Sermon John 13:31-35; 5th Sunday of Easter – May 19th, 2019 (by Pr. Tia Pelz)

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Halleluja.

“Love is in the air, everywhere I look around
Love is in the air, every sight and every sound
And I don’t know if I’m being foolish
Don’t know if I’m being wise
But it’s something that I must believe in
And it’s there when I look in your eyes”, sang John Paul Young in 1978.

It’s one of these songs, that immediately stick to your head and magically perform a smile into your face. While writing this sermon, I listened to it on infinite loop and probably drove the construction workers next door mad. Until I eventually put on my headphones. And the more I listened to it, it became a true hymn to me. Not a song about some kind of short-time romance. But a hymn about my life as God’s beloved child in his beloved world.

Love one another. There it is, Jesus’ new commandment for us. Very short and precise: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. Does it sound familiar? Probably sounded familiar even back in Jesus’ days. Love your family, neighbors and friends is likely the most natural way of keeping a tribe alive. It secures the continuance, makes you feel strong and makes you seem strong to your enemies.

Love one another. What’s new here?

Well, Jesus doesn’t just tell us to be nice to each other for the sake of our communities. There are no requirements to meet in order to be loved. We usually tend to like people that are alike us: That look like us, talk like us, dress like us, are around the same age. It makes us feel safe to be around “look-alikes”. And so we like to divide people into categories. To organize people by race, gender, age, class, political party, income, athletic ability and more. That’s not Jesus’ concept of worldwide love. He talked to the outcasts and to people of different faith.

 

The love to one another is inseparably linked to the love and glory of God. God is glorified by the Love of our fellow folks. What a portentousness to any true believer. Love your next just as much as you love God. That exalts our neighbor technically into the same rank as God. Actually, these aren’t even to be considered two different commandments. Loving God equals loving one another.

Love is our commandment. Love is our task. Love is not just a warm feeling, a nice emotion deep down in my belly and heart. Love is to make everybody around us feel valuable. Everyone. No matter what race, gender, age, class, political party, income, athletic ability and more. We, the disciples of Christ, are called to be the task force of Love. Sent out into world by Jesus himself. Because of Jesus, Love is in the air!

Consider all the ways that we attempt to show ourselves as Christians to the world: jewelry in the shape of crosses and fish. Bumper stickers on our cars. Shared posts on social media. Jesus extends to us both a simple and challenging call: love. A visible and clear love. So that no one will have to wonder: “Why are they so friendly and caring? Why do they help the poor and sick, the homeless and immigrants, the kids and elderly? Why don’t they just care for themselves?” So that everyone will know, that the source of our love is Jesus Christ.

Maybe I am being foolish to dare talk about love. But it’s something that I must believe in. Why? Because I see it when I look into your eyes. Yes, yours. When I look into your joyful eyes today I see the love you are able to give. When I look into your sad eyes I see the love you need to feel. When I look into your worried eyes I see the love you want to give. When I look into the sad and worried and loving eyes of Jesus at the cross.

Is Love blind? Absolutely. It can prevent you from seeing the flaws. If it’s the man or woman you decided to marry in a state of love-blindness, seeing behind the facades can be disturbing and destroying in many ways.

The love Jesus commands us, his disciples, to spread around the world, is not about romantic love in the first place. It’s not about cozy, closed family and warm little parishes. How wonderful if you get to be part of any of that. But it’s not the final goal to cuddle up in a hand-picked community, well protected from any disturbing outsiders.

“Love is in the air, in the whisper of the tree
Love is in the air, in the thunder of the sea
And I don’t know if I’m just dreaming
Don’t know if I feel safe
But it’s something that I must believe in
And it’s there when you call out my name.”

A worldwide net of love should make us feel safer. Instead, it just exceeds our human imagination. When I start fully acknowledging how much love there is in the air, I don’t feel safe anymore. We need to know who is a friend, who is an enemy and, most importantly, what’s the distinction between the two. We need to categorize for the sake of our survival. So, we screen the world with a look shaped by experience and expectation. Instead of a look shaped by love, as Jesus told us.

