St. John's Episcopal Church

Sermon for May 6, 2018

Sixth Sunday of Easter

The Rev. Carol Hancock


St. John's, Centreville
May 6, 2018
John 15:9-17
Easter 6 B
     God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
     "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." Our gospel lesson this morning is a continuation of last week's gospel lesson. Jesus is in the upper room sharing the Last Supper with his disciples on the night before he died. He knows what lies ahead. This is his last opportunity to be with them and to teach them. And he talks to them about loving one another. He doesn't mean just loving the other disciples that were in the room, but spreading God's love in Jerusalem and beyond.
     This commandment to love one another is not an oppressive commandment but a liberating one. To love one another as God loves us frees us to experience the love of God ourselves, as we share that love with others, in word and in action.
     Throughout the gospels, Jesus tells us how to do that: Love your enemy, walk the extra mile, turn the other cheek, forgive seventy times seven. Jesus shows us by how he lived his life, how to love one another, especially by his reaching out to the poor and marginalized, seeing and responding to those in need.
     Loving another is wanting the very best of everything for the other. It is seeing the needs of the other, listening, responding as we are able. It is putting the needs of the other ahead of our own needs, giving in sacrificial love for the other.
     Each and every day we have choices. We have to make a conscious choice many times a day as to how we will respond to various situations that we face. We make conscious decisions to love one another, or not, to see the best in the other, or not. When we say we love one another, we are not talking about emotions because emotions come and go, they can change in an instant. One moment we are happy and then someone says something we don't like and we are angry with them the next minute. Love for another is a conscious choice, not a feeling. We consciously decide how we are going to live our lives. Are we going to be followers of Jesus Christ? If so, that means we must follow his commandment to love one another, not the warm and fuzzy feeling, like young people falling in love, but like the other is the most important and respected person at that moment. In fact, we don't have to like everyone, but we are called to love them and see them as children of God.
     Jesus made the conscious decision to die for us because of his love for us. He didn't have to. There were plenty of times he could have escaped from Jerusalem or hidden from the authorities. But Jesus was here to do the will of God, and if that meant dying a lonely and painful death, he would do it because of his love of God and his sacrificial love for us.
     Giving oneself beyond what is expected is an expression of our love for others. We all know people who go above and beyond what is asked of them, in service to others. It is because of God's love for us, God who first loved us, that we are able to do that. This kind of love is not all flowers and candy. It is hard work to love others, particularly those who irate us, or anger us, or have different political or theological views. We might not always agree with another or like one another, but we are called to love one another. The sacrificial love that God calls us to is more than being "nice". It is more than just giving a dollar to a homeless person every once in awhile. Loving one another is a way of life. It's like it's in our DNA, it's a part of who we are and how we live.
     Author Sue Armentrout wrote, "I was recently in a small group where the leader asked participants to give an example of agape love, the love that is a gospel command. One member of the group said that when he went through a toll booth, he would pay his toll and also the toll for the car behind him. It obviously made the man feel good about himself. It no doubt cheered up the person whose toll he paid."
     "Another member of the group put forth his mother as an example of agape love. She struggled all her life against great adversity. Married to an alcoholic, she kept the family together. She was a faithful churchgoer, and she was the first to take a casserole to someone in need or to lend an ear or a hand when needed. She put aside her own needs and desires in order that her children might have suitable clothes and shoes, and she encouraged them always to get an education. She did not carry grudges, but did what she had to do with loving-kindness and charity. It never occurred to her that she was doing anything out of the ordinary. She sang a lot and laughed a lot. Her life was a witness to the self-emptying Christ she confessed." *
     Both of these people are showing agape love and we don't know the full stories of  these people. But from what has been told, the toll giver might be doing this "once in a while when I think of it and it feels good." The mother, on the other hand, gives her entire self fully to others, always having that antenna up to hear about someone who might be struggling or need a hand and then responding.
     On the evening news this week, there was a story about a four year old boy names Austin in Birmingham, Alabama. When he learned that some people are homeless, he put on his Superman cape, collected his allowance, and with the help of his father, bought chicken sandwiches at a fast food restaurant. Again with his father's help, he handed out the sandwiches to the homeless and continued to do it weekly. When asked why he does it, Austin says, "It's just the right thing to do." He says feeding the homeless is the highlight of his day. And when he gives out his sandwiches, he says to each person, "Don't forget to show love." ...........Don't forget to show love. We can all learn a lot from four year old Austin.
     How we love one another comes from God's love for us. So how can we love one another without knowing God's love for us? I would say we can't. We must first know God's love for us and integrate that love into our lives before we can love one another.
     Just as Jesus chose the disciples, God chooses us, all of us, each and every one of us, to spread the gospel of love for all people. It's not always easy. But it is what we are called to do.
     "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." Amen.
ยท "Synthesis" Easter 6, Year B, May 6, 2018, article by Sue Armentrout

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