May 6, 2018 — Sixth Sunday of Easter
Rev. Alison Quin
…As I Have Loved You
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
Shortly before his death, Jesus sat with his beloved disciples and gave them this final instruction—his commandment which seems so simple and yet almost impossibly hard to do—love one another as I have loved you.
Each of them must have been moved to remember some of the ways Jesus had loved them.
He loved people by embracing them in all their brokenness—whether it was physical brokenness or emotional brokenness or spiritual brokenness.
He loved people by speaking the truth—even when they did not want to hear it. “Go sell all your possessions.” “You load people with heavy burdens and don’t lift a finger to help them.” “You neglect justice and the love of God.” “Take the log out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”
He loved people by being authentic and honest about his own feelings as well. We see him rejoicing. We see him weeping over the death of a friend. We see him angry at injustice and suffering. We see him frightened and distressed over his impending death.
He loved by being true to himself even though he knew it would lead to his death.
As if all of this were not enough, he loved us by dying for us: Greater love has no one than to lay down his life for his friends.
“Love one another AS I HAVE LOVED YOU.”
It’s a tall order.
We can’t do it on our own. It is too difficult to be honest about our own feelings and our own brokenness. It is too hard to speak the truth to others and face the consequences. It is too painful to embrace others in their brokenness—physical, emotional, spiritual.
Loving one another the way Jesus loves us is only possible when we turn to him in faith—when we let him love us. That’s why Jesus urges his disciples to abide in his love. When we open our hearts to his love, it flows through us and enables us to love others with his love.
Last week, I attended a clergy conference at Mohonk. Every two years, the bishops and the clergy gather for a two-day conference. There is a different topic each year. This year, the speaker was Barbara Crafton, who is a priest, writer and retreat leader in our diocese. She spoke eloquently about experiencing God’s call to ordained ministry, and then she spoke about how priests can get in trouble if they do not seek out support. She shared some examples—one priest she knew became addicted to drugs. Another had an affair. She made the point that in such situations, the only way to move forward is through openness and honesty. The wrong must be named, and there must be accountability. Victims cannot forgive or heal unless the truth is spoken and their pain is acknowledged.
She then asked people to share challenging times in their ministries, and whether they had had support during those times. People began to share their stories in a profoundly honest way. One person spoke about having a drinking problem and telling his wardens. They asked him to get help and he agreed — after Christmas. But the wardens contacted the bishop, and the bishop came up the next morning. The priest went into treatment and began recovery that day. He thanked the wardens and the bishop for saving his life. Another priest spoke about an episode of depression and anxiety that left her paralyzed and said that her colleagues were her mainstay during that period and got her back on track.
Finally, one priest stood up and said, “I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I feel I need to speak the truth about our former bishop Paul Moore.” (Paul Moore was the bishop of New York from 1972-1989—he was a former Marine who earned the Purple Heart in Guadalcanal, and he was much admired for his social justice activism). But, she said, “he ruined many people’s lives because he was a sexual predator—he had affairs with many young priests and lay people.” Someone else stood up, a man in his 60’s, and said, “I was one of Paul Moore’s ‘boys’—he seduced me when I was a new priest. It nearly ruined my life. I almost lost my priesthood. But I believe in Jesus Christ. I finally have the kind of close relationship with Jesus that I always wanted. And he saved me. I’m still here because of Jesus.”
Many of us were in tears at the end of the morning—at the suffering we heard, at the terrible mix of good and evil in human beings, at the brokenness in the church, the Body of Christ.
And yet, it was a moment of true Christian community. We listened deeply and acknowledged brokenness, our own and others. We witnessed courage and honesty and vulnerability. We collectively held the pain of those who spoke, and heard the truth that liberates and heals. Because of our shared faith in Jesus, we also held hope in the possibility of healing—for the individuals involved and for the whole church. It was a moment of intimacy, mutual love and faith.
The word intimacy comes from the Latin, intimare, which means to share our innermost selves with another. Jesus continually invites us into deeper intimacy with him—to share our true selves with him. He embraces us just as we are—in all our beauty and brokenness. He loves us into wholeness, overcoming the hurts and divisions within us that lead us to inflict hurt on others.
Deeper intimacy with Jesus gives us courage to be more authentic with each other. True Christian community requires honesty—about our brokenness, about the hurts we have received and inflicted. Knowing we are loved unconditionally enables us to speak our truth, to listen deeply to others, to hold others accountable and be willing to be held accountable ourselves.
The heart of our mission is to love one another as Jesus loves us—by being authentic, speaking the truth, listening to others, holding each other accountable and always, always holding fast to the hope of healing and forgiveness and new life.