John 13:31-35

The New Commandment

31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him,[a] God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Revelation 21:1-6

The New Heaven and the New Earth

21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her
husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home[a] God is among mortals.He will dwell[b] with them;
they will be his peoples,[c]
and God himself will be with them;

4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,for the first things have passed awa

5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.

I’ve had some interesting discussions this past month. Many of them have been around church growth. It’s interesting to note, by today’s metrics, Jesus would have been considered a failure at church or spiritual growth. He had some big events from time to time, but most of those folks didn’t really stay with Jesus through to the end. He had a pretty solid leadership team of 12, or so it seemed. In Jesus’ darkest hour, right when he needed folks around him, they all deserted him. Didn’t even acknowledge that they knew him. In Peter’s instance, even denied ever being around him. When Jesus died, from the outside looking in, it seemed like this whole reform movement that Jesus started was done.

On the spiritual growth side, Jesus didn’t offer a 10 point plan for improving yourself, or a 12 week Bible study of some sort. On the contrary, the stories Jesus shared rarely gave straight answers, and Jesus’ model for his disciples was one of extreme hospitality and breaking some of the social norms of the day. Most rabbi’s were content to be in the temple or synagogue, but Jesus spent most of his time outside the temple listening top people’s stories. And, when he was pressed on issues, his response was to exhort folks to love one another. Jesus, of course, modeled loving others pretty well.

Yet, oftentimes folks wanted a comfortable religion, a faith that they could construct and understand. Something that could be scaled. It’s funny in a way, because Jesus is saying in effect, I’m not worried about what’s on the surface, but he’s looking at something different that isn’t measured by the metrics of success as the world sees it, but is measured by character.

As we come to our gospel lesson this morning, Jesus has just finished sharing the passover meal with his disciples. Judas has just left to betray him. You’d think that this would be the darkest hour. Jesus knew something was about to happen that wasn’t going to go well. Yet, Jesus gives this wonderful discourse about God’s glory and love.

This is a humble glory. God’s glory is in Jesus, the representation of all humanity. Even as humanity betrays Jesus as Judas does, there’s something deeper going on, a flow of God’s Presence in humanity through Jesus that somehow is at work whether it is recognized or not.

Jesus, in this statement, is seeming to say that somehow, in his darkest moments, in a place where we may view as a time of a failure of relationships, that God’s character doesn’t change, that God still believes in humanity, has faith in a deeper flow of goodness and relationship. He is faithfully present to others and to the moment.

Yes, it is humbling for Jesus, I’m sure, to know that his closest friends have, or are about it, betray him. Jesus had worked on a reform movement within the faith system of his day, he had built into folks for 3 years, and now, that faith system wanted to scapegoat him and kill him, and those friends were about to disappoint Jesus. It would have been easy for Jesus to think he was a failure, yet, he was saying that God was being glorified.

When I ran the Boston Marathon in 2016, it was the culmination of 2+ years of training, qualifying, and then getting in through a lottery.

It was a great experience, yet I was injured going into the race as many of you know…I could hardly stand up in the pulpit of the church I pastored at the time the following week!

The race setting was amazing, yet also a huge disappointment for me personally. When I talked to my daughter after the race, the day and the moment caught up to me and I cried on the phone. At times over the past three years, I could have thought of that race as a failure. In a sense, it was, I didn’t re-qualify, I could not run through my leg giving out, even though I finished the race, I crossed that line, it was a struggle.

Yet, there was glory in that failure. I was humbled, which is good. And, I was able to see an entire community rally around me. Literally hundreds of friends messaged me and sent encouragement. My own daughter knew exactly what I was going through and was able to articulate it with a couple of simple questions and comments.

I know that I’ll run more marathons, and that I will work to qualify for Boston again, yet I would not trade this marathon for anything because of the relational blessings from it. I felt a deep sense of love. I may fail miserably in future races as well, but that’s OK, if you don’t risk failure, then you don’t grow and you certainly don’t move forward.

Which, Jesus goes on to talk about in this morning’s passage. He tells them again, that he will be leaving, that they won’t be able to find him or go where he is going. There is a sense of deep relational connection in this statement.

Then he says that there is a new commandment, love one another. As he has loved us. If we do this, others will know that you are my disciples.

It’s interesting to note that loving others isn’t really a new commandment, it’s throughout the Old Testament. Jesus is saying though, that his followers, his disciples, as imperfect and as much as they fail, must love one another in an even deeper, new way. We have opportunities as Jesus followers, called together in particular communities and churches to demonstrate something that is rare in this world. A deep sense of commitment and joy in each other. It’s a love that defies our sensibilities and desire to be in control. We understand Jesus to be the connecting point of all humanity, that Jesus gives us eyes to see each other in new ways, to hear each other with new ears. Even if we’ve been around each other for decades, if we stay committed to one another, willing to withhold judgement and risk trusting one other, to be present with ourselves, others, and with God…we can love well and show others a different way of living. Jesus does not desire to control anyone, yet his love for others moves things, mountains even…and people.

The church is not supposed to be an institutional entity, it’s supposed to be a way of life. What would it look like if we really practiced this intense kind of love? What would it feel like to walk into this church on a Sunday morning and look around you and not see others as persons with agendas other than to be loved and to love you back? How would that change our worship services? How would that give us spiritual growth? Would others be attracted to that kind of love as well?

We should not approach church meetings as business meetings, but opportunities to not only work on the mission of this church to love well it’s neighborhood, but to love one another, to function as an opportunity to look around a table and be filled with joy for the folks that you are sitting with? What about our neighbors, what if we looked at them and spent time with them as Jesus did.

I think it would change everything. We would grow in our faith and others may want to be around us even more!

The writer of the book of John, where our gospel story comes from, got it. He often referred to himself as the “person that Jesus loved”. Wouldn’t it be great if we could go around claiming that?

There is a sense of accountability as well with love, we can have hard conversations, we can entertain doubts, failures, and true teamwork when we love well. Love isn’t the absence of hard times, we don’t shy away from our personal or corporate history, on the contrary, we look back and practice “examanen” which means to examine or look at our histories, our past through the lens of God’s love and grace.

We might as well start loving well now, I don’t care if you are 7 or 77, we are bound to one another.

In our other lectionary reading from Revelation, the writer, again, John the disciple whom Jesus loved, says that there will be a new heaven and a new earth. These are not dualistic separate entities, heaven is God’s presence. God, the perfect lover, the one who whispers in our ears that we are loved, has made his home with us. We have the joy of loving others, of building God’s vision of kingdom presence now! Not in the future…and we have the promise that this is forever. This is not simply a moment in history that we are together, we are bound together forever!

May we live now, deeply in love with one another as God is in love with us. May we practice faithfully presence.

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