John 15:9-17
Psalm 98

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”  One of my favorite things about Youth Sundays is how often someone says to me, “They’re gunning for your job,” or, “you’d better step it up next week, preacher.”  Those are ways of saying to me what many of you did directly to the youth – their (your) leadership last Sunday was extraordinary.  The ways you worked through the text, wove the pieces together, framed your experiences in light of your faith.  That is a credit to you all, and the many adults who work in partnership with you, under Taylor‘s wonderful leadership.  Thank you.

This thing only works together.  That’s what Jesus is talking about in today’s text.  When anything works around here it is because, with God’s help, it is because a bunch of people are willing to give of themselves.  These wonderful musicians know better than I do the best choirs work on blending and pace and each section coming in at the right time, the expert way Monica shapes and nudges and brings the best out of everyone.  For God’s glory.  Like they do each Sunday and like they will tonight – you should come, it’s always amazing.  The same with confirmation mentors and youth advisors and church school teachers who prepare lessons.  It only works – these things or anything else – because we are in it, with God’s help, together.

But being community – living up close – is hard.  Being upset with people we don’t know well, coworkers at a distance, celebrities behaving ridiculously, political figures who make us so angry.  That’s not as hard.  As frustrated as they might make us we can keep them at arm’s length, we can think whatever we like, and if they are public people we are sure to find a chorus of places on television or the internet to reinforce what we already think.

But living up close is hard.  Even in the church.  This is what Jesus is talking about here, in the middle of the ‘Farewell Discourse,’ scholars call it, here in John.  It is the Last Supper, and unlike the other three gospels John takes time – 4 chapters – to invite us to sit at the table.[1]  We glimpse Jesus sharing final words with his friends – they’ve been through so much together.

Jesus washes their feet, gives them a new commandment, promises them the presence of the Spirit in the coming days.  Chapter 15 begins with the image of Jesus as the true vine, connected to Creator the vinegrower.  The disciples are branches, called to bear fruit.[2]  John tells us this works as we abide in God, as we love each other as God loves us.  Which is something that explodes your mind and heart if you really think about it.  Think about how much God loves you.  Amazing, huge, consuming, unconditional love.  THAT kind of love.  THAT is how we are called to feel about each other.  Care for people around you with THAT KIND OF LOVE.  Jesus points us to the commandments, which both the 10 Commandments and the larger compendium of Jewish law.  In verse 12 Jesus is clear – this is MY commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  As I have with you these three years.  Love each other that way.  He underlines it other ways, through acts of self-sacrifice, putting others before ourselves.  This hard work makes community.  Not warm and fuzzy love.  For Jesus, Lamar Williamson writes, love is a verb.[3]

I’ve been thinking a lot recently – in this fractured age, where the conflict and polarization we are experiencing in our world is seeping into everything.  Homes, neighborhoods, churches.  We make all sorts of assumptions about people we barely know and that we know well.  It feels to me like it’s getting hard and harder to be community.  To be family.

The session spent some time week before last talking about this, and we began with an exercise my preaching group did a few weeks ago.  We sat in a circle and got a little closer than Presbyterians tend to, but it was an attempt to get us thinking about who we are, and who we are to each other.  I want to do a version of it with you, all the while thinking about Jesus’ words:  This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

I want you to look down at your shoes.  Really.  Do it.  I made the session take theirs off so don’t stress.  There’s an old saying that you can’t really understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.  I would contend that learning to walk in another’s shoes is at the very heart of how we love each other.  Look at your shoes.

  • Think for a moment to yourself about what its like to walk in your shoes.
  • What burdens are you carrying?
  • What relationships in your life are in need of repair?
  • What are your joys?
  • Where in your life are you sad or in grief?
  • Where are you experiencing transition or change?

Now…after thinking about your life and the person who is walking in your shoes…look at the shoes of the person to your left.  If you’re on the left, look back to your right.  Maybe it’s someone in your family or a friend; maybe it’s someone you don’t know well.   Look at their shoes.

  • Imagine what it would be like to walk in that person’s shoes for one day. What are their burdens? Joys? Where are they experiencing transition or loss? What relationships in their life are in need of repair? Ask God to help you to see this person through the eyes of Christ, rather than from our own human point of view.
  • Now, picture in your mind’s eye someone else in the congregation. Imagine that THEIR SHOES are right in front of you. Imagine what it would be like to walk in their shoes for a day. What are their burdens? Joys? Where are they experiencing transition or loss? What relationships in their life are in need of repair? Ask God to help you to see this person through the eyes of Christ, rather than from our own human point of view.

Because love, Lamar Williamson reminds us, to Jesus is a verb.  It is a growing, moving thing, something we have to be consistent about, and active in.  All of us have to BE love, which involves patience and listening.  Not just other people needing to listen to us more – we all think that.  Trying to settle into some other people’s shoes.  As we seek to be family to each other and the world beyond.  As we hear, as we approach the table here in a few minutes, Christ’s word to his dearest friends.  “This is my commandment,” Jesus says, “that you love one another as I have loved you.”  May it be so.  May it be so.  Amen.

[1] Compare Matthew 26:17-35, Mark 14:12-31, Luke 22:7-34, to John 13-17.

[2] Lamar Williamson, “Preaching the Gospel of John,” (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2004), p 195.

[3] Williamson, 200.