Well, as we just heard from our gospel reading from the lectionary today for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Jesus gives the disciples a new commandment to love one another. Now we're reading from John's gospel. But Jesus also gave this new commandments in Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospels, where he said things like, love one another, as I have loved you.
Now, this commandment wasn't exactly new at the time of Jesus, and it wasn't unique to Jesus of Nazareth. This commandment to love your neighbor as yourself, is actually the core teaching of all of the world's major faith traditions. Some of them are much older than Christianity, like Hinduism, and Judaism, which was the faith tradition of Jesus.
And so all of you this morning received this beautiful little card you can keep in your wallet or purse or put up on your refrigerator at home. It has all of the beautiful interfaith symbols on the front. And on the back, it lists that Golden Rule to love one another, as it’s given from all of the world's different faith traditions, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism.
It's a reminder for us that there are many religions, many traditions, but just one commandment, the commandment to love one another.
And I don't know about you, but I think it's the hardest commandment to follow. Jesus said, ‘If you obey the commandments, you will abide in my love.’ If you obey the commandments, you will abide in My love. But what commandments is he talking about? Is he talking about the 10 commandments that were given to Moses in the Old Testament? Or is he talking about this new commandment that he gave to love one another?
Well, I think that there's a difference. Because I think that one set of commandments is really easy to follow. And one is really hard to follow. I've shared with you before, I have never struggled with following the 10 commandments. I, for example, love to honor the Sabbath. The Sabbath is the day of rest. I wish every day was the Sabbath. And I've never struggled to honor my mother and father. They were both such a wonderful people who made tremendous sacrifices for me. I have never struggled with the urge to go and steal something, or to murder someone. These never really cross my mind. And I've shared with you with you before, and it always elicits a laugh, butnever once – not one time in my life – have I ever coveted my neighbor's wife.
The 10 commandments, they're easy to follow, but the commandments of Jesus are not. Jesus said, ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’
Come on! Who can do that?
Jesus loved people unconditionally, even his enemies. It's why he said over and over again, ‘Bless those who persecute you.’ ‘Turn the other cheek.’ “Forgive 70 times seven times.’ Even when Jesus was stripped and whipped, and spat upon and nailed to a cross, he said, ‘Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.’
Jesus loved the people who stripped and whipped and spat upon him and nailed him to a cross. He commands us to do the same.
And I struggle with that commandment each and every day of my life. I find it really hard to love people who are causing so much damage to our country and to our planet. I find it really hard to love people who persecute and judge people based on their race, their ethnicity, their religion, their sexual orientation, their gender identity. I really struggle to love people who are white supremacists, who peddle conspiracy theories, and who want to turn back the clock and take away people's liberties.
The writer James Baldwin, who was both black and gay said,”We can disagree and still love one another. Unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression, that denies my humanity, and my right to exist.”
We can disagree and still love one another unless your disagreement is in the denial of my humanity.
Now, from time to time, we hear certain groups in this country who want to have the 10 commandments posted in public places. They want them up in public schools. They want them up in public buildings, courthouses, and city halls. But I never hear them wanting to post the commandments of Jesus in public places.
Can you imagine how that would be? If in a courthouse during a trial, up on the wall, it said, “Forgive those who have wronged you.” “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
Can you imagine in a government building, if it actually said, “Forgive one another's debts,” or you know, it said the IRS office, ‘Forgive people's debts.” If it said up in a city hall in a public building, “Bear one another's burdens.” ‘Feed the hungry.” “Lift up the poor.” “Serve the least of these,” in our community.
But they don't want those words up there. They want the 10 commandments, though. Because you see the 10 commandments are easy to follow. The commandments of Jesus are not. If we are truly to call ourselves Christians, followers of the way of Jesus, then we have to follow not just the 10 commandments that were given to Moses, we have to follow the commandments of Jesus.
Now, let me be clear, to love one another does not mean that we have to just passively let people bully, abuse, lie, oppress, and make other people's lives harder. To love them doesn't mean that we just sit there in silence. We are called to be builders of the kingdom. That means we have to be about what Jesus was about. And to follow those commandments is not easy. But that is our call.
Jesus said that the greatest way that we can show love for one another is to lay down our lives for one another. And when he said that he was not speaking literally. He was speaking spiritually. To lay down your life means to let go of your ego. It means to die to your false self. That's the greatest way we can show love for one another.
Now when we do this, when we follow these commandments of Jesus, it will be difficult, but not a burden. In fact, following the commandments of Jesus actually unburdens us, they free us from the shackles of our ego. So our Christian calling, then, is to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, no matter how difficult that may be, and to show that unconditional love to everyone, even those with whom we really struggle.
It's like Jesus said in the gospels, “What merit is it if you love those who love you? What merit is it if you do good things for people who do good things for you? We are supposed to show that unconditional love to everyone. But again, it doesn't mean that we are just to be silent and play nice. It means we are to speak truth and continue to be builders of the kingdom.
So let us, my friends, on this Fifth Sunday of Easter – this time of new growth and new life – let us continue to connect each and every day with that power and presence of love that is within us and within us. And may we go forth this day in the service of love to love one another. Just the way God loves us, wholly and unconditionally.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance
by Rev. Thomas Shepherd
In today’s Gospel message, Jesus refers to his disciples as “servants” and commands them to “love one another.” This is an important and revealing passage from Jesus’ great final discourse in the Gospel of John, delivered on the eve of his arrest and crucifixion. As with so much of the Gospel of John, it’s important to be clear about exactly who is speaking, and to whom. If Jesus of Nazareth is speaking to the men and women who have been following him as his disciples, the statement is very strange. They are not his servants, for example, nor has he ever treated them as such. They are his students, colleagues and friends—to suggest that they were ever servants is condescending at best. Clarity comes when we realize that Jesus is speaking throughout this discourse from his Christ consciousness—he is speaking as Jesus Christ, the full expression of divine Presence and Power. The entire purpose of his ministry was to teach and demonstrate the Christ—not as an attribute unique to him, but as the Presence of God that is the true identity of each of us. He calls us to embrace our own Christ nature, to continue the work of creating the kingdom that he has begun. Our relationship to the Christ within us changes dramatically as we become aware of its truth and its presence within us. It is always the truth of who we are, even when we don’t know it or acknowledge it. God is always seeking to express through us, no matter how unaware we may be. We are servants of that Power, doing its bidding without often understanding the great, divine creative process at work. When we do become aware of it, though, we can fully participate in the creation of the kingdom of heaven. It is by consciously cooperating with the Christ that we become co-creators of the kingdom.
Listen to the Homily:
Watch the Homily: https://youtu.be/cleJWYmHgKM
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