5th Sunday of Easter (C)
May 19, 2019
“A Crisis of Love”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon is today’s Gospel text from John 13.
My dear friends,
Our world is in a crisis of love. Fox News hates CNN. CNN hates the NRA. The NRA hates PETA. PETA hates Fox News and round and round we go all day every day. For each of us, our parents were the first people to carry us, feed us, and protect us, but tragically, the nightly news reminds us some children have to be protected from their mothers and fathers. Our families are fracturing causing our communities to crumble along with them. As a nation we used to think our citizens unconditionally loved this country; “one nation under God,” we stand united. Our enemies always came from foreign lands, foreign shores. Not always the case anymore. More and more people are finding “love” through dating websites and social media apps to facilitate casual one-night stands instead of building long-term relationships. The medications we used to take to help us are now killing our children in the streets where they’d rather be instead of home, assuming they even have a home. Our world is in a crisis of love.
How did we get here? How do we fix this crisis? What is the answer? The answer, as always, is in Christ Jesus, for only in Christ’s self-sacrificing love for us can we finally and truly love one another and, in doing so, we can fix this crisis of love.
The setting for the Gospel is what we call Maundy Thursday. It is evening in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. Jesus has washed the disciples’ feet, identified the one who will within hours betray him, and instituted the Lord’s Supper, an ongoing expression of divine love. And as a kind of last word, Jesus speaks: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (v 34). This is the “new old” command (Maundy=mandatum) to which Jesus calls us. Of course, the Lord taught in the Old Testament, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18). So in one sense this command is not new. But it is new here because Jesus changes the wording. He’s changed the basis for love; “just as I have loved you.” He is about to fulfill love. Now, in that fulfillment, Jesus has given each of us an important, lifelong, critical task: to love one another with total self-sacrifice. That’s easy to say in here; harder to do out there.
God calls us to repentance, forgiveness, and love even of our enemy. Satan (almost forgotten him; he hasn’t forgotten you) calls us to consider the good things of life instead, to take it easy, to take care of ourselves; love and serve the “unholy trinity: me, myself, and I” instead of others.
Satan is luring us back to where we were before God’s searching love found us. He wants us staring at our screens – turned in on ourselves, not thinking of God’s glorious creation and good will, but only burning in our hate for others, for organization, and opposing opinions. So we become stingy in our commitments, dried-up in our relationships, curled-in instead of reaching out; we have become a very self-centered world. The world extends no further than the dimensions of our phone’s screen. Then we wonder why life seems so full of hate, so boring, so meaningless, so exhausting. We imagine God is far away…too far away to be an active part of my busy life; if only there were an app for that!
To rescue us, to bring us back, our Lord Jesus, on the night of his betrayal and arrest, spoke with his 11 apostles: “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him” (v 31). Now? Not Palm Sunday? The Son of Man is glorified now? Judas’s betrayal? It’s true. This betrayal, and its resulting suffering and death on the cross, is the glory of all God’s planning. Jesus’ passion is the fulfillment of all that God had promised through the prophets. He’s the one to bear our iniquity, the one to crush Satan for us, the one to set the captives free, the One to give you a reason to lift your eyes from looking down into your phone to instead look heavenward.
This eternal love of God broke forth into our cold and loveless world ever since the angels proclaimed it at night to shepherds in their fields: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:11). God’s glorious plan since the fall was that Jesus would be born, betrayed, suffer and die. And resurrected to new life! Now THAT’S love!
Yet this plan, as ugly and unreasonable as it may seem, is truly glorious because it is done for only one reason: to rescue us. We had been trapped under the reign of death. His death destroys death. He dies in our place as our sin. His life means we can live, and in doing so, we can love.
Through our vocations, our callings – mother and child, husband and wife, boss and employee, teacher and student, family member and friend – God has given us places to love as he has loved us. We are to love not only when someone has done something good for us, but to serve everyone in love all the time. As God’s people we are to put aside our selfish desires and seek to serve our mother, our child, our spouse, our neighbor, even our enemy, the way Christ serves them—forgiving, sacrificing, helping, loving. And that CANNOT happen if you’re always holding a screen in your hand.
In 1867, the British philosopher and political theorist John Stuart Mill (not Edmund Burke) said in a speech, “All that evil needs to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” Whether you prefer Fox News or CNN doesn’t matter. Instead, can you be like Christ this week? Can you love as you’ve been loved? Can you forgive because God has forgiven you? Can you serve because God in Christ has served you? Go forth, put down your screens, and do what you can in order to alleviate the crisis of love in your homes, communities, work places, schools, country, and even in your church. Friends, go forth and boldly love, because you have been boldly and freely loved as the Lord has commanded you to do: “love one another: just as I have loved you.” That’s not a suggestion..it is a commandment from the Lord. Just sayin…