What’s New?

A sermon, based on John 13.1-17, 33-35, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on Maundy Thursday, March 29, 2018

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.”

What’s new about Jesus talking about love? When asked about the greatest commandment, he said, “You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and your neighbor as yourself,”(1) thereby combining two great teachings of the ancient Hebrew Torah.(2)

So, again, what’s new?

The newness of Jesus’ love is in the nowness of the moment he proclaims it. Jesus knows he is soon to die. Loving his friends “to the end,” his end, he gives his last will and testament: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Love no longer to the extent that you love yourself. Rather love with the totality, the finality that Jesus will demonstrate on the cross. What’s new about this love is that it has no qualifications that restrict when love loves and no quantifications that govern how much love loves. This love is wholly, holy unconditional.

In attempting to love in this unqualified and unquantified way, our loving one another still can fall short. For no matter how accurately we perceive one another’s need and no matter how faithfully we respond, others may want or need more. And we can’t increase our love by doing more, much less by being more. Nevertheless, in any given moment, who we are and what we have to give is all that we can give. And it is in the how of our giving, as we choose to give the totality of ourselves, that demonstrates whether we love other as Jesus has loved us.

A final word…

The newness of Jesus’ love is related to his dying, demonstrating the total and final extent to which his love goes. And he summons us, as he always does, to follow him in his self-denying, cross-bearing, life-losing way. Yet when Jesus issues this command, “By this (love), all will know that you are my disciples”, I do not believe that he is calling us to die for one another. If we did, there would be no community. What Jesus is calling us to do is to live for one another, in each and every moment, totally, without qualification or quantification. And this is infinitely harder than dying for one another. Living for one another takes longer and lacks glamour. Living for one another means enduring the daily difficulty of our familiarity with one another and, therefore, dealing with those moments when we may not like one another.

Yet, know this, the mission of Jesus, the reason Jesus came into the world was that we might have life and have it more abundantly(3) – totally, unqualifiedly, unquantifiably. And though we may not have an opportunity to die for one another, each of us, in each and every instant, has a life to live for one another. And if we attempted to do that, that would be new!

 

Footnotes:
(1) Mark 12.30-31, adapted. See also Matthew 22.37, 39. Here, honesty compels my confession that I wrestle with the second part: loving my neighbor as myself. For I don’t always love myself. At times, especially when I’m aware of the worst of me, I find it difficult, well-nigh impossible to see through the shadows of my disappointment, aye, despair, to behold and claim for myself the bright light of God’s unconditional benevolence toward me and for me. So, if I’m to love others as I love me, there will be times when I can’t love others. I behold the same dilemma with the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Matthew 7.12; Luke 6.31). Though intended as a guide for goodness (and, given the reality of human malice, the more practical rule may be this: Do unto others before they do unto you), whenever I don’t know what my own good is, I can’t do unto others very well.
(2) Deuteronomy 6.4-5 (Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might) and Leviticus 19.18b (You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord)
(3) John 10.10b

12 thoughts on “What’s New?

  1. Paul,

    Now THIS sermon gives me some amazing marching orders!!!!

    I took so many notes on this one…

    One thing I wrote was….

    “Love is Wholly + Holy Unconditional” and adding the + is intentional do that I can remember that it comes from Jesus!!

    My marching orders though are of course around “living for one another”. I had an amazing experience the other day. Prior to Tenebrae at church I stopped at our old hangout Sweet Green for a salad. When leaving a homeless gentleman standing right outside the door asked if I’d give him money for a meal. I said no, but that I’d buy him a meal. He quickly agreed and we got in the line. As he searched the menu board for his selection he asked the salad maker a few questions, which were answered enthusiastically by the server. The homeless guy truly knew his veggies. While the server made the salad the homeless shared that prior to falling on hard times he wanted to be a chef and had begun training for it. I was happy he shared because I always wondered what a person’s life was like before they became homeless. I read your sermon to mean that we should all love our homeless brother by cooking and baking to perfection in honor of him since he currently can’t live the life he had intended to live.

    At the end of the line I gave my brother the salad and bread and we hugged before I ran off to church. I felt good about buying the meal but also wondered several times since then what kind of chef he would have been. I pray that maybe one day he will still get that opportunity and until then the rest of us can live for him!