Jesus said: Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. How does Jesus love us then?

In Jesus God put on our human shoes. Well, obviously, one cannot walk in somebody else’s shoes and step on that person’s toes at the same time. So, God started walking and living on earth as one of us among us. God put on our shoes. That’s true love. He still sees and hears and minds what I am doing. But he won’t step on my toes but love me forever. He constantly gives me that look: “I see you, I know you, I love you. Stop fooling around.”

In Jesus God started seeing the world through our eyes, thank God, never taking of the godly love-lens. True love is blind. God’s love is blind. He loves us so deeply and blindly, that it cost him his son’s life. Love makes you strong and vulnerable at the same time.

Love made our strong God vulnerable. He became a mortal human. He was hurt, hated and killed. But being vulnerable doesn’t make you weak. It makes you accessible.

I just finished reading the book “Just Listen” by Mark Gouldston. He is a psychiatrist and an expert in “how to get through people”. When working with people that are very insecure and therefor resistant to any kind of advice, he recommends: Show your neck! Tell people about your own issues and they will tell you theirs. Be vulnerable and the people around you will start owning their own vulnerability. Be human and people will stop playing God and become human as well.

Well, when reading that book, I thought: “God sure knew his psychiatry”. Because that’s exactly what he did. He became human and vulnerable and therefor accessible. People finally could see him, listen to him, touch him, share stories with him.

In Jesus our God revealed himself as the most caring and empathic God one can imagine. Not through demonstrating almightiness. But through showing the greatest possible empathy. By living how we life, suffering what we suffer, dying how we die. Lost and lonely.

If Jesus had just been a human like any of us, he would have stayed there. Lost and lonely. He would have left us in the world lost and lonely. Instead, he came back. He called mourning Mary out of her loneliness. He stopped by his lost disciples. He promised to be with us always, to the end of the age.

True love doesn’t ask “What do I get in return?”. Jesus didn’t ask his disciples that question. And even if he had, the answer wouldn’t have been pleasant: Jesus got his crucifixion in return to his love. Because God would rather die than stop loving and forgiving us. His love turned the entire world upside down. God became human. Humans played being God by killing God. Hatred seemed to have won. Loneliness seemed to have won. Until Jesus was risen. To comfort those he left behind mourning. To let all of us know and feel, that there won’t be another day without Jesus being near us. Love is in the air!

True love asks: “Who are you?” Over and over again. Love doesn’t know you, but recognizes and sees you. That’s probably why we know so few facts about Jesus. Because he was mostly interested in the people he met. Instead of being interesting. Jesus asked questions and let people tell their stories and really listened to them. To all of them. To his friends, his enemies and to all the people he wouldn’t have had to care about at all. Maybe that’s the most difficult of all: to show interest in someone you really don’t care about.

Here, at St Matthew’s many of you have known each other for years, even decades. Maybe you believe to know each other. Do we really listen to each other? Or do we pretend while secretly thinking to ourselves: “Ah, that story again… That’s what always comes now… I hope she will stop quickly… How to I get out of that, ah, I need more coffee…”

Love listens over and over again. Love looks for News in the well-known. Who knows, what’s going to happen? Maybe some stories have to be told until someone finally truly listens to them?

Nowadays people often complain about the loss of relationships and conversation. People miss an atmosphere of constructive debate. Everybody lives within its little social bubble. No one really talks to one another. We can complain about that. Or we can change it, starting in our small parish.

When we meet during the coffee-hour after service there is one of our many chances. And you might want to talk someone, who went on your nerves recently. Or to someone you think is boring. Or to someone you assume you already know everything about. Let’s really start listening to each other. Let’s listen with the loving ears of God. Caution: it could be wonderful. Amen.

This post is also available in: German