Easter 6 B - Love One Another

From Fr. Tony Kadavil:

1) God’s love in action: When Fr. Damien arrived in Molokai to assemble a prefabricated church for the lepers, he spent the first few weeks sleeping out under the trees, because he was unable to cope with the stench in the hovels of the lepers. He certainly wouldn't dare preach to them about God's love for them, because, as they saw it, that would be offensive. But slowly he opened his heart to the grace of God which enabled him to see the suffering Jesus in them. In no time, he was washing them, bandaging them, and burying them. He came to love them, and, through him, they came to believe that God loved them. He smoked a pipe to counteract the stench, but he soon was passing the pipe around for others to have a smoke. He ate food with them from a common bowl, out of which they scooped the food with hands that had no fingers. He caught the disease himself, and he was happy to be able to live and to die for them. Greater love than this no one has…

2) “He is very fond of me.” Brennan Manning tells the story of an Irish priest, who, on a walking tour of a rural parish, saw an old peasant kneeling by the side of the road, praying. Impressed, the priest said to the man, "You must be very close to God." The peasant looked up from his prayers, thought a moment, and then stated with a broad smile, “Yes, He's very fond of me." Manning has a slogan to introduce himself to others: "I am the one Jesus loves." He has borrowed this meaningful phrase from the gospel where Jesus’ closest friend on earth, the disciple named John, is identified as "the one Jesus loved." Manning says, "If John were to be asked, 'What is your primary identity in life?' he would not reply, 'I am a disciple, an apostle, an evangelist, an author of one of the four Gospels,' but rather, 'I am the one Jesus loves.'" Today’s gospel and the second reading remind us that our primary identity in life as Christians should be "the one Jesus loves,” precisely because we keep his commandment, “Love one another as I love you.”

3) Parents’ love for the teenager: Why do parents take so many zillion pictures of their kids when they are adorable little babies? The reason is simple. When those cute little toddlers grow into teenagers, parents can frantically dig out all those old pictures and remind themselves of these easily forgotten facts that those rebellious, hormone-crazed adolescents in the house really are their own children and they really do love them in spite of their crazy and rebellious behavior. Author Anthony E. Wolf has caught the spirit of this love/hate struggle between teenagers and their parents in a straight-forward; jargon-free little book whose title alone says it all: “Get Out of My Life! But First, Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall?: A Parents' Guide to the New Teenager” (New York: Noonday Press, 1991). Wolf is writing for parents, but he presents the feelings and anxieties of teenagers with candor and clarity, without any sugar-coating for either parents or teens. When reasonably well-adjusted, loving parents have tried to make their children feel the warmth and security of their love, Wolf argues, some surprising results can occur. Our kids tend to develop a sense of entitlement to that parental love -- a feeling parents want their kids to have, but a feeling parents aren't always happy with when it manifests itself.

4) The Whisper Test: Mary Ann Bird wrote a short story entitled "The Whisper Test." It is a true story from her own life. "I grew up knowing I was different, and I hated it. I was born with a cleft palate, and when I started school, my classmates made it clear to me how I must look to others: a little girl with a misshapen lip, crooked nose, lopsided teeth and garbled speech. "When schoolmates would ask, 'What happened to your lip?' I'd tell them I'd fallen and cut it on a piece of glass. Somehow it seemed more acceptable to have suffered an accident than to have been born different. I was convinced that no one outside my family could love me. There was, however, a teacher in the second grade that we all adored -- Mrs. Leonard by name. She was short, round, happy -- a sparkling lady. Annually, we would have a hearing test. I was virtually deaf in one of my ears. But when I had taken the test in past years, I discovered that if I did not press my hand as tightly upon my ears as I was instructed to do, I could pass the test. Mrs. Leonard gave the test to everyone in the class, and finally it was my turn. I knew from past years that as we stood against the door and covered one ear, the teacher sitting at her desk would whisper something and we would have to repeat it back ... things like, 'The sky is blue' or 'Do you have new shoes?' I waited there for those words. But God put into her mouth seven words which changed my life. Mrs. Leonard said, in her whisper, 'I wish you were my little girl.'"

