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Fifth Sunday of Easter, April 28, 2013

I admit it. When I was a teenager, I read “Tiger Beat”. I have no idea why the magazine was named that, but it followed the life of rock stars, such as David Cassidy, Mick Jagger, and the Beatles. I remember looking at the photos and reading details about their lives with great interest. They were very important to my world. They had glory, which means honor, reputation and esteem.

Political figures were also important in my world. When I was 12, Robert Kennedy was killed. I wrote a note to his widow and received a printed card back. I even put on my Christmas list that I wanted posters and anything about the Kennedys there was. Even though my mother was a Democrat, she sensibly resisted this suggestion.

Today, we still idolize movie and music stars and political figures among others. The title of “American Idol” says it all. There is also “The Voice”, “The X-Factor” and “Dancing with the Stars” to tune into on TV and watch our favorites. If not exactly heroes, they are people we want to be like or at least know one. My radio station has a popular contest that will win you an inside look at the life of a country star. These people appear on magazine covers and talk shows.

In Jesus’ time, glory belonged to the Roman Empire. It was rich and powerful and controlled the known world. Caesar’s head appeared on coins, Roman soldiers carried the empire’s standard and Caesar’s governors and other officials lived richly. They weren't universally admired and esteemed but they certainly demanded honor. Monuments were erected to them and Caesar was to be treated as a god (Thomas Troeger).

Jesus had his moment in the sun too. In John 12:19b, the Pharisees say that the whole world has gone after him. But this is not the glory Jesus is talking about when he is having his farewell conversation with his disciples (Thomas Troeger). He has just washed their feet and told Judas to go do quickly what he has to do. Judas has gone out, and Jesus is addressing the other disciples. At Judas’ exit, he says that the Son of Man has been glorified and God has been glorified in him. He is not talking about Palm Sunday or traditional Jewish Messianic hopes; he is talking about his betrayal, suffering and death. He is glorifying God because he has accomplished God’s mission for him on earth – to show God’s love to God’s people – and he will continue to do so on the cross. God will glorify him through the cross and resurrection. Jesus will give his life for the world, as he had said earlier when talking about the good shepherd laying down his life for his friends.

The bottom line for the disciples is that Jesus is going away. He is with them for only a little longer, and he knows they are confused and upset. In his compassion, he calls them little children, knowing that they will feel like orphans when he leaves (Joseph Bessler). Not only that, he tells them that they cannot come where he is going. “Jesus is leaving us,” they say to themselves. “How will we act? What will we do without him to lead us and guide us? How will we stay together?” They look at each other in fear and anxiety at their master’s words.

Jesus wants to teach them what to do to continue to show God and Jesus’ glory after he departs from them (Thomas Troeger). “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another,” he says. A commandment to love is not new. There is the love your neighbor as yourself law; there is the admonition to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. But this commandment is new because Jesus has entered the picture. “Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another.” Jesus is the new model for love, a love that would be made possible through his and God’s presence with the disciples. The love would be lived out in action; it would not be a feeling. Jesus has just demonstrated that type of love in washing the disciples’ feet, and Peter expresses the trouble that all the disciples’ have with letting their master do that and honoring him (giving him the world’s version of glory) at the same time (Troeger). He refuses at first to let Jesus wash his feet, but he is soon on board when Jesus says he has to let him do this humble, self-sacrificing act in order to be part of the community. The love Jesus wants from his disciples is a servant’s love, a love that knows no boundaries, a love that puts the other ahead of oneself.

Jesus is probably talking about love within his community, but Christians have always interpreted it as love for the world, as Jesus loved the world (Lewis R. Donelson). Jesus was not so concerned about the correctness of belief, but about the quality of life his disciples demonstrated.

Two articles in the Washington Post show us acts of loving one another as Jesus loved us. In one story, Dillie Nerios helps people in Florida get on food stamps. She knows what a difficult decision it is for many people. It is her job, of course, but she treats her clients with special care. She fills gift bags with dog treats for the dog people and cat food for the cat people. She brings care packages of food to those suffering hunger. She takes steps to make sure she projects a “happy, it’s-all-good” look when she visits people to help them make the decision.

In another story, Asma Hanif, a Muslim, runs the only known shelter for Muslim women suffering from domestic violence in the country. She is a trained nurse, and she has spent nearly a decade of her life “providing safety and stability for women in a place where they can practice their faith”. She is the founder of Healthy Solutions, a neighborhood clinic in Baltimore that serves indigent people of all religions.

It is ironic that Hanif is a Muslim and we do not know about Dillie Nerios, but they are examples of love given to one another as Christ would want his followers to do.

“Love one another as I have loved you” is one of the best-known passages in the Bible. There is a popular camp song that has the refrain “they’ll know we are Christians by our love”. The Christian ethic is called an ethic of love (Donelson), but the church, being human, has had difficulty with this command from day one. In Acts, the Jerusalem church scolds Peter for eating with Gentiles, which is forbidden by Jewish law. Peter has to give them a step-by-step version of what happened to him – his vision of the animals, the approach made to him by the men from Caesaria at the request of an angel, his beginning to speak at Cornelius’ house and the falling of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles. Finally, they praise God, affirming that God has given the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life. But there would still be strife in the church over whether the Gentiles had to become Jewish first before they became Christians.

Racial division has reared its ugly head more than once. In the Region 3 program, “Meet Me in Galilee”, facilitated by the Diocesan Committee on Race Relations, we spent about seven hours exploring what our beliefs were about race growing up and how that impacted our attitudes about working for justice in black-white racial disparities today. In our Region 3 dinner, Ben Campbell shared with us the history of Richmond and theVirginiachurch’s involvement with the evils of slavery. Loving one another as Christ has loved us has not been easy for us to put at the center of our lives.

Jesus’ last command to the disciples was to love one another as he loved us – a self sacrificing, humble love that will show that we are his disciples. That is how we are to witness. Brother Mark Brown of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, says “we give witness to our faith every moment of the day. All that we say, all that we do. All we don’t say, all we fail to do – every bit of it gives witness.” The good news is that we all love as Christ loved us. I am sure you can think of times this past week when you gave unselfishly to another. And we all fail to act out our faith sometimes too. There are probably times this week when you could have acted and didn’t. In these cases God loves us and forgives us and urges us on to be Jesus’ disciples. We must always remember that we are the ones showing forth the glory of God in the world now and we are the ones people look at to see what the Christian faith is all about. May they know we are Christians by our love.

AMEN.

  - Rev. Ann Barker

 

Works Cited:
Thomas Troeger, Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), p. 471
Ibid, p. 469
Charles Cousar, Texts for Preaching – Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), p. 310
Joseph Bessler, Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), p. 468
Troeger, ibid.
Troeger, ibid.
Lewis R. Donelson, Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), p. 469
Brother Mark Brown, Society of St. John the Evangelist, Blog Post, April 24, 2013, “Martyr”