The Gospel reading for this coming Sunday is from John 13:34-35 (New Revised Common Lectionary). Before Jesus utters these words, he demonstrates them by taking a towel and bowl of water then brushing their dirty, smelly feet.
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Later in the same gospel, John reports Jesus as saying, “12 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
In addition to the mundane foot washing and the heroic self-sacrifice there is the parable of the Good Samaritan who saw a stranger in need and went out of his way (and gave out of his pocket) to meet that need.
The Good News that we, the church, are to share with the world is born of a verse that, if we give a moment’s reflection, is extraordinarily revolutionary. It is easier to believe in the Creator-God, because the heavens and the earth declare God’s glory. When we have such a visceral response to evils perpetrated around, it is easier to believe that there is a just God that will call those evils to account. But it is easy to gloss over John 3:16 as just a sign that is held up at sports events or child’s memory verse. But listen to what it says.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
This love that shows up in the little things (like footwashing in the first century), helping the needy like the Samaritan, and loving our brothers and sisters in Christ, is modeled on how God loves everyone!!! everyone in the WHOLE WORLD!!!
In Matthew 23:23-25, Jesus chews out some religious leaders. Why? Because they got lost in the minutiae of the Law and neglected justice, mercy, and faith. Because they washed the outside of the cup and left the inside dirty. Because they “strain out a gnat and swallow a camel”.
This is such a great description of where many find themselves in the 21st century church. I would challenge you to ask your non-church-going friends to describe what they think of the church. What is her message? What is her character?
Chances are solid that if they do have something good to say it will be because they perceive some secular cause with which they themselves are aligned. What I venture to say is that we will not hear them say that when they think of the church, they think of how much we love one another or how much we love the world.
In the first century, the high priest was appointed by a Roman governor and the council was eager to appease their Roman overlords. Jesus was seen as a rock-the-boat figure and a threat to their position of privilege. Just as in the first century, today we have church leaders who are enamored with earthly political forces at odds with the church’s mission of love. They endorse mean-spirited and divisive politicians and engender mean-spirited attitudes toward those in need of the church’s love. We are witnessing the fulfillment of the words of the Apostle Paul. Paul said of some that falsely present themselves as apostles, “And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light,” 2 Corinthians 11:14.
When I hear people with esteemed names like Graham condemn Disney for working to protect vulnerable children from further isolation while at the same time extolling the virtues of politicians who promote hate, evade military service, undermine our system of government, and boast of molesting women it breaks my heart. When I see the church focused on attacking those who work for justice and mercy in order to curry favor with corrupt politicians it breaks my heart. We can battle Critical Race Theory (gnat) and swallow racism whole (camel). We can divide over theological minutiae but we can’t unite behind shouting the good news of God’s love for all from the house tops.
Instead of warring and creating division in our country and in our world, the church should be focused on sharing the good news that Jesus was God in the flesh come to live, die, be buried, resurrected and ascended to return to his place of glory in heaven. Why? Because God loves the world.
Instead of uttering words and taking actions that divide and destroy the church, we should be united in bringing the grace we have received in Christ to a world in need. Feed the hungry; clothe the naked; shelter the homeless; give refuge to the stranger, the foreigner, and any in need of a safe place; create places of healing in Christ’s name; stand with the prophets and Christ himself in the cause of justice, equality, and the human dignity of all people. To be Christ’s disciples we must join him in acts of service and sacrifice to build community.
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,” Jesus.