5) ……. I love you: An adult education teacher once gave his students an assignment to go to someone they loved before the following week's class and tell that person that they loved him or her. They would then give their report at the next class. It had to be someone to whom they had never said those words before, or at least not for a very long time. At the next class, one man stood up and recounted his story to the class. "I was quite angry with you last week when you gave us this assignment. I could not understand how you dared to tell us to do something so personal. But as I was driving home, my conscience started talking to me. It was telling me that I knew exactly who I needed to say 'I love you' to. Five years ago, my father and I had a terrible argument which we had never resolved. We have avoided seeing each other since, unless it was absolutely necessary, and even then we hardly spoke to each other. So last week by the time I had returned home after class, I had convinced myself to tell my father that I loved him. It was strange, but just making the decision seemed to lift a heavy load off my chest. When I told my wife, she jumped out of bed, gave me a big hug and for the first time in our married life, she saw me cry. We sat up half of the night talking and drinking coffee. The next day I was up bright and early as if I had slept soundly all night. I got to the office and accomplished more in a couple of hours than I had the whole day before. At 9AM, I called my father to tell him I wanted to come over after work and talk to him. He reluctantly agreed. By 5:30, I was at the house. When my father answered the door, I didn't waste any time. I took one step inside and blurted out 'Dad, I just came over to tell you that I love you.' Well, it was as if a transformation had come over him. Before my eyes, his face softened, the wrinkles seemed to disappear and he too began to cry. He reached out and hugged me, saying 'I love you too, son, but I've never been able to say it.' My mother walked by just then with tears of joy in her eyes. I didn't stay long, but I hadn't felt that great in a long time. Two days after my visit, my dad, who had had heart problems but hadn't told us, had an attack and ended up unconscious in the hospital. I still don't know if he'll make it. So my message to all of you in this class is: don't wait to do the things you know need to be done. If I had waited, I might never have had another chance to do what I did." (Do It Now. Copyright 1995 by Dennis E. Mannering). Today’s Scripture teaches how we should love others.

6) After all years of love: An old couple was sitting by the fireside. He looked over at her, had a romantic thought, and said, “After fifty years, I’ve found you tried and true.”
The wife’s hearing wasn’t very good, so she said, “What?”
He repeated, “After fifty years, I’ve found you tried and true.”
“After fifty years, I’m tired of you too,” she replied.

7) Everlasting love: "Dearest Jimmy, No words could ever express the great unhappiness I’ve felt since breaking our engagement. Please say you’ll take me back. No one could ever take your place in my heart, so please forgive me. I love you, I love you, I love you! Yours forever, Marie... P.S. And congratulations on willing the 20 million state lottery.

8) If it doesn’t rain: A young man wrote this to his girlfriend. “Sweetheart, if this world was as hot as the Sahara desert, I would crawl on my knees through the burning sand to come to you. If the world would be like the Atlantic Ocean, I would swim through shark-infested waters to come to you. I would fight the fiercest dragon to be by your side. I will see you on Thursday if it does not rain.”
9)  She doesn’t know me, but I still know who she is.”
It was a busy morning, about 8:30, when an elderly gentleman in his 80′s arrived to have stitches removed from his thumb. He said he was in a hurry as he had an appointment at 9:00 am. The medico took his vital signs and had him take a seat, knowing it would be over an hour before someone would be able to see him. Since he, himself, was not busy the medico took time to evaluate the man’s wound. The wound was well healed, and so he talked to one of the doctors, got the needed supplies to remove his sutures and redress his wound. While taking care of his wound, the medico asked his patient if he had another doctor’s appointment as he was in such a hurry. The gentleman said that he needed to go to the nursing home to eat breakfast with his wife. In answer to the medico’s question about her health, the old man responded that she had been there for a while and that she was a victim of Alzheimer’s disease. When the medico asked if she would be upset if he was a bit late, he replied that she no longer knew who he was, that she had not recognized him in five years now. The medico was surprised, and asked him why, if his wife didn’t know who he was, he went every morning faithfully for the breakfast. The old man smiled and said, She doesn’t know me, but I still know who she is.” The medico with tears in the eyes said to himself, “That is the kind of love I want in my life.” True love is neither physical, nor romantic. True love is an acceptance of all that is, has been, will be, and will not be. 
10)  “Mom,  you'll  never have to take in washing again.”
Marion Anderson, perhaps the greatest contralto who ever lived had such a wonderful relationship with her mother. It was said of Mrs. Anderson's life: her music could bring one to tears; her life could bring one to his knees. She was once being interviewed and she was asked the most wonderful moment in her most impressive career. She could have mentioned that time when the great Arturo Toscanini told her that hers was the greatest voice of the century. She could have mentioned that time when she sang before the Roosevelts and the King and Queen of England. She could have said it was winning a coveted award for the person who had done the most for her hometown of Philadelphia. There was also the time when she sang before a crowd of 75,000 on Easter Sunday beneath the Lincoln statue. Which of these high moments would she chose? None of them. My greatest moment,” she said, “is when I went home to my mother and said: Mom, you'll  never have to take in washing again.’” If this relationship can exist between a mother and a  daughter,  then how much more can our relationship with Jesus Christ be? “I am the true vine,” he said. As the Father has loved me, so I love you.” And what happens when we abide in him and he abides in us? Our joy will be made full. Amen. 

