Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter – May 19th, 2019

Text: John 13:31-35 (RSV)

The New Commandment

31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of man glorified, and in him God is glorified; 32 if God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.

The Beatles had it right – all you need is love.

It sounds so simple. But, of course, we all know that loving others is sometimes the hardest thing we can do.

Jesus calls each of us to a life of love, care, and compassion. He calls us to support, encourage and help those who are feeling frail and vulnerable. He calls us to stand with others in their pain. None of this is easy.

Yet, this morning’s passage goes to the very heart of what it means for us to follow Jesus. Here, Jesus sums up Christian teaching in a couple of short, simple sentences: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.”

At the end of the day, when all the doctrine has been debated, when all the traditions have been lived out, when all the hymns have been sung and the liturgies read, we are left with just one thing: love.

It’s all about love – at the end of the day, love is all that is important.

Whatever else St. John’s is about, whatever we do and however we do it, St. John’s must be – first, last, and always – a place of love; a place where people encounter the love of God for them, both through the work of the Holy Spirit in this holy place as well as by the acts of love shown by us; a place where people feel loved, appreciated and accepted for who they are, without judgment; a place where people are free to express love for others and back to God.

It’s all about love.

And when Jesus gave this commandment to love, it wasn’t at a random time in his ministry: The timing of this statement by Jesus could not have been more important. Jesus gave this teaching to his disciples the night before he was crucified; it was his final teaching to them before he died, so he wasn’t going to waste time telling them stuff that isn’t important.

Instead, he goes to the heart of the Christian faith and says to them, “Before I die, this is what you really need to know: love one another…”

The three years of his ministry had been building up to this moment and it’s like he’s saying to them, “In conclusion, this is what you need to remember…”

It’s all about love.

But let’s step back a second here. There’s something about this commandment that at first seems a bit puzzling. The first thing is that it’s a commandment – how can you command someone to love? I think this has to do with the fact that the kind of love Jesus commands is not the kind of love we usually think of – it’s the kind of love that we give others sometimes in spite of them rather than because of them. You’ve all heard the phrase “hate the sin, but love the sinner” – that’s what’s going on here. Without even trying very hard, I would bet that each of us could come up with a list of people whom we persist in loving, not because their behavior gives us that warm, fuzzy feeling we usually think of when we think about love, people who might even just try us like the Tempter tried Job – yet we love them, anyway, wish the best for them and pray for them, anyway. That’s why loving one another is a commandment – if it were just an option, we could stop doing it the instant the going got tough. But we are commanded to stick to it, no matter what – just like Jesus did.

Another odd thing is that Jesus starts off by saying this is a new commandment. But there’s nothing new about love. Love has been around since the beginning of time. And love wasn’t even new as a commandment: In the Old Testament, God had commanded people to love one another. In Deuteronomy 6:5, the command had been given to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and strength…” In Leviticus 19:18, we find that familiar command “but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

So why did Jesus call this a new commandment? Has Jesus got this wrong, or is there something else to notice?

I think the answer is in the rest of the sentence: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. As I have loved you…”

There it is. That’s the new angle on love – that we are to love as Jesus has loved us…

It’s all about love.

But we need to be careful how we use this word ‘love’. It has such a wide range of meanings, doesn’t it? We say things like “I love my job,” “I love [this or that TV show],” “I love fried chicken,” “I love writing songs,” “I love my iPad”…. But the word ‘love’ means different things in each of those contexts, of course. Love is a changeable word – its meaning alters according to the context in which we use it. So the definition of love that is given here is really important: “love one another, as I have loved you”. That’s real love – the love that reflects and gains its power from the love of God we experience through Jesus Christ.

That’s the kind of love that is sacrificial – like when parents give up cherished dreams for the sake of their children or even grandchildren – like that ad that’s been running lately where a grandfather gives up his dream of owning that car he’s wanted all his life so that his granddaughter might have a car to get to school. It’s the kind of love that is unconditional – Jesus didn’t die for us because we deserved it. He didn’t die for us because we had somehow earned God’s grace and love. There is nothing that you or I have ever done or could ever do to make us deserving of a relationship with God. Instead, Jesus died for us even when we were far off and lost from God.

The fact that you and I constantly make a mess of our lives is not any reason for God to withdraw his love from us. Jesus didn’t set conditions on his love. He never said that we need to do something first in order for him to love us. He never waited until we had proved ourselves worthy of love. Jesus’ love was absolutely unconditional.

And that’s a lucky thing, because we can never do anything worthy to earn his love.

There are those who seem to have an unreasonable expectation of the church. They seem to believe that it should be full of holy people who’ve got this “faith thing” all figured out, people who, like Mary Poppins, are “practically perfect in every way.” But then, when they see that the church is full of ordinary people – frail, broken, vulnerable and just as susceptible to messing up our lives as everyone else – in other words, full of people just like them, whether or not they care to admit it – they get disappointed, maybe even angry, and say that the church is full of hypocrites! But that just isn’t the case, of course. The church is full of exactly the sort of people God wants in it – just ordinary people trying their best to live life in the truth and knowledge of God. The good news is that God’s love is unconditional and he accepts us back time and time and time again, despite the mess we make of things!

“The good news is that we are not the good news: Jesus’ unconditional love is the good news! And because Jesus loves us unconditionally, despite our weaknesses and failings, so we are called to love others unconditionally too.”[1]

Granted, this can be really hard. But one way to get started might be by simply showing a bit of gentleness to others. Starting back maybe 30 years or so ago, I began to notice a harshness creeping into the fabric of our society. People seemed to be increasingly less willing to give others the benefit of the doubt; in place of understanding, I saw judgment. Nowadays it seems that people immediately think the worst of others, and even the most innocent of intentions are thought to have dark and sinister purposes behind them.

But we are called to a different way of living. We are called to, at the very least, try to understand others before overlaying our own assumptions on them. Taking an attitude of gentleness and non-judgmentalism, and showing unconditional love to all those we know, even the weak and vulnerable, and especially to those who for their own reasons seem to wish us ill, not to mention to those who make a mess of their own lives, is perhaps a first step. “After all, that is what God has done for us: he is gentle with us, isn’t he? God doesn’t bear a grudge or give us a hard time for messing up so regularly, and we should follow in his footsteps by treating others with the same gentleness and patience and kindness as God has shown to us…

“So, this new commandment to love means sacrificial love and unconditional love.”[2]

It’s all about love.

It is said that the Apostle John, in his old age, would remind those around him to love one another. When questioned why he told them this so very often, his reply would be, “Because it is what our Lord commanded. If it is all you do, then it is enough.”[3]

“Love one another. In the same way I loved you, love one another.”

How do we follow this command? Like this: Keep your eyes peeled for people who need to feel loved, included, supported, fed, and helped. Those whose purpose in life seems to be to knock others down are legion. Those whose purpose in life is to build others up are few. Our calling is to be those people who lift up!

In I Thessalonians 3:12-13, we read: “[M]ay the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all men, as we do to you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” As we go from this place today, let us pray for that – for ourselves, for our work, and for our world!

It’s all about love!

In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.

[1] Griffiths, Rev. Dr. Steve, “John 13:31-35 – It’s all about love,”

[2] Griffiths

[3] Jerome’s commentary on Galatians, quoted in Wiseman, Karyn, “Commentary on John 13:31-35,”