    LOVE this one (even if I made up my own interpretation)…

    Much Love!

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  2. Ah, Loretta, making up your own interpretation, I believe, is at the heart of all listening/reading and understanding. Moreover, when you make up your own interpretation, I consider it an act of honoring the writer, in this case, me; for you have invested your time and energy, thoughts and feelings to process and apply the words of the text to your life. Thank you!

    Now, for some of your words that struck me powerfully and positively as precisely what living for others looks like…

    “I always wondered what a person’s life was like before they became homeless…he currently can’t live the life he intended to live…I felt good about buying the meal but also wondered several times since then what kind of chef he would have been. I pray that maybe one day he will still get that opportunity and until then the rest of us can live for him!”

    Amen. And, again, thank you.

    Love

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  3. So glad you’re ok with my interpretation!!! You know I like to reflect and make it my own!! LOL!! But I love this sermon with my whole heart!

    Love

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    1. As I believe, your/the reader’s interpretation matters, verily, more than my/the writer’s perspective. For it means that you/the reader took my/the writer’s words to heart. What an honor. I am blessed. Thank you again. Love

      Liked by 1 person

  4. All right, so I opened up Paul’s sermon and found some wonderful words that went straight to my heart, and then I read Loretta’s comment and found her recounting a beautiful encounter that went straight to my heart. And all this on Good Friday, when we are reminded that death must be included in any understanding of life, but that what we think is the end is not the end, only a new beginning.

    Paul’s words: “What Jesus is calling us to do is to live for one another, in each and every moment, totally, without qualification or quantification. And this is infinitely harder than dying for one another. Living for one another takes longer and lacks glamour. Living for one another means enduring the daily difficulty of our familiarity with one another and, therefore, dealing with those moments when we may not like one another.”

    Thank you, thank you, dear friend, for saying/writing this. I have thought this for SO long, that it’s a lot easier to die for something/someone than it is to live for something/someone. Dying finally relinquishes the responsibility for loving; living is taking it on for good and for life, as you said in spite of “daily difficulty of our familiarity with one another,” those things that we most often allow to drive us apart and against each other. We always attribute heroism to those who die for others, and I would take nothing away from them and their great sacrifice, but I also want to acknowledge that those who live for others are at least equally heroic. No one (except perhaps Jesus) has ever directly died for me, to my knowledge, but there are people who largely lived for me, despite the daily difficulties I have no doubt posed for them. Their care, their sacrifices, their love have made all the difference to me and to what I have done in this life. They have sustained and taught me, nurtured me and challenged me.

    Loretta, thank you so much directly from my heart for doing what you did for the homeless man you encountered at the restaurant, not just for buying him a meal, but for seeing him as a beloved child of God with a history, with a future, with a need not only for food but for human interaction and attention, for hope, and yes, for love. My brother Bo died homeless on the streets of Kansas City about two and a half years ago, and I know there were people who did for him what you did for the man you met. I can’t begin to speak my gratitude for anyone who touched Bo, who looked at him with love and understanding, who spoke to him and comforted him, who fed him. I know the man you met now lives in your heart and in your prayers. Now he lives in mine as well. What a gift you gave to him and now to me. You are one of those heroes who lives for others; I know that about you, and about our friend Paul as well.

    Thank you both for the gifts you have given me on this Good Friday. It’s a different day now than it was when I opened up Paul’s sermon.

    Much love to both of you, and to Pontheolla. Happy Easter!

    Karen

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow Karen, you made my day!!! I’m soooo very sorry about your brother!! I believe my Mom would say that I’ve always lived my life for others, and she recognized that in me when I was a little kid… I don’t know how it played out this way, other than it’s a God thing. As for me buying the gentleman a dinner, I hope he can pay it forward at some point AND get the assistance he needs to get back on his feet at some point!