11)  Great lesson of the story of "Beauty and the Beast. "
G. K. Chesterton once said that the really great lesson of the story of "Beauty and the Beast" is that a thing must be loved before it is loveable. A person must be loved before that person can be loveable. Some of the most unlovely people I have known got that way because they thought that nobody loved them. The fact of the matter is that unless and until we feel ourselves loved, we cannot love. That's not only a principle of theology but of psychology and sociology as well. Just as abused children grow up to abuse their children, loved children grow up to love their children. Loved persons are able to love. Unloved persons are not. Christianity says something startling. It says that God loves and accepts us "just as we are." Therefore, we can love and accept ourselves and in so doing, love and accept others. That is what Jesus commands us to do in todays gospel by challenging us to love others as he has loved us.

12) The Centurion Card:   
A few years ago American Express quietly introduced its most exclusive new card. The Centurion Card is absolutely black, and is actually made out of titanium - the hardest known naturally occurring metal. In fact, when one of these titanium Centurion Card expires, the member has to send it back to American Express for recycling. The titanium can't be cut up or shredded. Besides, titanium is too valuable to be thrown away. Jesus introduces and invokes a whole new mindset, heartset, soul set into the universe. Jesus established The Titanium Rule. Anyone figure out what it is? Here's a hint: you find it in his understatement in this morning's text, “It is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher." The Titanium Rule does not focus on "doing;" it focuses on "being" and on "loving." Jesus commands his followers, "Love one another as I have loved you." 

13) Transformation of a   surgeon with Tourette's Syndrome:
Some years back, neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote a fascinating vignette of an intriguing neurological difficulty. As some of you know, Tourette's Syndrome is a bizarre mental disorder that causes victims to have any number of physical and verbal tics. Some Tourettic people have constant facial twitches, others find themselves uncontrollably uttering verbal whoops, beeps, and sometimes also raunchy swear words. One man with Tourette's whom Dr. Sacks knew was given to deep, lunging bows toward the ground, a few verbal shouts, and also an obsessive- compulsive type adjusting and readjusting of his glasses. The kicker is that the man is a skilled surgeon! Somehow and for some unknown reason, when he dons mask and gown and enters the operating room, all of his tics disappear for the duration of the surgery. He loses himself in that role and he does so totally. When the surgery is finished, he returns to his odd quirks of glasses adjustment, shouts, and bows. Sacks did not make any spiritual comments on this, of course, yet I find this doctor a very intriguing example of what it can mean to "lose yourself" in a role. There really can be a great transformation of your life when you are focused on just one thing focused to the point that bad traits disappear even as the performing of normal tasks becomes all the more meaningful and remarkable. Something like that is our Christian goal as we travel with Jesus. Our desire is to love one another to love the whole world finally, I suppose as Jesus loved us. To do that, we need an infusion of a kind of love that does not arise naturally from the context of the world as we know it. So as we lose ourselves in Jesus and in being his disciples, we find even our ordinary day-to-day activities infused with deep meaning as a love from another place fills our hearts. 

