The Rev. Steven Paulikas
May 19, 2019
All Saints’ Church
“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."
Do you want a commandment to guide your life, a simple answer to life’s complexity? Love one another.
Are you looking for some clarity among the din of religious voices telling us what to believe? Listen: Just as Jesus has loved us, we also should love one another.
Do you want to be a disciple of Jesus? Then love your neighbors.
Do you long for a truly spiritual community but are confused as to what that means today? Have love for one another.
You know, when Jesus was alive, religion wasn’t any less of a mess than it is today. And that’s where today’s Gospel message comes in. It is a flash of light in the darkness, a lifeline to a drowning people. And we need it badly. Jesus gives us a new commandment: love one another, just has he has loved us. That’s what his followers do—they love one another, with reckless abandon. They devote their lives to this love, because love is the very nature of God, and when you love, you are taking part in the stuff that God is made of. Jesus loved us, not because we deserved it, but because Jesus IS love. This is the ground of all that is true and right about the Christian life. It is simple enough that little children understand it and yet a task that can only be completed in a lifetime. It is the beginning and the end of theology. It is a simple commandment that we as a species have yet to understand. And it is a commandment from the past that lives and breathes and speaks to us this morning as if were the first time it had ever been uttered: love one another. Love one another, as God loves us.
Keep in mind, when Jesus gives this new commandment, it’s not just a passing comment or a sidenote. This is the last supper. This is Jesus’ final chance to speak to his disciples. A person’s last words and final intentions have tremendous meaning, and this is what Jesus chose to say. He gave his friends a great gift, a simple direction and a blueprint for the future. Love one another. That’s it. That’s the great secret that is no secret at all. Love one another, and the love of God will be present. Love one another, and soon you will love everyone. Love one another, and you will have no enemies, no adversaries. Love one another, and you will be set free from the prisons of fear and hatred. Love one another, and you will begin to understand how much God loves you, and when you glimpse the love with which God has made every single one of us, love will become the guiding force of everything that you do.
No, this was no aside, no small thing. Jesus’ new commandment is the instruction for earthly salvation. It’s the basis for attaining anything that actually matters in this world. Peace and harmony between peoples. A life filled with joy and meaning. Wisdom to know the difference between what is important and what isn’t. Love one another, and all these dreams would become our reality.
I think that Jesus gave this knew commandment when he did because he knew the time would come—and very soon—when people would forget about him. I don’t mean forget about Jesus the great Messiah. I mean forget about what he actually said and did, the Jesus who ate with sinners and tax collectors, who told the story of the Good Samaritan, who gave his life not just for YOU, but also for the person you don’t understand or even like. Jesus knew that we are strange creatures who can take the clearest of truths and muddy them to suit our own individual needs. Because, you see, even though this is a simple commandment, it is a difficult one. Most of the time we would rather have an easier rule to follow. Give me something I can do or an opinion I can fight for. Give me a party to vote for or a way to judge other people. Give me a target for success or a data point to shoot for. Any of these things is easier than love. These other things reinforce the self. They give me something outside myself to measure myself by. But love, love requires you to see yourself in someone else, and to love both. To love, you have to get over yourself, and that’s usually too tall of an order for us.
Jesus knew all this, which is why I think that people who have never read the Bible or who have been taught misinformation about the Bible can definitely be forgiven for not knowing that Jesus says these things. Christians in our day—and in fact in most other days—have not been very good at following our Lord’s new commandment. We have deluded ourselves into thinking that people will know we are his disciples by things OTHER than how we love one another. In fact, we turn on ourselves, not recognizing one another as God’s own children, labeling one another and excluding one another from the fellowship of the saints.
But this new commandment Jesus gives—it’s still there, still speaking to us today. It is the basis for everything we do here at All Saints’ Church. In this place, we know that everyone will know we are Jesus’ disciples by our love for one another. And we withhold that love from no one. At times, we miss the mark. And when we do, we seek to repent and return to the holy commandment given to us by Jesus.
In case you’re wondering, I spend a lot of time thinking about this kind of thing. And I know many of you do as well. In my darker moments, I worry that Jesus’ new commandment is being drowned out by harsher voices and alluring temptations. I worry that people who need to hear these words are turned off by the shenanigans they see Christians get up to. I also worry about the statistics I see that say younger people are so turned off that they have no interested in religion at all. Because of the changes in our society over the past several decades, people in their 20’s and younger are the first generation of adults in our country’s history who are more likely than not NEVER to have had any kind of religious affiliation at all.
So I wonder: who will remember the new commandment of love? How will this sacred knowledge be passed on to future generations? Who will be there to offer love to those who need it? Who will remember Jesus and these last words he spoke to his disciples?
Friends, in the spirit of this love, All Saints’ is starting an initiative called “Abounding in Good Works.” Abounding in Good Works is about giving our young people and our wider community the resources they need to remember Jesus and his words. You may have noticed that there are a lot of children and young families coming to this church. It’s a great blessing to have this youngest generation in our midst, and we want to do the best we can by them. Unfortunately, the facilities in our building do not meet their needs. That needs to change, and so the Vestry has commissioned plans for the renovation of our downstairs facility. It may be a small step, but it’s something concrete we can do to respond to the spiritual needs of our community. And I have no doubt it will enrich and transform the lives of many.
This week, you should receive a letter explaining more about this initiative and an appeal to consider how you can support Abounding in Good Works. I ask you to pray on this matter and prepare to offer your pledge on the Sunday of our summer BBQ, June 9. Our initiative chairs, Vestry members and I are more than happy to answer any questions you might have and are eager to talk about the future of our parish.
There are so many ways to live out Jesus’ commandment. But at the core of what he requires us to do is a conversion of the heart, a permanent conversion from the ways of the world to the way of love. By his grace, let us all heed his word and follow his command: Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.