1 John 5:1-6
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey God’s commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey God’s commandments. And God’s commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Child of God? This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.
Jesus said, “As God has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept the Creator’s commandments and abide in God’s love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. “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. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from the Creator. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Creator will give you whatever you ask in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”
Most holy Friend, Three-person’d God, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, teach us the way of love from you. Bring us together in spirit and action, bearing one another’s burdens and sharing each others gifts, and establishing here on earth colonies of heaven. In the name of Christ, our Brother and Saviour.
“This is my commandment,” Jesus says. Not, “it would be nice,” or “Could you maybe try.” No, he says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” That is a tall order when we think about it on its own. How can we possibly love others as Jesus loved us—because when Jesus speaks to the disciples, he is speaking to us too. How can we ever love anyone like that? And yet there are those who will do that, who have done that. We often hear this in connection with Remembrance Day, or with the D-Day observations—the soldiers, sailors and airmen who were willing to lay down their lives for their country, for their fellow Canadians, Americans, French, Italians, Dutch. A photo you may have seen reflects that touchingly in the image of a modern-day businessman, his briefcase at his feet, one land laid gently on the wall of memory at the Vietnam Veteran’s memorial in Washington DC. He is dressed in a suit, but his arm, seen in the reflection, wears fatigues, and within the wall, a reflection and yet not a reflection, his fellow soldiers, his buddies, touch his hand. He remembers those who sacrificed with him—he survived, they did not. And he remembers.
There are other images—today is a day I really wish we had Powerpoint available!—that express this. Law enforcement, fire fighters and other public safety workers share in this ethic. A very moving image from the many from that terrible day, September 11, 2001, is that of Father Mychal Judge, Chaplain to the NY Fire Department, being carried out of the wreckage of the World Trade Centre before the buildings collapsed. He went into the damaged buildings to offer solace and comfort to the firefighters and civilians who were trapped, in spite of the danger. He risked, and ultimately lost, his life in order to serve others. Incidentally, Fr. Mychal was gay—a witness to the falsity of those hateful and false stereotypes of gay men. He laid down his life for his sisters and brothers. He loved them as he knew himself to be loved by God.
Even as Jesus laid down his life for us, we are to lay ours down for others. It may not be—probably won’t be—as dramatic or horrific as the events of 9/11, or in an armed conflict. Sometimes it is patience in dealing with someone difficult, or overcoming fear to speak truth—even as our voices shake. It might be our unconditional support for someone who has no one else who encourages them. Maybe it’s a listening ear. Sometimes it’s parenting, whether we are the biological parent or not. Or it might be just the right word at the right time, even when we don’t feel like being supportive.
Notice what is joined with “love one another,“ and with being Jesus’ friends. Jesus says, “For you did not choose me, but I chose you.” This is not our decision to make—Jesus chooses us, calls us, to be in his circle of friends, his chosen family who are to love one another as he loved them. Jesus is focused on us—he’s not listening to the voices of others who say we are too young or too old, or too foolish, or the wrong gender or sexuality or economic status, or lacking in education or over-educated. Jesus’ focus is on us, as we are, as we are made—and Jesus calls us, chooses us to be part of his family, his beloved community. Every one of us was chosen for a reason; others may not be able to see it, but Jesus had a purpose in choosing you.
There’s a song from Sesame Street, called “Sing.” The line from that song that always comes to my mind where I read this passage goes, “Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear—just sing, sing your song!” Jesus chose each of us for the song we each have—the song that we are to sing, the love that we are to give. We aren’t chosen based on what someone else can or can’t do. Jesus didn’t say, “I choose Tom for his musical gift, but I’ll choose Kate in spite of her lack of musical gifts.” Each of us chosen by Jesus based on who we are—not what we aren’t, not on what someone else is, and not on what “some people” think we should be. We are chosen, not because we are better or worse than some standard of perfection, but because we are who we are.
What a tremendous gift—Jesus loves us, chooses us to be part of his family of love and mutual support, just because we are who we are! That, my friends, is love.
What do we do with this love, this being chosen by God?
Remember the movie “Saving Private Ryan?” A group of soldiers are detailed, shortly after D-Day, to find Private Ryan—all of the private’s brothers have been killed in the war, and as he is the last survivor, the policy is to discharge him—but first they have to find him. The first 30 minutes, which depict the landing on D-Day, are truly harrowing, but once past that, it is a powerful statement of not only duty, but sacrifice for someone these men don’t even know. They struggle through the front lines of war, losing many of their companions along the way, until finally they find the private in the midst of a battle for a bridge. The captain who is leading them (played by Tom Hanks), mortally wounded, tells Private Ryan, “Just make it worth it. You have the rest of your life now—make it worth it.” In a modern cemetery in Belgium, Private Ryan, now an old man, returns to the captain’s grave, and asks him, “Did I do it well enough? Did I make it worth it?”
That’s our task too. To make it worth it. Jesus loved us, chose us, laid down his life for us. Do we make our lives worth it? Do we care for others, showing them love and patience? Do we lift up the weak, comfort the sorrowing and hurting, celebrate with the joyful, and share love in our community? Or do we fritter our lives away on self-indulgence through material things like possessions, food, or sex, in anger held for so many years, in pain and grief that we do not allow ourselves to release, in blaming ourselves for what others have done to us?
My sisters and brothers, we who are called to be a community know that we have been chosen, in this one wonderful life we have, love one another—period. Not only the people we like, the ones who like us; not just the people who are like us, the people we understand—but also the people who make us angry or uncomfortable or frightened. We are not called to make them like us so that we are more comfortable; we are chosen to love them as they are, as God made them, just as we are to be loved as God made us.
Take your gifts, those wonderful parts of you God gave you, and love your sisters and brothers in Christ’s community. Jesus laid down his life for those he loved, for his community of choice, for you and me.
Make your life worth it.
In the name of the Ever-living, Ever-loving God, amen.