Sermon: Easter 5 RCL C – “To be a Disciple”

The podcast is available here.


Photo by Leighann Renee

A soldier fighting over in Iraq received a letter from his girl friend that said she was breaking up with him. She also asked him to send the picture she had given him when he left because she needed it for her bridal announcement. The soldier was heart broken and told his friends of his terrible situation. After discussing it with them, he eventually just got angry about it.  So his whole platoon got together and brought all their pictures of their girlfriends and sisters, and put them in a box and gave them to him. So he put her picture in the box with the rest along with a note that said, “I’m sending back your picture to you.  Please remove it and send back the rest. For the life of me I can’t remember which one you are.”

If you were to ask a room full of people to provide you a Bible verse to use at a wedding, I’m guessing many would quote you 1 Corinthians 13 (4-8b) “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.”  And the bride and the groom look deeply into each others eyes and say, “I do.”

How was it that this bride and groom fell in love?  Robert Fulghum of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten also wrote, True Love.  In it, he tells how many brides and grooms come to find themselves standing in front of friends and family, declaring their love.  He writes, “We’re all a little weird. And life is a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness—and call it love—true love.”  I like that.  Go find someone who is your flavor of weird, fall in love, and be happy.  Not bad advice.

But those who have been in relationships for many years can tell us: It ain’t easy.  Why?  The love of Jesus is always patient, our love… not so much.  The love of Jesus bears all things, but forget to take out the garbage on garbage day… you in big trouble.  The love of Jesus never dies, but we know with certainty that our love can die, and it is never really pretty when it does.  From her diary, Anaïs Nin, friend of Henry Miller, writes, “Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.” 

That is true with our most intimate relationships, our relationship with God, family, friends, and the world in general.  Love dies.  And just like in relationships, when it dies in all these other situations, it is not very pretty.  For what was once love has turned into bitterness.  What was compassion slides into indifference, kindness into cruelty, patience into intolerance, hope into despair.  

It is in the midst of all this: falling into love, being in love, the death of love—whether in relationships or in our work in the world—that Jesus speaks to us: “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.”  So how do we do this?  

Before we can begin, we must recognize that our ability to love one another does not start with us.  St. John teaches us in his first epistle: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”  And then, a few verses further he states, “We love because he first loved us.”  The love that we have for one another does not begin with us.  It begins with God and it is a grace that he pours out on his people who love him in return for His love.  He loved us.  We love him.  He gives us the grace of love so that we might love others.  His love for us never dies, but ours… remember the words of Anaïs Nin, love “dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.”  Our love for others dies, because our love for God fades.

We enter into a relationship with Him and we experience this overwhelming goodness and love of God, but over time, we drift.  God doesn’t drift, but we do.  Through our indifference to his calling on our lives.  Through our neglect of maintaining a closeness with him through prayer, study, and meditation.  And finally through our sin, which tarnishes and breaks the relationship we have.  When we limit or cut ourselves off from the source—God—then we cut ourselves off from the replenishing grace of love.  When it dries up, not only are we no longer able to love God as we should, but we fail in our other relationships, because we no longer have the capacity, the grace, to love one another as Jesus has commanded.

So how do we begin?  How do we learn how to practice this commandment to love?  The only answer I have is to point to the cross.  A few chapters on in John’s Gospel, Jesus will restate this commandment to the disciples: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”  Jesus then says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”  And he lived this greater love out on the Cross.  In order to love as Jesus commanded, we must ever keep this love, his cross, before us.

I think that this is one of the holy ironies of the Eucharist that we celebrate every week, but especially at the Great Vigil and during the Season of Easter, because no sooner have we said, “Alleluia, Christ is Risen” and then a short time later, within the context of the service we read those words, “He stretched out his arms upon the cross, and offered himself, in obedience to your will, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world.”  Alleluia, Christ is Risen… but remember, he was crucified.   We’re never allowed to forget—thanks be to God—that he died for us and in the process, we never forget the cross.  It is in keeping the singular event of the cross ever before us, that will allow us to love as we are commanded, because the moment we truly see it is the moment that we finally understand how to love.  And from there, if you will continually see the cross and understand it, then you will take that vision and understanding into every aspect and relationship of your life and your love will be patient, and kind, and filled with hope.

Jesus said, “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.”  Prove to all that you are his disciple.  Through the Cross of Christ, love one another.

Let us pray: God, our Father, You have promised to remain forever with those who do what is just and right. Help us to live in Your presence. The loving plan of Your Wisdom was made known when Jesus, your Son, became man like us. We want to obey His commandment of love and bring Your peace and joy to others. Keep before us the wisdom and love You have made known in Your Son. Help us to be like Him in word and deed.  Amen.

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