The Hardest Commandment to Follow
In our gospel reading today for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Jesus says, “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love.” But, which commandments is Jesus talking about here? Is he talking about The 10 Commandments that Moses received from God back in the Old Testament, or is he talking about the new commandments that he gave us in the New Testament?
It makes a difference to me, because one set of commandments is easy for me to obey, and the other is really hard for me to follow.
I’ve told you before that I think the 10 Commandments are really easy to obey.
I mean, it’s really easy for me to honor the Sabbath, for example. The Sabbath is the day of rest. I wish every day was the Sabbath day.
It’s really easy for me to honor my mother and father. They were both such wonderful people who made incredible sacrifices for me.
And, I never struggle with the impulse to steal something or with the inclination to murder someone. It doesn’t even cross my mind.
I’ve shared this with you before – and it always elicits a laugh from you – but never once – not one time in my life – have I ever coveted my neighbor’s wife.
The Ten Commandments are easy, but the commandments of Jesus are hard.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I give a new commandment: to love one another as I have loved you.”
Now, that’s a commandment that I struggle with…almost on a daily basis. That’s a hard one for me to obey… to love as Jesus loved.
Who can do that?
Jesus loved people unconditionally, so much so that he said, “turn the other cheek,” “bless those who persecute you,” “love your enemy,” “forgive seventy times seven times.”
Even after being stripped and whipped and spat upon and humiliated and nailed to a cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Jesus actually loved those people who were whipping and spitting and nailing him to the cross…and he commands us to love in the same way.
I’ll be honest: I really struggle (almost each and every day) with obeying that commandment.
I have a really hard time forgiving people who continue to cause so much harm to our nation and our planet. I have a really hard time blessing those who persecute people because of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation. I have a really hard time expressing love to those who exhibit so much hate.
But that is what I am commanded to do as a Christian…to love one another as God loves me: UNCONDITIONALLY.
I’ve shared with you before: God loved Mother Theresa and Adolf Hitler equally, because God’s love is without condition. God can’t love you any more tomorrow than God loves you right now.
You can go out today and feed a dozen homeless families, or you can go out today and rob a bank, and God wouldn’t love you any more or any less than God loves you right now.
So, why do good things, then? Because, good things are God things, and when we do God things, we are obeying God’s commandments.
This New Commandment that Jesus gave in today’s Gospel – the commandment “to love one another” – was not exactly new at the time and was not unique to Jesus.
Every major faith tradition has this commandment as part of its core teachings, and some of these traditions date back centuries before Jesus of Nazareth was even born.
In Judaism (in the Torah,) we hear: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”
In Islam (in the Koran), we hear: “None of you truly believes unless he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”
In Hinduism, we hear: “Do not do to others what you do not wish done to yourself; and wish for others, too, what you desire and long for yourself.”
In Buddhism, we hear: “Make thine own self the measure of others, and so abstain from causing hurt to them.”
In the Bahai Faith, we hear: “Choose thou for thy neighbor that which thou choosest for thyself.”
And, this same teaching is in Taoism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, and Native American spirituality.
Many faiths, one commandment. The commandment to love. The commandment to love is hard, but The Ten Commandments are easy.
From time-to-time in our country, we hear about some Conservative group or other who wants to have the “Ten Commandments” displayed in a public square or a city hall or in a courthouse.
But, you know, I never hear about them wanting to display Jesus’s commandments of love.
Can you imagine in a public courthouse if it said up on the wall: “Forgive those who have done wrong” or “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Can you imagine in a government building if it said up on the wall: “Feed the hungry,” “Care for the sick,” “Lift up the poor,” “Serve the least of these in your midst.”
How come they don’t want those words up in public places? If we are truly to call ourselves Christians, we must follow not only the Ten Commandments given to us by Moses. We must also follow the Commandments of Love given to us by Jesus, no matter how difficult those commandments may be to obey.
Following this Way of Love - following this Way of Life – may be difficult, but as we heard in our reading this morning, these commandments are not burdensome. Instead, they unburden us: they free us from the shackles of our selfishness and our ego.
It is why Jesus says in today’s Gospel: There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
To “lay down your life” means to “let go” of the Ways of the Ego, to die to the false self, so that you can awaken to the True Self, the Divine Self, the Christ Self -- the Self that loves how God loves. For as Scripture tells us “God is love,” and love is the essence of our being.
So, my friends, on this sixth week of Easter (this season of new growth and new life) let us find time each day to connect more fully with the power and presence of love that is within us.
And, may we go forth this day in the service of love, to love all people as God loves them, wholly and unconditionally.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance by Rev. Ed Townley
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, the 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 kin-dom.
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