The Gospel of John contains twenty-one chapters, five of which we know as Jesus’ Farewell Discourse. Beginning with him washing his disciples feet, Jesus takes this last opportunity before his arrest and crucifixion to prepare his disciples for the road ahead. He shows them how they should live by washing their feet. He lays out for them about the things that are about to happen. He comforts their distress, promises the Holy Spirit, and finishes by praying for himself, for his disciples and for everyone who would come to believe through their message. Jesus utters a lot of words; those Bible with red letters where Jesus is speaking must be close to running out of red ink by the end of chapter 17, but he sums up his message early on by saying, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” With fifty-five characters, plenty short to fit in a text message or tweet, Jesus tells his disciples everything they need to know.
Notice what he doesn’t say. He doesn’t say, “keep each other accountable.” He doesn’t say, “make sure you all believe the right things.” He doesn’t say, “give more money to the church.” He doesn’t say, “make me proud.” He doesn’t say any of a thousand things we think he might have or maybe even should have said. In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ singular commandment is to “love one another.” It is the descriptive by which the whole world will know Jesus’ disciples, if they just love one another.
Oh, if Jesus could have said anything else. It is so very simple to say, but so very hard to do. Most of the time we know in our heart of hearts the right thing we should do out of love for another person, but also in our heart of hearts lives a laundry list of excuses as to why we don’t do it; I’m too tired, too stressed, too busy, or they’re too lazy, too needy, too wreckless. And so we know what Jesus commands us to do, and so very often we just don’t do it.
But we can. We can live into Jesus’ commandment to love. Enabled by the Holy Spirit we can change our initial reactions from excuse making to action. Our unclean responses can be made clean by the working of the Holy Spirit because, to paraphrase Peter’s response to the leaders in Jerusalem, “who are we to hinder God?”
And despite my rather negative view of us, which reflects mostly my own issues, my own initial reactions, by and large we are already living into this commandment. Hundreds, if not thousands of times a week we decide to act out of love for another instead of love for ourselves. We take an hour or two and go to Foley Elementary School to teach young children a) how to read and b) that someone cares about them. We pick up an extra jar of peanut butter at the grocery store for Ecumenical Ministries so that the least in our community can a) eat and b) know that Foley is a place that takes care of its own. We send cards of care to those who are shut-in and alone to a) warm their hearts and b) remind them that they are beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. We do all sorts of things that show us to be disciples of Jesus; we love one another.
One of my favorite parts of Vacation Bible School is the time we spend sharing “God Sightings.” The kids share with their small groups and the large group where they saw God during the day before. The stories are sometimes hilarious, but often beautiful. One little girl told us that she saw God in helping her mom feed her baby brother. Last year we all saw God in one girl who brought her entire life savings, $100 to donate to the VBS mission fund. This week, I hope that you’ll be on the look out for God Sightings. Keep your eyes open for those times that you or someone else chooses to love another person. Remember those sightings. Cherish them, and know that Jesus’ commandment to love one another can be and is being accomplished each and every day. Amen.