Sermon for May 19th 2019: John 13:31-35 “The Great Commandment”

Ever since I was a teenager, one of my favourite songs has been “What the World needs now.” I can’t say for sure how I first came across this song. Whether it was through friends, or on a record my father had. But what I do know, is that it’s a song that has stayed with me. In some ways, this song, and in particular it’s chorus have been a bit like a mantra for me. “What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of. What the world needs now is love, sweet love, No not just for some but for everyone.” The words of this song remind me of what I believe I am called to live into. They also remind me of the “Great Commandment” which we hear about this morning. As we continue our journey through the season of Easter, our lectionary invites us to re-hear a passage that we are most familiar with, as a part of our Holy Week Services. The Great Commandment is one of the focal points of our Maundy Thursday service. In fact, it’s so central to that service, that it’s name is derived from a latin word which means “commandment.” Yet today, five weeks after we celebrated the resurrection, we find ourselves back to this place again. Where Jesus teaches us that we are to love each other, as Jesus loves us. And so you can easily see the connection between the song I mentioned a moment ago, and our Gospel reading this morning. Both speak about love. Both invite us to consider the need of love not just in our own lives, but in the world around us. In particular, our scripture, and Jesus, invite us to consider what it means to love as Jesus loves. Which is a very particular kind of love. Because the love Jesus invites us to live is, what Karoline Lewis calls “real love.” Now, you might be thinking that sounds kind of peculiar. Isn’t all love, “real love?” Of course, love is real. When we feel a connection with someone, that love is real. When we welcome a child into our midst, the love we have for them is real. When we make friends with someone, who we come to know for many years, that love is real. But what Karoline Lewis means by “real love” is love that challenges us. Love that pushes us outside of our comfort zone. Love that encourages us to go further than we’ve ever gone before. A love that isn’t hallmark love. Or the love proclaimed by Jewellery stores, flower companies or other commercial enterprises. But rather a love that is marked by our desire to see good for another. Our desire to truly be in relationship, even with the messiness that comes with it. And for Karoline Lewis, this “real love” is what Jesus is talking about in the “Great Commandment.” In asking us to love each other as Jesus loves us, we are being called on to offer a love that has no bounds. A love that is unconditional, a love that reaches out even when it means taking a risk. A love that forgives. A love that heals. A love that offers hope. Which is exactly the kind of love that Jesus shared throughout his ministry. Time and time again, Jesus reached out to those on the margins of society to offer love. Through acts of healing, through his teachings, and through simple moments like sharing a meal with someone. Even acts of forgiveness. And not just forgiving people he barely knew. Through our scriptures we know that Jesus continued to embrace people with love and forgiveness, even when he knew that they were about to hurt him. We know that on the cross, as He died, Jesus offered forgiveness to those who killed him. And, if we consider the context of today’s Gospel reading, we are also reminded of an act that demonstrates unconditional love and forgiveness. In John 13:2-3, we’re told that Jesus knew Judas was about to betray him. Which Jesus then reveals later in this chapter. And at the end, Jesus tells Peter that he will deny him three times in the coming hours. Yet even with this knowledge, Jesus still welcomed them at table. Still shared a meal with them. Still knelt at their feet and washed them. Serving them with “real love.” Serving them with a love that includes forgiveness. Serving them with love, even though it must have hurt to do so. Through the act of footwashing, Jesus was seeking to show his disciples what it meant to live out the great commandment. What it meant to share “real love.” Where love is about vulnerability, and hope in the midst of brokeness. So what does this mean for us? What are we to do with the “Great Commandment” today? I’ll invite us to return to the song I referenced at the beginning of my sermon. As the chorus goes “What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of. What the world needs now is love, sweet love, No not just for some but for everyone.” Today, more than ever, we are called to live love. To share love. To play our part in helping to spread love to every corner of this earth. So that others might know they do not walk alone in this world. And as the song tells us, our role is not to pick and choose who receives the gift of love. We are called to share love with all people. From all walks of life. Even when doing so challenges us, or pushes us out of our comfort zone. Even when it means taking a risk. Even when it means offering love to someone that others claim is unlovable. Because Christ tells us that no one is unlovable. That love heals. Love welcomes. Love transforms. And so, this is what we are challenged to do, through the Great Commandment. To live the mantra of this song. To help bring more love to the world. To help breakdown barriers. To help bring an end to judgements and stereotypes. To help bring an end to fear. Because the truth is, it often feels as though fear, hatred, and judgement is all around us. It can feel as though love is disappearing, and that we are getting further and further apart from one another. It becomes easy to give up. To stop hoping. To stop believing. To stop trusting. Just as it would have been easy for Jesus to do. He could have given up. He could have stopped loving his disciples, when he realized that they would have trouble staying by his side. He could have shouted words of anger as he was arrested, or as he died on the cross. But he didn’t. Instead, he loved. He loved to the very end. Until his very last breath. And all of this reminds us that we too, are called to hold on. To hold onto love. To let love guide us, and give us the hope we need to continue on. For when love is shared, transformation can happen. When a smile is offered, it can make another person smile in return. When a kind word or compliment is offered, we can see how it lights a person up. And when we love someone for who they are, right now, as they are. With no strings. No judgements. We can see a person grow and blossom. This is the power of love. This is the power of the “real love” that Karoline Lewis speaks of. The kind of love that knows the risks. That knows the possibility of sadness ans struggle, yet loves anyway. Because Karoline Lewis writes: “Love is never without sacrifice. Love is never without hearts hurting. Real love knows what’s on the other side of its most fulfilling, most wonderful moments.” And so, as we look at the world around us, and wonder, where is love? Remember what Lewis has written. That even with “hearts hurting” “real love knows what’s on the other side.” Real love knows that on the other side is all the things we seek to celebrate. And so, as we go from this time together, let us go out in love. Let us go out ready and willing to offer love. To be love. So that even when it’s difficult, even when it feels as though our hearts are breaking, we might find a way for light to shine, and for our Easter hope to reign. So that all the world will “know we are Christians by our love.”

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