My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. ~ John 15:12
It’s simplicity is remarkable when you stop and think about it. Jesus gave us just one basic command to follow when it comes to following his example in this world. Love each other as I have love you. That’s it. Love.
It’s easy to forget that Jesus didn’t leave a how-to guide on liturgy or Sunday worship behind. He didn’t leave multiple scrolls defining what moments in faith and worship were to be considered Sacraments with an explanation as to why those moments are Sacramental while others are not. He didn’t leave behind a church leadership structure that would ensure a healthy, vibrant church with an engaging, charismatic, faith-filled and spirit-led leader. He didn’t outline which para-church organizations would be best for each era in human history nor did he define their purpose and mission.
He simply told us to love one another.
One would think that, because Jesus kept it so simple and straightforward, Christians would have no problem honoring that command, right? If only. Unfortunately, we have been a bit too busy looking for loopholes and exceptions in our quest to prove that we are more worthy than those around us. We would like to think that, in modern times, we are way too civilized to discriminate against people of a different race or ethnic group. And yet my grandfather fought in World War II as Hitler tried to wipe the Jewish people off the face of the earth. My father’s early 20’s saw the Cambodian killing fields where, over the course of 4 years, 25% of the population died from starvation, overwork, and executions at the hands of the Khmer Rouge political party. During my teen years I watched the news coming from Rwanda as, for about 100 days, the Hutu’s brutally murdered Tutsi friends and neighbors.
Just last year the United States found itself the center of world attention for racial tensions and protests following the murder of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer. That particular incident was filmed by a bystander, posted on social media, and brought issues simmering under the surface to a full and rapid boil. Last year made the reality that not all American’s experience the justice system in the same way hard to ignore. Last year reminded us of the importance of truly listening to one another, expressing empathy, and how easy it is to abuse power when in a position of authority. Last year reminded many of us that loving our Christian brothers and sisters is not always a simple, easy task.
Why is it so hard to love each other? Especially those who are different?
The simple answer is because we, a fallen and sinful people, live in a fallen and sinful world. We can never be perfect so why bother trying too often becomes our mindset. It is a dangerous mindset because it can quickly take the next step which is to think that if we are going to mess up, we might was well mess up big time and make the most of the opportunity. Go big or go home. That’s the simple answer.
The more complex answer requires us to be honest with ourselves. It requires us to admit we are biased in our decision making and views of the world around us. We have to admit that we use stereotypes on a regular basis. We have acknowledge that we make assumptions based on our experiences and the stories we have grown up with in our childhood. And, perhaps most importantly, we have to be open to the idea that different is not bad or inferior, it is often just different. And we need to start within the body of Christ.
While it has its challenges at times, I love that I grew up going to a Baptist Bible Camp, an Evangelical Free church with my mom, and to Catholic Mass at times with my dad. I love that I’ve spent time working in Catholic churches and volunteering in charismatic churches only to end up working at a Lutheran Bible camp. It has taught me that, especially when it comes to faith and God, different isn’t generally a bad thing, it’s just a thing. I’ve learned that we all connect with God in different ways. For some people, they connect with God in silence while others connect best with modern worship music blaring. Some connect with God in small groups while others pull from the energy of the crowd. If we can start by acknowledging that diversity of worship within the body of Christ is valuable, we might be able to begin to appreciate the diversity within the human race. If we can begin with loving those closest to us, we might be able to authentically love those who are very different from us.
Ultimately, this passage isn’t demanding perfection from us. Jesus knows our sinful nature will get the better of us way more often than we care to admit. But it is challenging us to act lovingly towards others, to strive to echo the nature of God’s love consistently in our actions and attitudes towards others. It is challenging us to consider where our heart is because it is from the heart our attitudes and actions flow.
Check out the Wednesday theme team as they put the verse to music and add actions!
Who do you know personally who is hard to love? What makes them hard for you to love?
Take a moment and be honest with yourself. What personal biases strongly influence your opinions and views when it comes to other people?