One thing. Just one thing he asked of his friends: love one another. Love one another as I have loved you. Just one thing shines clear through the multitude of words and metaphors that color the Fourth Gospel: Love one another.
And that is how those first-century followers of Jesus came to be known: for their love for one another, for the way they cared for one another, pooling their resources and distributing them according to need. I like to imagine that their lives looked like that hillside picnic, where the loaves and fishes got passed all around, everyone shared, everyone had enough. I'm sure it wasn't that easy; community life never is. But they did get some clear operating instructions for their new way of life, from all the stories about Jesus, and particularly in this story where Jesus is pictured as offering some last instructions before he leaves them:
"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." (John 13:34-35)
Just one thing: love one another. Jesus keeps it simple. He doesn't tell them what to believe. He tells them what to practice. No orthodoxy here, but rather orthopraxy. He doesn't define the practice of love, except to say, "love each other the way that I have loved you." And he leaves it up to them, and to us, to figure out what that kind of love looks like, self-emptying, self-giving, wildly extravagant love.
How did we get from that bit of instruction through 2000 years of fighting over doctrines and creeds and rituals? The fights go on about who's right and who's wrong, who "gets it" and who doesn't. Fingers of blame wag and snarky derision pops up in all corners of the 21st century religious living room: liberal Christians lounging on the couch are quick to say that doctrine doesn't matter, only acting in love matters. But they glance with withering pity (AKA snarky derision) across the room at their more conservative cousins in the straight-backed chairs who hold fast to biblical literalism and social traditions. I digress.
Just one thing: love one another. I am interested in what that kind of love looks like in our 21st century world, in our daily lives, and in our public lives. Those first Christians were known for their love. How might we be known for our love in our time, in our neighborhoods, in our schools? How about being known for standing up in love to the gun lobby, in loving support of children like Hadiya Pendleton and the Newtown six-year-olds, and their grieving parents? That could be enough to move our Congress from mere background-check legislation to retrieve the expired assault weapons ban. Impossible to get such action, they say. As impossible as those multiplying loaves and fishes. As impossible as that empty tomb.
Isak Dinesen, in Out of Africa tells the story of a young Kikuyu boy who appears at her door one day to ask for a job as a house servant. She hires him, and three months later, he asks her for a letter of recommendation to Sheik Ali bin Slim, a Muslim who lives in a nearby town. She offers to raise his pay, to keep him from leaving, but he wasn't interested in more money. He told her that he wanted either a Christian or a Muslim, and that is why he had come to her home, to observe how a Christian lived. Now he would observe how a Muslim lived, and then he would make his choice.
She writes that she wished he had told her that when he arrived.
One thing: love one another.
Echoes from the Edge
By The Rev. Kathryn Banakis - April 22nd, 2013
Sometimes I forget how truly quickly public opinion can change on social issues and how truly lucky I feel to live in this era. But then I get asked to perform the marriage of naval officer to her girlfriend, and it's totally mostly legal because Don't Ask, Don't was repealed. And the Supreme Court takes up DOMA and Proposition 8 within just a few years of the original laws being passed.
And I wear bright yellow stilettos on Easter morning while I'm up at the altar, and one of my parishioners stops me in the receiving line to tell me that RuPaul texted him during the service and wants his shoes back. Another parishioner tells me a story - that when the bright yellow vestments I'm wearing were dedicated in the church just a couple decades ago, the benefactors stormed out because there was a woman at the altar wearing them.
In my short lifetime public opinion on sexuality has changed so very much on who can do what when it comes to issues of gender and sexuality. Turns out women in ecclesial leadership and queer folk are ... pretty boring and normal.
We remain stubbornly divided on race. The legal protections are in place, but social integration has not happened. I remain hopeful that in my lifetime inter-racial life will become a pervasive reality and not just a token casting requirement for network sitcoms. But we're not there yet.
Our reading from Acts this week lays out the resistance that the Judeans had to non-Jews being part of the Christian community - racism/xenophobia by any other name. Peter has been out meeting the Roman and Ethiopian and Samarian gentile converts and in the process his opinion on gentiles' inclusion in the Christian community changes. But his community in Judea has remained isolated in Judea. And racial and cultural integration only happens through relationships. We know that intellectually.
Earlier in Acts it's clear that even when communities are integrated there's conflict (Acts 6:1 reads, "Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.") Proximity doesn't equate friendship.
We've come a long way, and for that I give incredible thanks - to be alive here and now in this time of great hope. There's a long way still to go.
Finally, the Poet
By Compassionate Action Network International - April 22nd, 2013
The best idea humanity has ever had...
The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.
It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others-even our enemies-is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.
We therefore call upon all men and women to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings-even those regarded as enemies.
We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.