A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First & Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
Fifth Sunday of Easter – May 9, 2004
Text: John 13:31-35
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today is Mother’s Day, and I know that many of you have plans with your families today. I’m glad you’re here, whether you’re with Mom or planning on seeing her later. Either way, I’ll try to say what I have to say quickly today, so that you can have more time to share with the important women of your life.
My senior year at Concordia I was the student manager of the bell choirs, Tintinnabula and Campana. I didn’t make a salary or anything, but my duties were pretty light: Manage the checkbook. Shepherd the equipment and ringers from one place to the next. Take care of pictures for the yearbook. That kind of stuff. Oh – and the most interesting job a student manager does each year: The Handing Down of the Law.
You see, every winter the musicians of Concordia College take the Christmas Concert on the road to the Twin Cities, giving two performance at Minneapolis’ Orchestra Hall. This is serious business – those concerts are more valuable to Concordia than a pallet full of brochures when it comes to recruiting and alumni relations. Not only that, but Concordia’s music department is genuinely proud of its performances, and wants to make sure its musicians come across as professionally as possible.
And so, The Law. The Law tells Cobbers what they can wear on the road (khakis, dress pants or skirts; no jeans, flannel or shorts; shirts with collars only; no logos or slogans on any clothing – except for school graphics). The Law tells Cobbers what sort of jewelry they may wear (Cobber rings on the right hand, wedding rings on the left, and a single stud in each ear – women only, no exceptions). The Law tells Cobbers what sort of behavior is expected of them (curfew is at midnight; no drinking is allowed at any time on the trip, regardless of age; miss your bus and you’re out of luck).
Concordia’s Law of the Road makes sure that the school and its students are presented in the best possible light. The musicians of my bell choirs were ambassadors, and it was their responsibility to give Concordia nothing but a good name while we were away from Moorhead. Sure, there were lots of rules, and some of them seemed rather oppressive to even the student managers, but that’s how it goes. That kind of discipline goes with being a musician at Concordia – it’s part of what makes the experience memorable.
We all know one group or another like this. Whether it’s a country club with a precise code of conduct, a favorite ties-only restaurant, or a social or charitable club, we’re used to groups having expectations of their members – often high expectations.
So it comes as a shock to us to hear Jesus’ expectation of his followers: “Love one another.” That’s it? That’s Jesus’ Law of the Road? That’s all he asks of us? Why, even the gas stations in Valley City at least have no-shirt-no-shoes-no-business as their standard, but Jesus…all he wants us to do is to love each other? Doesn’t he have any standards?
We all know what love feels like, right? It’s the way your heart beats a million times a minute when you’re around that crush of yours. Or it’s the tenderness you feel toward a baby when she’s sleeping so adorably. Love, we know from the movies, feels like an orchestra swelling and a chorus bursting into song. It’s an emotion, right? And we also know from the movies that you can’t produce emotions – they just happen to you. Either you’ve got that chemistry or you don’t…no use trying to make someone love you, or to make yourself love someone else, either.
It’s no wonder Jesus looks like he has no standards at all to us. We take love for a feeling, and Jesus is telling us his one commandment for us is to love each other. Since no one can feel something that they just don’t feel, we have to assume that Jesus isn’t talking about full-fledged, Valentines-and-chocolates, deep-in-our-hearts love – how can he command that? No, we usually turn the love commandment into something like the parting words of that other beloved visitor from the heavens, E.T. – “Be good.”
Be good. Be nice. Don’t be mean to each other. Is that all Jesus is asking of us? Is that all he means when he says “Love one another”? Doesn’t he have any standards?
Of course he does. If we listen carefully, Jesus’ standard is right there in front of us. He doesn’t just say “Love one another.” He goes further: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Jesus’ standard, the measurement of his followers, is whether they are loving each other the same way as he has loved them.
And we’re not talking emotions. We need to remember where we are in Jesus’ story to understand this saying – this commandment comes smack in the middle of Jesus’ two great acts of love toward his disciples. He has just gotten up off the floor from washing his followers’ feet. Getting down on his hands and knees to wipe the grime away from between their toes, serving them with deepest humility – that’s Jesus’ first great act of love.
And he is on his way to the cross, where an even greater act of love will be carried out: “Greater love no man has than to lay down his life for his friends.”
It turns out that Jesus’ standards are much, much higher than the gas stations in Valley, or the country club. They’re higher than the snazzy restaurant, and even higher than Concordia’s road rules. Jesus commands us to serve each other. That’s his expectation – that anyone who follows him follows him in serving on hand and knee. That’s the kind of love that changes diapers. That’s the kind of love that makes sacrifices. That’s the kind of love that died for us.
It’s a tall order, but it’s also a gift. When we love like servants, we are usually surprised to find out how good it feels. We’re amazed at the good it does us and the person whose feet we’re washing. We’d never believe the way it spreads the good word of Jesus around a world that desperately needs to hear it.
Jesus commands us to love one another, just as he has loved us. May he bless his people with hearts and hands for humble service. Amen.