GRACE TO YOU AND PEACE
FROM GOD OUR FATHER
AND THE LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST, AMEN.
When the Apostle John was an old man, so St. Jerome relates, his message was reduced to this: “My little children, love one another.” The story may or may not be true, but what is clear is that Christians are to love one another because God in Christ first loved us. “We love, because God first loved us,” St. John writes in his first epistle. Here in a farewell address, Jesus is telling his disciples that they must obey a new commandment: “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
“Little children, love one another.” Our response to God and God’s love for us is faith toward God and love toward one another. We hear what God has done for us in sending Jesus our Savior. We see Jesus crucified and risen and we believe. Our response is faith and we express that response in prayer, praise and thanksgiving to God. Our response to God’s gift is love toward other people, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus reminds us that we should love the Lord our God with all our heart and all our mind and all our strength and love our neighbor as ourselves. As Martin Luther preached to his congregation,
“As there is no fire without heat and smoke, so there is no faith without love. For when through faith we know how dearly God loves us we must gain a sweet and loving heart towards God, and this heart cannot stay by itself alone. It must flow forth and freely show its gratitude and love. But as God does not need our work and has not commanded us to do anything for Him but to praise and thank Him, the Christian makes haste to give wholehearted towards the neighbor serving and helping the neighbor.”
St. Teresa of Avila said,
“The Lord asks two things of us,
love of God and love of our neighbor.
And the further advanced you are in this,
the greater will be your love for God.”
And Douglas John Hall of Canada’s McGill University notes that the law of Christ makes tolerance not enough:
“It may be good enough, legally and politically, but it is not good enough for the one who did not say, ‘Tolerate your neighbor’, but ‘love your neighbor.”
We love because God first loved us. We love because Jesus commands us with a new commandment to have love for one another. We love because we have been loved in Christ.
But we also love because it works. In his book, Miracle on the River Kwai, Ernest Gordon describes a very moving incident in which British prisoners of war tend the wounds of injured Japanese soldiers and feed them. The Japanese are encrusted with mud, blood and excrement. Their wounds are sorely inflamed and they are left uncared for by their own people. The British prisoners see them, take pity on them, bathe their wounds, and give them a little food to eat. They care for their enemies who have starved and beaten them, killed their comrades. God broke down the hatred and conquered it with love. Love can work miracles and break down barriers because it is truly the power of God. St John writes, “Beloved, let us love one another because love is from God.” And it works in our schools and workplaces and homes and families.
Sarah came from a family where there was little love. Criticism, fighting, ridicule and violence were the rule. Never spoken were the words, “I love you,” or “I am sorry, forgive me.” Then Sarah found a new self in faith through Christ. She met Jesus and she began to act differently at home. She would stop in the middle of a fight and ask to be forgiven. She began to say, “I love you, Mom. I love you, Dad.” She began giving hugs. She began returning blessings for curses, compliments for ridicule, forgiveness when wronged. Over a period of two years of giving blessings to parents and siblings, the entire family met Jesus and gave themselves to His love. Jesus commands us to love because it will change our lives and the lives of others.
And love becomes a mark to the world that we are God’s people, that we do believe what we say we believe. Jesus gives this new commandment to love because He is going from the world back to His heavenly kingdom. Jesus tells his disciples that they cannot go with Him:
“Little children, I am with you only a little longer.
You will look for me and as I said to the Jews, now I say to you,
‘Where I am going you cannot come’.”
The commandment to love is for us in the meantime. It is a commandment for us as we await our final redemption. This world is not heaven but by loving God and our neighbor, we can build a little kingdom even while we wait for God’s coming rule. We can break down barriers between people – between races and genders, ages and abilities, political opinions and ideologies. We can show in our lives that we believe what we say we do – even here at Central Lutheran Church. We can be a community that loves one another, supports one another, sometimes challenges one another because we love one another.
Being rich or poor, young or old, gay or straight, Republican or Democrat, bright or somewhat slower – these are human things but in Christ we are a new creation, God’s own people. We can be like the early Christians who showed their faith in the risen Christ by loving one another. They were described to the Roman Emperor Hadrian in just that way:
“They love one another. They never fail to help widows and they save orphans from those who would hurt them. If they have something, they give freely to those who have nothing. They don’t consider themselves brothers and sisters in the usual sense but instead brothers and sister through the spirit of God.”
Bishop George Appleton was the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem. He became good friends with a Jewish professor of New Testament at Hebrew University. This Jewish scholar told Appleton that he prayed for Christians every day. He said,
“I pray that you Christians may be more like your Jesus, that your love for one another will be made more plain.”
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The marks of love were plain on Jesus. He showed his disciples the wounded hands and feet and side. Even in the glories of His risen body, the marks of Jesus’ suffering and love were still plain. Our love for God and our neighbor may leave their marks on us too. When we give to the mission work of our church, bring food for the food pantry, tell others of Jesus – these are marks and signs of our faith. When we put the best construction on what our neighbor says or does, when we give a person a second chance or a third, we are showing the mark of Christian love. When we watch our cutting remarks or gutter language, when we behave a bit differently at work or school or with friends – a bit more open, caring, more accepting, more loving – especially of people who are different from us – then we are showing the effects of our faith.
Love is from God and of God. It is not mere emotion or feeling or sentiment. Today is Mother’s Day. Think of the love of your mother who changed your diapers and bandaged your knees – even when she didn’t like what you were doing, she still loved you very much. Think of your mother, grandmother, special women in your lives who loved you very much. Biblical love is not all hearts and flowers but actions and deeds. It is loving because Christ first loved us. It is loving because Christ commands us to love. It is loving to build a little kingdom here as we wait for God’s great kingdom to come. It is love which changes hearts and minds and deeds. It changes schools and communities and congregations. Love changes lives. “Little children, love one another.” Old St. John got it right! Amen.
–– Copyright 2004, James Kegel. Used by permission.