They’ll Know Us By Love a sermon on John 13:31-37
Rev. Joe Cailles, pastor Trinity UMC Sunday,
May 19, 2019, The Fifth Sunday of Easter
 
Jesus says, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.
 
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.’
 
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
 

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Each Monday morning, I lead my Bible study and prayer group here at the church, and we consider the scriptures Ill be preaching on the next Sunday, so last Monday the group looked at the passage we just heard. Lots of questions popped up about what Jesu is saying here and what he means. As we talked it out, we saw three different things Jesus says here:
 
First, lots of talk about “glory”: “the Son of Man has been glorified.” God has been glorified.” “God will glorify him in himself and glorify him at once.” Lots of glory talk! That’s the first thing.
 
And second, Jesus says, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” As he told the Jewish authorities a few chapters back, he says again to his disciples, “Where I am going you cannot come.”
 
And then third, Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you should love one another, just as I have loved you. By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
 
The Gospel of John packs so much meaning in so few words but there’s a lovely through line for each of these three ideas connecting who we Christians believe God is, and what God in Jesus does for us, and how we live and relate to each other.
 
For the Gospel of john, the answer to the question, “Who is God” is “Jesus”, and for the question, “Who is Jesus” the answer is God. To know Jesus is to know God. To follow Jesus is to follow God. That’s shown from the very beginning of theGospel of John which mirrors the beginning of the book of Genesis. Genesis starts with, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” John’s Gospel starts with “In the beginning was the Word (Jesus) and the Word was with God and the Word was God. All things came into being through the word Jesus.” The Gospel wants us to know that God and Jesus are one.
 
And in the book of Exodus when Moses hears the voice of God in the burning bush and asks God’s name, God says, I am who I am, and in John’s Gospel, seven times Jesus says, I am. I am the good shepherd. I am the bread the of life. I and the Light. I am the vine. I am the gate. I am the resurrection. I am the way, the truth and the life. The Gospel wants us to hear that the divine voice is the same. I am God. I am Jesus.
 
And now here in this passage, we hear about the divine glory, which is another way of saying the divine power and the divine work, flows back and forth between God and Jesus. The son of Man and the Son of God has been glorified by God. God has been glorified in Jesus. God will also glorify Jesus in God’s own self. Glory is the divine power and the divine work both in God and in Jesus because Jesus and God are one.
 
And the specifics of that glorious, divine work of Jesus God is revealed in the second thing Jesus says, “Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me and as I said to the Jewish authorities, so I say to you, where I am going, you cannot come. Where I am going, you cannot come.”
 
A few chapters back, Jesus had been debating the Pharisees, the Jewish authorities, that soon they will search for him but not find him. “I am going to him who sent me.” The Pharisees don’t’ know what Jesus is talking about, and now in this passage, the disciples aren’t very clear on the idea either. Just after this passage Peter will say, “I will lay down my life for you.” And Jesus says again, “Where I am going, you cannot follow.”
 
This entire conversation is taking place the night before Jesus’ crucifixion. Peter and the other disciples will not go where Jesus goes. After Jesus’ arrest, Peter denies being a disciple of Jesus and the other disciples hide out. They will not go with Jesus to the cross.
That’s one way Jesus goes where they cannot and do not follow. But going deeper, the Gospel of John adds a specific purpose for Jesus’ death and resurrection, which is to create a new way for humanity and God to be together.
 
In the beginning, back in Genesis, when humans had the chance to live in harmony with God and with each other, inevitably, we chose not to. Adam and Eve both ate the forbidden fruit. Upset at God’s rejection, Cain slew Abel. Scripture says that in Noah’s day, all of humanity except Noah and his family were caught up in the wickedness and had nothing but evil inclinations in their hearts. These are our sacred stores because they tell the truth about the human condition throughout the ages. We re-enact those stories everyday.
And in response to our rejection, God has worked to get us back. After Adam and Eve got themselves expelled from the garden, God’s first act was to provide them protective clothing. After the murder of his brother, Cain had to leave his family, but God gave him a protective mark so he would not be punished continuously for his crime. God saved Noah and his family on the ark so that humanity could begin again.
 