14) "Yes, daddy, but I can't sit on its lap!"
Some time ago, there was an article in the Los Angeles Times about Howard Maxwell and his four year old daughter, Melinda. As children often do, Melinda developed a fixation on the story of "The Three Little Pigs." Every time her father came around, Melinda wanted him to read it to her. Well, for adults, a little "Three Little Pigs" goes a long way. The father, being both modern and inventive, got a tape recorder, recorded the story, and taught Melinda how to turn it on. He thought that had solved his problem. But it lasted less than a day. Soon Melinda came to her father, holding out "The Three Little Pigs" and asking him to read. Somewhat impatiently, the father said, "Melinda, you have the tape recorder, and you know how to turn it on!" The little girl looked up at her father with her big eyes and said, plaintively, "Yes, daddy, but I can't sit on its lap!" Of course, what she really wanted was love. That is what we all want, and we never outgrow our need for it. To be valued, to be cared about, to be loved with a love without strings, a love that will always be there for us; I tell you, that is a foundation for our families that is strong enough to build upon! 

15) “Hand me your papers that I may carry all your crimes away with me in death." French writer Henri Barbusse (1874-1935), tells of a conversation overheard in a trench full of wounded men during the First World War. One of the men, who knew he only had minutes to live says to one of the other man, "Listen, Dominic, you've led a very bad life. Everywhere you are wanted by the police. But there are no convictions against me. My name is clear, so, here, take my wallet, take my papers, my identity, take my good name, my life and quickly, hand me your papers that I may carry all your crimes away with me in death." The Good News is that through Jesus, God makes a similar offer. Something wonderful happens to us when we are  baptized.  When  we are  baptized,  we identify ourselves with Jesus. We  publicly  declare our intention to strive to be like Jesus and follow God's will for our lives. When we are baptized, our lives are changed. We see things differently now. We see other people differently. Baptism enables and empowers us to do the things that Jesus wants us to do here and now. We are able to identify with Jesus because we have been baptized into His death and live with His Life. And we are able to love as he loved. Such identification is life-changing. That kind of identification shapes what we believe and claims us. 

16)  “ This  is  the  happiest  day  o f  my  life.”  
You have heard a bride say it. You have heard a new mother in the maternity ward say it. You have heard a graduating senior say it: This is the happiest day of my life. Some days are like that; they're special. There are great days in all of our lives. I wonder what was your most wondrous moment? For me such days are filled with extraordinary hope and joy. For me it was the birth of my daughter because it was shared with my wife and family. [state yours]. Life involves many happy affairs the birth of a child, the gatherings of Christmas, a summer vacation. It is often said that to love and be loved is the greatest happiness in the world. For most of us, then, the  most significant movement of hope and joy is our wedding day. It's the day we celebrate before God and all our friends the love in our life. Marriage vows are the most profound vows one can make. No  other  vows are more tender; no other vows are more sacred. No other pledge will so radically shape and claim an individual. The two become one. A home is born. A haven for family is founded. Your place to be is created. But, alas, in too many marriages and in so many lives the wine fails. 

17) "God, I ain't got nothin' against nobody."
Anthony Campolo tells about a mountaineer from West Virginia who fell in love with the beautiful daughter of the town preacher. The gruff and tough man one evening looked deeply into the eyes of the preacher's daughter and said, "I love you." It took more courage for him to say those simple words than he had ever had to muster for anything else he had ever done. Minutes passed in silence and then the preacher's daughter said, "I love you, too." The tough mountaineer said nothing except, "Good night." Then he went home, got ready for bed and prayed, "God, I ain't got nothin' against nobody." Many of us know that feeling. To love and to be loved, what joy that simple emotion brings into our lives! Then to realize that the very nature of God is love is almost more than you or I can comprehend. No wonder, Jesus greatest commandment for his followers is “Love one another as I have loved you.” 

