Fifth Sunday in Eastertide

Fifth Sunday in Eastertide

THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR C

Robert Munsch, a well-known author of children’s books, wrote the following, entitled “Love you forever.”

Love You Forever begins with a mother holding her new baby.

She rocks him and sings him a song:

I’ll love you forever,

I’ll like you for always,

As long as I’m living,

My baby you’ll be.

As the years go by, of course, the baby grows. He becomes a toddler, and gets into everything; and his mother says: This kid is driving me CRAZY!  But at night she still sings him their special song:

I’ll love you forever,

I’ll like you for always,

As long as I’m living,

My baby you’ll be.

The child grows some more; he is nine years old, never wants to take a bath, and says bad words when his grandma visits.  His mother feels like selling him to the Zoo.  But still, at night, she sings their song:

I’ll love you forever,

I’ll like you for always,

As long as I’m living,

My baby you’ll be.

The boy becomes a teenager, and, of course, that’s the worst! He has strange friends and he wears strange clothes, and he listens to strange music.  His mother feels like she lives in a Zoo!  But guess what?  At night, when he is safely asleep, she still sings to him:

I’ll love you forever.

I’ll like you for always,

As long as I’m living,

My baby you’ll be.

Finally, the boy is all grown up and moves into his own house. But sometimes, on dark nights, the mother drives across town to his house, creeps into his house, and sings–well, you know what she sings:

I’ll love you forever,

I’ll like you for always,

As long as I’m living,

My baby you’ll be.

At last, the mother is old and sick. She sings to her boy, who is, of course, now a man, but she isn’t able to finish the song. Her son, however, has learned his lesson well. He knows what to do. Holding his mother closely, he rocks her in his arms, and sings to her:

I’ll love you forever,

I’ll like you for always,

As long as I’m living,

My Mommy you’ll be.

And when he returns home that night, he stands for a long time at the top of the stairs. Then, going into the room where his own new baby daughter is sleeping, he takes her in his arms and sings:

I’ll love you forever,

I’ll like you for always,

As long as I’m living,

My baby you’ll be.

And the cycle of love between parent and child begins all over again.

Today’s Gospel reading comes from the chapters of St. John’s Gospel known as “The Last Discourse.”  It takes place at the Last Supper, on the night before Jesus went to the Cross.  In these chapters, Jesus has urgent messages for his Apostles, and for us.  Things that he wants to tell us before he goes away.  “I am with you only a little longer,” he says, and “you will look for me, “but where I am going you cannot come.”  And because the Apostles could not follow where he was going, he gives them a new commandment.

Jesus says that we are to love one another, not just with natural, human love, but with a love that is a sign of God’s divine love.  And this commandment is so important, that it is the hallmark of what it means to be a Christian.  Jesus says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love have for one another.”

Jesus’ commandment is that we must love one another.  He gives this commandment, he says, because he is going away, because we will look for him but we will not be able to follow where he is going. 

But we will find him in the love that we share.  We will find him whenever the love of our sisters and brothers becomes a sign of God’s love for us.  But sometimes that is difficult for us to do.

In one of my favorite “Peanuts” comic strips, Lucy stands with her arms folded with a resolute expression on her face, while Charlie Brown pleads with her. “Lucy,” he says, “you must be more loving. The world needs love. Make this world a better place, Lucy, by loving someone else.” At that Lucy whirls around angrily and Charlie Brown goes flipping over backwards.  “Look, you blockhead,” Lucy screams. “The world I love. It’s people I can’t stand!”

I think there are more times than we’d all like to admit when we can identify with that remark.  It’s easy to love in the abstract — the world, or people in general. It’s people around us that drive us crazy.  And yet it is precisely those people, the people nearest to us, with whom we work and go to school, neighbors next door, and the people we sit next to in church, that Jesus calls us to love.

Love which finds expression in kindness, courtesy, tolerance, and acceptance of those around us.  Jesus calls us to love one another and to bring that love to light in the way that we treat those around us.  It’s easy to love people in general, to affirm that love is a good thing and something we all need.  But it’s another thing altogether to put that love into action, to make love concrete in our attitudes and actions toward others.

The word that Jesus gives us today, this command to love, is not a legalistic requirement.  Rather it is the natural response of our hearts to the love that we have received from God.  The love given to us is the unconditional, undeserved, unlimited love of Christ.  Because, the truth is that we love because we are first loved.  And as we come to know and accept that, we are then able to turn in love to others and be ourselves vehicles of love in the world.  That’s the way it works when parents show love to their children and it is the way it works when we become aware of the love of God.

Most authorities on human relationships tell us that love is a learned response.  It is something we experience and then repeat in our lives.  That’s why the very purpose for a Christian community is to model love for one another and in doing so to help us learn to love.  We are to love one another just as we are—as my grandmother used to say, “warts and all.”  We are to care for one another, to set aside our preconceived notions of who is and who is not acceptable to God.  And by the way we love each other and the world, we are to be a sign of God’s love. 

Jesus says, “As I have loved you, love one another.”  And as hard as we may look, I think we’d all have difficulty coming up with a better rule for life than that.  Unfortunately, though, we live in a world that is increasingly self-centered, a world that is more and more telling us to watch out for ourselves first and then worry about the needs of others. This is the world in which we, as Christians, are called to share God’s love.  A world that desperately needs to hear that God loves you. 

So, just how do we live out this commandment to love?  Well, a number of years ago Henry Drummond wrote a classic sermon titled “The Greatest Thing in the World.” He concluded his sermon by suggesting that if you put a piece of iron in the presence of an electrified field, that piece of iron itself will become electrified. And in the presence of that electrical field, it is changed into a magnet. As long as it remains in contact with that field of power, it will continue to attract other pieces to itself.  We are like that piece of iron.  In the presence of Christ, we experience God’s love and take on God’s likeness.  We are changed, electrified by the Holy Spirit, to attract others to the same love of God that we experience.

Our Christian discipleship, living as faithful members of the Church, is not just a matter of willpower. It is not just deciding that we will go out there and do it, that we will love others.  It just doesn’t happen that way.  It happens far more simply than that.  Sharing God’s love, living God’s love, loving one another happen when we are connected to God’s love, when we allow God’s love to surround us, to shape and mold our lives.  In a world all too often filled with people concerned about themselves first, characterized with an impersonal “what’s in it for me” attitude, we are called to witness to something more important — love that gives of itself for others; love that cares about others; love that makes our lives meaningful and significant through our giving to others.

So, as we gather today, as we hear Jesus’ words to us, as we celebrate Holy Communion, my prayer is that God would strengthen us for service and help us love one another.  I pray that God will use the example of Jesus’ love in action to teach us how to love as well, to show us how to give of ourselves for others. Jesus made that clear when he said, “By this shall all know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”   Amen.