And that’s the pattern again and again thoroughly the rest of scripture: humanity chooses to reject God and to reject God’s ways justice and mercy and love, and God works to bring us back. God creates the Jewish people and gives them laws to honor God and live rightly with each other, and then God sends the prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah and all the rest to remind the people to honor God and to live rightly with each other. All of that, God does for us.
 
And now in Jesus, the Word of God becomes one of us, to speak with us face to face, to walk with us, and to live as one of us, healing us and reconciling us to each other and to God. And we Christians believe that through his death and resurrection Jesus Chris reaches over sin and death and reaches past our own worst acts and inclinations and brings us into new life and eternal life. Only Jesus God can do that. We can’t save ourselves. We can’t fix ourselves, but the glorious good news is that Jesus God is going where cannot go to do what we can’t do. Jesus God goes to die so that our worst selves can die. Jesus God lives again so that we can live in news ways here and now and follow him into eternity.
 
So in this brief passage we find profound meanings: Jesus and God are one, united as creator, united in the “I am” name, united in glory.
 
Jesus God goes where we cannot go, to the cross, to the grave and into resurrected life and Jesus God does what we cannot do, leads us away from sin and death in this life and into the life to come.
 
And then finally Jesus says to his disciples, “I give you a new commandment that you should love one another. Just as I have loved you. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
 
A couple of things about that. What’s new about that? How is that a new commandment? God already said throughout the Old Testament to love God, to love justice and mercy, to love neighbors. Love is as old as Genesis. Loving one another is not the new part.
Love one another as I, Jesus God, have loved you. That’s the new part. God’s love for all of us is complete and unconditional. God’s love for us is not dependent on how good we are, or how many times we come to church. God’s love is not dependent on our political affiliation or our particular religious doctrines. God’s love is not dependent on our salary, or our orientation or our gender. God loves us all. Full stop.
 
That’s the new standard Jesus God gives us Christians. To love one another as God loves us. It’s very high and impossible to achieve on own. And, added pressure, Jesus says, it’s a command. Not negotiable. You should love one another! You must love one another. You will love one another, completely, unconditionally, continuously as I have loved you because, another added pressure, that’s how the world will know we are Jesus’ disciples, by our commanded, complete, unconditional and continuous love for each other.
 
How are we doing with that?
 
Fear not! Hear the good news! First off, yes, commands have to be followed, whether or not we feel like following them. VMI graduates had 4 years of following commands. I suspect there were a few times when they didn’t want to follow a command or didn’t understand why they had to follow a command or didn’t think they could follow the command, and it didn’t matter. They had to do it anyway. When it comes to loving one another, many of us kinds really do need to be commanded to do so. May of us are grateful that when it comes to those fools we work with or go to school with or go to church with or sit with at the kitchen table, that Jesus gives us no choice but to love them.
 
Jesus says, “Just as I have loved you, you should love one another.” That’s how most translations interpret what Jesus says. But “Just as I have loved you, you are able to love one another. Just as I have love you, you are able to love one another.” That works just as well and opens up some possibilities for us. God knows we have tried to love those fools who don’t think like we think, and who don’t act like we act, and who don’t live like we think they ought to live but some days, God help us, we just do not have it in us to love them.
So let’s to try to do that anymore! Let’s not try to marshal our own resources and grit our teeth and try to love those fools. Instead, we’ll let God’s love for them flow through us and out of them. Let’s not try to love them hard enough to change them, so they don’t keep making us crazy. God loves us and God love them enough. As we let God do the loving for us, and in us, and out of us, that’s the way we’ll find the way, the truth and the life.
 
It’s not our love – broken and conditional and imperfect – it’s God’s love in us that let’s us love another. It’s God’s love in us that the world will make note of. And good news, Jesus God has already shown us how to let the love flow And we access God’s love through worship and prayer and holy communion and baptism. We find God’s love for us and for each other through acts of generosity and kindness and charity and forgiveness. We let God’s love flood our souls when we celebrate milestones together, and pray together, and help the world around us together. The more we recognize and respond to God’s love for and for all the “thems” out there, then the more natural it gets for us to genuinely love one another as God loves us. This day and every day we remember that Jesus and God are united in name, united in glory and united in love. Jesus God lives and dies and lives again for us. Jesus God loves us, continuously and unconditionally, so that we can love one another, and so that the world will know that love.
 
Thanks be to God!