      Happy Easter to you!
      Loretta

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m with Karen. What a grand vignette, Loretta, of one human reaching out to another and that another reaching back. As I reflect more on your story, I’m reminded of Jesus and Bartimaeus (Mark 10.46-52). Even greater than Jesus’ restoring Bartimaeus’s sight (if any such thing could be greater than that!), I’ve oft felt the most powerful words of this encounter are “Jesus stood still” (Mark 10.49a; in another English translation, it reads, “Jesus stopped”). That’s what you did. You stood still. You stopped. You didn’t pass the man by and go your way. What you did, therefore, for me, was a “Jesus-like.” Bless you. Love

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    2. Karen, as you and I are members of the MAS (mutual admiration society; Loretta, too!), these words of yours touch my mind and heart, soul and spirit: “Dying finally relinquishes the responsibility for loving; living is taking it on for good and for life…We always attribute heroism to those who die for others, and I would take nothing away from them and their great sacrifice, but I also want to acknowledge that those who live for others are at least equally heroic…there are people who largely lived for me, despite the daily difficulties I have no doubt posed for them. Their care, their sacrifices, their love have made all the difference to me and to what I have done in this life. They have sustained and taught me, nurtured me and challenged me.”

      These words, especially the last – “there are people who largely lived for me” – ring heavenly true. And what serendipity. For yesterday, during a quiet Good Friday moment, I ruminated on those who have shown/demonstrated their love for me, particularly at moments when I was at…in…being my worst (petulant, angry, etc.), thus, when I was most unlovely and unlovable. Still, they loved me when I could not, would not love my self. What godly grace they incarnated for me to the extent that, finally, I had to say, “Yes”, to love, to God’s love embodied in them. Now, yes, damnably, the cycle repeats. So, thank God for their righteous persistence in showing me love.

      Another thing, Karen: “Dying relinquishes the responsibility for loving.” Hmmm, I will ponder this and the meaning for myself for quite the while. Immediately, these words spur me on to strive to be and to stay in every moment (though well-nigh impossible, I think, given our human proclivity, for the sake of memory, to reflect on the past and, for the sake of anticipation/expectation, to look toward the future) and not allow opportunities to express love to pass. Yet I sense there is more depth in these your words for me to plumb. Thank you.

      Love

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      1. With your reply, Paul, you have unfolded the mystery that is incarnation for me a little further. “They loved me when I could not, would not, love myself. What godly grace they incarnated for me to the extent that. finally, I had to say, ‘Yes,’ to love, to God’s love embodied in them.” Oh, yes, that’s it precisely.

        I remember the song “God Has No Hands But Our Hands,” and how meaningful that thought has always been for me. Your words have now helped me to acknowledge the natural and accompanying truth that God has no face but our face. The way anyone recognizes God as God – meaning God as Love – is by seeing relentless love shining in some human face gazing into their own. That’s what the man Loretta bought dinner for saw in her face, I’m absolutely certain. That’s what you and I saw in the faces that looked at us with such love even when we weren’t prepared to receive it. That’s how we began to know we were worthy of love and eventually, by extension, capable – miraculously – of passing it on.

        Thanks for showing me the face of Love this morning, Paul. I will endeavor to pass it on today.

        Love,

        Karen

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  5. Karen, thank you for furthering my thinking…feeling…discerning about how God appears in the faces of others who love us…

    As I look ahead to Eastertide and sermons to come, this idea arises afresh for me for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, 4/15/18 (which, praise God, will be the 40th anniversary of my ordination to the Sacred Order of Priests! I stand amazed that I, such a mess of a flawed human being, have been privileged to serve God and God’s people for so long, well, “for so long” as we humans count time). The appointed gospel passage for that day is Luke 24.36b-48, being a narrative of one of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. The disciples, first, react in terror, believing they behold a ghost. After Jesus offers a variety of proofs, they believe. This strikes me deeply in my soul as a paradigm of how love given and received is “proven”, for, at first, in my experience, I tend to disbelieve I am loved…that I CAN be loved. Only when the “proofs” offered to me by others, even and especially in response to my revelations of the worst of myself (verily, my self) that I am loved do I believe.

    Again, my beloved sister, I thank you.

    Love,
    Paul

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  6. I often visit your site and have noticed that you don’t update it often. More
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    Like

    1. Hmmm, your comment strikes me as interesting, but I’m not sure I understand your observation. When you say “update”, I surmise that you do not mean “post”, for I post at least once a week, oft times, more. Please advise. Thanks, Paul

      Like

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