18) The greatest commandment revolutionizing prison:  
During the Second World War Dr. Ernest Gordon, later Chaplain of Princeton University, was a prisoner of war in Thailand. In his book, Through the Valley of the Kwai, he reflects on the difference between two Christmas seasons he spent in prison. He says that during the Christmas season of 1942 there were thousands of American soldiers in that prison who robbed the sick among them, mistreated one another, and did not care whether the other prisoners lived or died. During the following year, a healthy American soldier began giving his food to a sick buddy to help him get well. In time the sick prisoner recovered, but the buddy who had given him food died of malnutrition. The story of the man who sacrificed his life to save a buddy made the rounds of the camp. Some of the prisoners remarked that he was a lot like Christ. Some of the soldiers began to recall passages from the Bible they had learned years earlier under far different circumstances. One of the passages stated, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Some who were Christians took heart and began to witness to other men. The prisoners began to ask about Christ and to meet for Bible study. When they began to knowChrist as Lord the entire atmosphere in the camp changed from despair and desperation to hope and compassion. When Christmas of 1943 arrived, Dr. Gordon said, 2000 prisoners assembled for worship. They sang carols and someone read the story of the birth of Jesus from a Gospel account. Much more was different. In spite of their hunger, prisoners who were well shared food with the sick to help them gain strength faster. They cared for one another. They agreed that the difference came about because of faith in Christ and people who lived his love in the midst of unloving circumstances. The choices they made were for righteousness and not evil. 

19) Dad couldn't remember which one of us was adopted."
One time a Sunday school superintendent was registering two new sisters in Sunday School. When she asked them how old they were one replied, "We're both seven. My birthday is April 8th and my sister's is April 20th." That superintendent replied, "That's impossible girls." The other sister then spoke up and said, "No it's true, one of us is adopted." "Oh," the superintendent said. "Which one?" The two sisters looked at each other, and one said, "We asked Dad that question a while ago, but he just looked at us and said that he loved us both equally, so much so that he couldn't remember which one of us was adopted." (from God's Little Lessons on Life for Women, Honor Books). That is a wonderful analogy for the love of God. God loves us all, equally. We are loved, not because we have earned God's love or deserve it, but because of God's grace. 

20) There is a beautiful old story about Zacchaeus, the tax collector.
It tells how in later years, he rose early every morning and left his house. His wife, curious, followed him one morning. At the town well he filled a bucket, and he walked until he came to a sycamore tree. There, setting down the bucket, he began to clean away the stones, the branches, and the rubbish from around the base of the tree. Having done that, he poured water on the roots and stood there in silence, gently caressing the trunk with both of his hands. When his amazed wife came out of hiding and asked what he was doing, Zacchaeus replied simply, "This is where I found Christ." I can just imagine that for the rest of their lives, that woman who touched the hem of Jesus' robe that day on the street and the daughter of Jairus who was raised up in that room in her home, continually brought people back to those sacred spots and said, "This is where I found Christ! This is where Christ loved me into life!" Do you have a sacred spot like that? This is the Good News of our Christian faith, isn't it? Love has the power to heal, to reconcile, and to redeem.

21)  “He is very fond of me.”  
Brennan Manning tells the story of an Irish priest, who, on a walking tour of a rural parish, saw an old peasant kneeling by the side of the road, praying.  Impressed, the priest said to the man, "You must be very close to God."  The peasant looked up from his prayers, thought a moment, and then stated with a broad smile, “Yes, He's very fond of me."   Manning has a slogan to introduce himself to others: "I am the one Jesus loves."  He has borrowed this meaningful phrase from the gospel where Jesus closest friend on earth, the disciple named  John, is identified as "the one Jesus loved." Manning says, "If John were to be asked, 'What is your primary identity in life?' he would not reply, 'I am a disciple, an apostle, an evangelist, an author of one of the four Gospels,' but rather, 'I am the one Jesus loves.'"   Today’s gospel and the second reading remind us that our primary identity in life as Christians should be "the one Jesus loves,” precisely because we keep his commandment, Love one another as I love you.”

The humorist Will Rogers told us that he never met a man he didn't like. In the musical that celebrated Rogers' life, there is a song by that title and in that song Rogers admits that one man "put him to the test," but never pushed him finally to the point where his ability to like evaporated. I don't know what your response is to Rogers' disclosure, but I am led to think he was -- to utilize an overworked phrase -- "in denial." Come now, can any of us stand and say that we have, without exception, always liked every single person with whom we have ever come into contact? I appreciated the honesty of a well-seasoned cleric who confessed: "There are some people to whom I couldn't warm even if I were cremated with them!" 

