Jesus, they seem to have one strong thread in common.In every instance, Jesus sets his own needs and even his own reputation aside to meet the demands of the situation.If we were to use modern parlance, we could say that he set his own ego aside in service to the “other” – – whoever that ”other” might be – a much maligned tax collector, a woman with a bleeding disorder, a man with severe mental distress, a group of lepers, a woman with a dicey sexual history.
Even while he was living, he laid down his life in the service of others. And he did this without fear of becoming an “easy touch” for people who might want to take advantage of him.He simply let go of his expectations of others and loved them.
Very few of us will ever be confronted with having to put ourselves between a moving bus and a potential victim and literally lay down our lives for another person.That is not what Jesus meant.He meant that we are each called to learn how to give our attention and our energies and our loveso fully in the service of life that it might be considered that we are laying down our lives for our friends.
This is how we are to love one another as he loved us – by getting ourselves out of the way and letting the loving power of Christ move through us abundantly and generously – with gratitude and joy.Because, that is the whole point of the entire endeavor – that we might live in joy – complete, abundant, life sustaining, joy.
So -let’s hear the words one more time as we prepare to celebrate that final bit of loving that Jesus imparted to his friends as he prepared them toeat and drink together:
9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants[a] any longer, because the servant[b] does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
John 15:9-17 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Pastoral Prayer and Benediction May 6, 2018
Adapted froma prayer by John Phillip Newell in SOUNDS OF THE ETERNAL A Celtic Psalter New BeginningsSan Antonio, Texas2012p. 52-53
A Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession
That from our depth new life emerges
thanks be to you , O God.
That through our body
and the bodies of men and women everywhere
heaven’s creativity is born on earth,
children of eternity are conceived in time
and ever lasting bonds of tenderness
are forged amidst the hardness of life’s struggles,
thanks be to you.
That in our soul
and the soul of every human being
sacred hopes are hidden,
longings for what has never been are heard
and visions for earth’s peace and
prosperity are glimpsed,
thanks be to you.
For those who are near to us who are in turmoil this day
and for every family in its brokenness,
for the woundedness of our own life
and for every living creature that is suffering,
O God of all life , we pray.
In the gift of this new day, in the gift of the present moment, in the gift of time and eternity intertwined, let us be grateful, let us be attentive, let us be open to what has never happened before. And may we dwell in your Presence in peace. In Jesus namewe pray.
In the many details of this day
let us be fully alive.
In the handling of food
and the sharing of drink. in the preparing of work
and the uttering of words, in the meeting of friends
and the intermingling of relationship
Let us be alive to each instant, O God,
let us be fully alive.
May you go in peace and love and in the companionship of the Living Christ.AMEN