What’s New?

The text of the sermon, based on John 13.1-17, 31b-35, preached with the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, on Maundy Thursday, April 14, 2022.

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“I give you a new commandment. Love one another.”

What’s new about Jesus talking about love? At one moment, during the course of his ministry, someone asked a question about the greatest commandment. And Jesus 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?

I digress…

For the longest time, I had a problem with that second part (at least, as I had understood it): Loving my neighbor as myself. For I didn’t and don’t always love myself. At times, I’m not even sure how. So, if I am to love you as I love me, then many are the moments when I can’t love you.

I see the same difficulty with the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.[3] It’s intended as a guide for goodness. (So, I won’t address what, given human malice, may be the more practical rule: Do unto others before they do unto you!) However, as I don’t always know what my own good is, I can’t do unto you very well.

My issues aside, the newness of Jesus’ love commandment is in the nowness of the moment when he said it. Jesus knows that he is about to die. He has loved and will love his followers “to the end.” His end. Thus, he shares his last will and testament: “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Love no longer only to the extent we love ourselves. Rather love with the totality, the finality that Jesus demonstrates on the cross.

What’s new about this love is that it has no qualifications, no quantifications.

As I contemplate attempting to love you in this way – totally, unqualifiedly, unquantifiably – it occurs to me that I, in any given instance, still can fall short. For even when I accurately perceive your need and faithfully respond, you still may want or need more. And my love isn’t something I can increase on demand by doing more, much less, by being more.

Nevertheless, in any instant moment, what I have to give to you is all that I can give to you.  Therefore, it is the how of my giving – as I choose to give you the totality of my self – that demonstrates whether I love you as Jesus has loved me.

Now, although the newness of Jesus’ love is directly related to his dying – thus, demonstrating the total and final extent to which love goes – Jesus issues this command to govern the life of his followers in community: “By this, all will know that you are my disciples.” Jesus isn’t calling us to die for one another. If we did, there would be no community. Jesus is calling us to live for one another. In each and every moment. Totally. Finally.

And living for one another in community – in any relationship of any kind! – is hard. For it means enduring the daily difficulty of our familiarity one with another. Therefore, dealing with those moments when we may not like one another very much.

A final word. The mission of Jesus, the reason Jesus came into the world was to give us life abundant.[4] Totally. Unqualifiedly. Unquantifiably. And as long as we have breath and strength, we have life to live for one another. And when, by the Spirit’s power, we do that, that, in this world of woe, would be what’s new!

© 2022 PRA

#loveisloveisloveisloveislove #livingtoloveoneanother


[1] Mark 12.30-31, adapted. See also Matthew 22.37, 39

[2] Deuteronomy 6.4-5 and Leviticus 19.18b

[3] Matthew 7.12; Luke 6.31

[4] John 10.10b

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