Fifth Sunday of Easter
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
Commandments. Rules. Can’t live with them; can’t live without them. We scoff at rules. We chafe under the control of those who make them. We bend them and break them and try to explain them away. Sometimes rules seem out of date, senseless.
Have you ever seen those lists of the nutty rules some states still have on the books? In Tennessee, it’s illegal for a driver to be blindfolded while operating a vehicle. In Indiana, it’s against the law to shoot open a can of food. In Kentucky, it’s a crime to use a reptile during any part of a religious service.
Many Christians are big on rules. It’s common in my community to see Ten Commandment signs posted in driveways. Don’t you find it a little odd that the one religious message we stake out in our front yards is the Ten Commandments? Why don’t we see signs that proclaim, “Jesus is Lord! God is love! Christ is risen!?”
Kathleen Norris says that for years she dreaded hearing the Ten Commandments read aloud in church. “They seemed overwhelmingly negative,” she said. Norris tells of her grandfather, who gave up alcohol and chewing tobacco when he became a church member. He later became a preacher, but Kathleen says he still kept a box of cigars in the house.
“He didn’t dare smoke them,” she says, “as the lingering smell would have given him away, but he would chew on them as he worked on his sermons.” The kids were sworn to secrecy, as their dad had once been fired from a church for playing hymns on the banjo and teaching church kids to play dominoes. How many of our congregations have had trouble sorting through the relative importance of rules – from “Thou shalt not kill” to “Thou shalt not play dominoes?”
In this week’s gospel text from John, Jesus told his disciples:
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
When the law expert asked Jesus which commandment was the greatest, Jesus said:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all you mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.
The first commandment of God is an injunction to love the Creator? Jesus was clear that love meant obedience and action. Does our love for Jesus propel us forward to action?
Did Jesus not say to the rich young man, “Go, sell what you have and give it to the poor, then come follow me?”
Did Jesus not say, “Take up your cross and follow me?”
Did Jesus not say, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of me?”
Are you following Jesus anywhere? Or are you just asking him to bless where you’ve decided to go? Is Jesus leading you anywhere? Does Jesus get a say in what you do?
And wasn’t the second commandment of the law like unto the first:You shall love your neighbor as yourself?
Perhaps this command is a bit more tangible, if not much easier. How are you doing at loving your neighbor? Your brother? Your wife or husband or fiancee or co-workers? Do you harbor resentments? Do you care for their needs like you care for your own?
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Perhaps Jesus’ simple command to love gives us plenty to worry about, to live up to, to work on in these weeks after Easter. Love well. Karl Barth once said, “Jesus is the name of our species, in relation to whom we are still subhuman but, nonetheless, called ultimately to become.” May God’s blessings and mercy be upon us as we strive to become human as we learn to love.