Friends Together

John 15:9-1  Sixth Sunday of Easter

The great teacher and philosopher, Lao Tzu, once said, “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”[i] As we think about the concept of loving others again this week, I think Lao Tzu was onto something. “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”

Our gospel lesson for today moves along these same lines. It contains many familiar phrases that inspire and comfort us, including the very heart, the bottom line if you will, of what it means to be a person of faith: “This is my commandment,” Jesus said, “love each other just as I have loved you.”

Now, the timing of this statement speaks volumes here.  This statement, this exceedingly important commandment, comes as Jesus neared the moment of his earthly death.  Contextually speaking, this passage is the beginning of what we call his “farewell discourse.” It was an address to his followers about what he expected of them after he’d gone. And I think It’s vital we understand that he began this discourse with a command to love one another. This theme of love is consistent throughout John’s Gospel and is the focus of the disciple’s charge as they carry on Jesus’ mission and ministry.

But the love that Jesus espouses in this passage is slightly different than the love he talked about earlier in this text.  Love between Jesus and his disciples here, is expressed as friendship. “I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing.” “Instead,” he said, “I call you friends.”

But we must be careful with the term “friendship” here. John wants us to view friendship from a much broader perspective. He wants us to understand that this friendship Jesus has for humanity, and expects humanity to have for each other, runs far deeper than a mere handshake; it’s a full-on bear hug.

I remember a class during my first semester of seminary when the professor quoted Henri Nouwen as saying that we’re called to “love Jesus and love the way Jesus loved.” In his beautiful little book, In the Name of Jesus, Nouwen provides a lens through which to read this passage: “Knowing the heart of Jesus and loving him are the same thing,” he said.

Now, Dr. Nouwen was writing about the ministry, and of course we’re all called to be ministers (the priesthood of all believers) We’re chosen by God for this ministry. Now, this may ruffle the feathers of free-will a bit but it’s finally not inconsistent. We are, in my own words, “set apart to be within.”  We have a calling from God to be God’s agents, God’s cohorts, God’s purveyors of love to neighbors both near and far. Or, in the more profound words of Nouwen, “The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.”[ii]

But what might this “ministry of love” look like?

Well, again, we are challenged by Jesus to understand that love is more than just saying some nice words. Instead, loving is what it means to be the church. The action of loving is what it means to be in covenant and communion with each other and God.  A ministry of love includes the sharing of human resources, material goods, and communal fellowship, and a commitment of solidarity toward unity, as agents of God, in a broken and divided world”[iii]

Archbishop Oscar Romero stands as an example of this kind of love. Romero knew how to be both prophet to the rich and pastor to the poor and oppressed people of El Salvador. He was ordained and was a conventional and well-respected servant of the institutional church and he could have easily made the decision to stay in that station.  But instead, Father Romero went to the margins of his society to minister to those who suffered there; the poor, those displaced by violence. And there, he shared a gospel of liberation and peace, he championed the cause of social justice and was a leader for societal change, equality, and unity.  And in exquisite faithfulness to the ministry of love of which Jesus commanded in this passage, Romero challenged the corrupt powers that be, and ultimately laid down his life for those he loved; the poor, the widow and the orphan of El Salvador.

So, what about us? What might our ministry of love look like in real time? Who in our community needs to feel the wide-welcome, the outreach, the friendship of our church today? Well, I think Romero’s story challenges us to live out Jesus’ command by strengthening our community. And we can do this by promoting unity instead of division. We can do this by affirming diversity through an open and affirming worldview and by fostering healthy relationships within families. We can practice and ministry of love by educating ourselves about the issues surrounding aging and by visiting the lonely and the grieving. We can be a ministry of love by welcoming the stranger, the refugee, and the immigrant with open arms and open hearts.  And we can be a ministry of love by initiating intercultural and interreligious dialogues.”  And these ecclesial virtues extend beyond our local community “to all the ends of the earth,” as Jesus instructed.

The Dalai Lama agrees with Jesus when he says, “Because we all share this planet earth, we have to learn to live in harmony and peace with each other and with nature. That is not just a dream, but a necessity. We are dependent on each other in so many ways that we can no longer live in isolated communities and ignore what is happening outside those communities.”[iv]

My friends, in the end, when all the rhetoric has calmed, and the fear and the finger-pointing ceased, human beings are all, in the words of the poet, “leaves of one branch, drops of one sea, flowers of one garden.”[v]  We are a global community. In his final word to his followers, and to us, Jesus wants us to “get this.” He says if we remain in his love, if we keep God’s commandment to love beyond the limits the world has set, if we indwell the strength of being deeply loved and gain courage by sharing that love, our joy will be complete. Our joy will be complete.

I think we should stop here today and let this assurance of joy have the final word.  Amen.

——————————————

[i] Lao Tzu. Tao Te Ching. Victor H, Mair ed. (New York: Bantam Books) 1990

[ii] Henry Nouwen In the Name of Jesus (The Crossroad Publishing Company) 1992

[iii] Carmelo Álvarez Feasting on the Word. Year B, Vol. II. David L. Bartlett

   Barbara Brown Taylor eds. (Westminster John Know Press) 2008 pgs. 496-500

[iv] Katheryn Matthews Loving Friends (www.ucc.org/samuel) 2018

[v] Jean Baptiste Lacordaire.

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