a sermon for 6th Sunday of Easter
When Jesus was preparing to leave his disciples, he wanted to leave them with something to hold on to. For three years, he has been their rabbi, mentor, teacher and friend. He knew that soon he would be leaving them. What could he give them to hold on to after he was gone?
Mother’s Day is a tricky day for preachers. For one thing, it is not really a Church holiday, but if a minister forgets to mention it, there’ll be heck to pay. But there’s another reason it’s a little tricky – not everyone has the same kind of “Hallmark Card” relationship with their mother. For many people, their mother has already died. And for many mother, the pain of losing a child is still too painful. Both of these are a sign of our brokenness, even while recognizing the gift of motherhood. So I’d like to begin this morning by offering a blessing for the mothers among us. Let us pray:
Loving God, who watches over your Church as a mother gives life and nourishment to her child, bless these women who have been called to motherhood. Give wisdom and strength to those who are nurturing children, grace and peace to those whose children have grown, and comfort to those whose children are no longer with them. Bless too, we pray, our mothers who are no longer with us, that they may be remembered by we who remain here on earth. Let the example of their faith and love shine forth. And grant that we, their sons and daughters, may honor them always with a spirit of profound respect and service to the glory of your name. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives bound in perfect love. Amen.
One of my favorite movies is “City Slickers.” It is the story of three guys from New York City who are going through midlife crises and decide to go out west on a cattle drive to find themselves. Billy Crystal plays “Mitch,” a cynical advertising man whose life has become extremely predictable. He has a lovely home, great kids and an adoring wife. But he feels there’s something missing. So he goes on this cattle drive hoping to find the meaning of life. On the way, he meets a real no-nonsense cowboy named Curly, played by Jack Palance. Curly doesn’t have much use for the city slickers – he thinks they are soft, fat and self-indulgent. One day, he and Mitch are talking and Curly says, “You want to know the secret of life is? This (holds up his finger). One thing. The secret of life is Just One Thing. You stick to that and the rest doesn’t mean anything.” Mitch asks, “But what is that one thing?” Curly replies, “That’s what you have to find out.”
In today’s lesson from the Gospel of John, Jesus is preparing to leave his disciples and he wants to leave them with something to hold on to. For three years, he has been their rabbi, mentor, teacher and friend. He is tired and he knows that he is about to be captured and tried. He has just one more opportunity to give his disciples words to remember after he is gone.
But how would he do it? They have been so many places together; done so much together. They have fed thousands of people, healed the sick, helped the blind to see and the deaf to hear. They raised the dead and comforted the grieving. They have spent so much time together, and now he was going away. So he thinks about all of this and tells them, “the secret life is Just One Thing.”
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Just One Thing. That’s all there is to it – that we love one another the way he loved us. In this single commandment, Jesus has distilled all of his teachings and all of his ministry. He distilled thousands of pages of the Old Testament, and hundreds of pages of the New Testament. In this one commandment, Jesus summed up the entire history of God: love each other.
Sometimes we “professional Christians,” – the clergy folks you pay to lead you in prayer and worship and study – make things too complicated. There are thousands and thousands of pages of commentary that have been written about these 8 verses of scripture. There are hundreds of priests and pastors who are preaching on this very passage today. But the fact of the matter is that Jesus didn’t want this to be complicated. He wanted to leave us with Just One Thing we would always remember after he was gone. This is the root of all of the scriptures. This is the root of all of Jesus’ ministry. This is the root of the grapevine that is our common life together. It all comes down to Just One Thing: Love.
God’s love for Jesus empowered him to perform amazing and wondrous things. Christ’s love for us empowers us to do the same. As the Father loved him – unconditionally, eternally, without reservation – so Jesus loves us. It is a love we do not ask for; it is a love we do not deserve; it is a love we cannot earn. In fact, we do not even choose it; he chooses us. Christ’s love for us is total and unconditional, and through it we are made whole. His love for us completes us, and that is the very meaning of salvation. “Being saved” means to be made complete through love by Jesus Christ.
Our response to his love for us is the love we show for one another. The same kind of love that he gives us, we are to give, and accept, from one another. This is what it means to be a Christian community.
If God’s love is what animates Christ, and if Christ’s love animates us, then that means that God is the single source of all love – the source of our feelings between one another, and among one another, and even between us in here and those outside whose names we do not even know. Jesus’ commandment is to love.
Jesus says that there is no greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends, and of course he did that soon after his final meal with his disciples. But as Bishop Andrew Doyle of the Diocese of Texas points out…
He [also] ate with sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes, religious leaders, the unclean, the leperous and fishermen along with the pharisees and holy men of his time. This, too, he said is love, to live as family, to be family together.
This is what life asks of us. This is what God asks of us. This is what we are made for – to be family, brothers and sisters one to another.
To sacrifice one’s life for another is the highest sacrifice we can make, of course. But it is not the only way to give up our lives for the sake of others. School teachers dedicate their lives to teaching others. Lawyers dedicate their lives in searching for justice. Parents dedicate their lives to their children. Musicians dedicate their lives to bringing other people joy. These are just a few of the ways we love one another and give up our lives for the sake of the community we share. All of us serve the Lord by serving one another in community. It is the outward and visible expression of our love. We are called to love, and love unconditionally.
In the end, Curly was absolutely right – the secret to life is Just One Thing. When we distill everything that Jesus ever did or said, it all comes down to his single final commandment. And this is his one commandment, that we love one another as he has loved us.
Just. One. Thing.
Thanks be to God.