Let's get this on the table before we go a step further. Christian men and women are not called to like everyone. The old camp song is titled "They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love," and not, "They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Likes and Dislikes." If there are folks to whom you do not warm, know please that you are not in violation of any Christian norm.

We are not called to like, but we are called -- and this is the burden of our text -- to love: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you," says Jesus. 

Love, as it is defined by our faith, is both a revered panacea, and an underemployed practice. To say that the answer to the world's problems is for people to love each other more is both right and banal at the same time. It sounds wonderful and grand. Who would argue with the contention? But when you sit eyeball to eyeball with another person -- especially one who is cantankerous, obnoxious, difficult, unlovely, and seemingly unlovable -- it is anything but an easy task. There will be more than a few times when we say with Jeremiah: "O that I had in the desert a traveler's lodging place, that I might leave my people and go away from them!" (Jeremiah 9:2). 

Frederick Buechner has observed: "In the Christian sense, love is not primarily an emotion, but an act of will."  What is this saying to us about our faith's distinctive understanding of love?

1. Christian Love Is Learned from God.
2. Christian Love Is Eternal.
3. Christian Love Is Patient.

Today we honor our moms. Not everybody can be a mom, but everyone at some time in their life has had a mom, and at that time our mom was the most important person in our world. Some of us had moms who made great sacrifices in our behalf. We are profoundly grateful for that. So today we honor our moms.

It's not easy being a mom. Here are some examples of some mothers and things they could have said:

Mona Lisa's mother: "After all that money your father and I spent on braces, Mona, that's the biggest smile you can give us?"

Humpty Dumpty's mother: "Humpty, if I've told you once, I've told you a hundred times not to sit on that wall. But would you listen to me? Noooo!"

Christopher Columbus' mother: "I don't care what you've discovered, Christopher. You still could have written!"

Michelangelo's mother: "Mike, can't you paint on walls like other children? Do you have any idea how hard it is to get that stuff off the ceiling?"

Napoleon's mother: "All right, Napoleon. If you aren't hiding your report card inside your jacket, then take your hand out of there and prove it!"

Jonah's mother: "That's a nice story, but now tell me where you've really been for the last three days."  

It's not easy being a mom. I always find it interesting whenever Mother's Day falls on the Sunday when our lesson for the day is this one from John 15:

"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you . . ."

[You are mature enough in your faith to realize that God does not have a gender. God is Spirit. God is neither male nor female. This is one time when it would be most appropriate to substitute the word Mother for God rather than the word Father. In light of this special day, it makes so much sense to read our lesson like this: "As my Mother has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Mother's commands and remain in her love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you . . ."

As William Makepeace Thackeray once said, "Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of children."]

Let's begin here: We love because God first loved us. That is the message for the day. In this passage, Jesus goes beyond the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule says what? . . . That's right . . . "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." 

In this passage, Jesus trumps the Golden Rule. We are not simply to love our neighbor as we love our self; we are to love our neighbor as Jesus loves us. That's a different and much more difficult standard... 

Friends and Friendship

The Clergy Journal shared disturbing information about making friends: 60% of men over 30 cannot identify a single person they would call a close friend. Of the 40% who list friends, most were made during childhood or school years. Most women can identify 5 or 6 women whom they call close friends. A closer look shows that a lot of these were functional relationships. Friendship is not easy to develop. 
Our lesson is about friends and friendship. If it has never occurred to you before, note that Christians were called "friends" before they were called Christians. That's right. The New Testament says, "it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called 'Christians'" -- long after the death of Jesus and the dispersion of his disciples in the early days of the church. But Jesus himself said to the disciples, "I have called you friends." Think about that. Let it sink in. "I have called you friends." Before anything else. "I have called you friends." 

David Leininger, Jesus' Friend

Everything Else Will Follow

If you study the life and words and parables and sermons and actions of Jesus, you will find an eternity's worth of things you should do. But there was precisely just one thing which was so vital that Jesus actually went so far as to phrase it as a command, and that was to love each other. We are to love one another, cherish one another, even lay down our lives for one another if need be, and it is all an extension of being a branch on Jesus the true vine. Apparently Jesus knew that if we could do just this one commandment, everything else would follow. If you bring a child to an ice cream parlor, you won't need to start issuing rules which insist that the child order a cone, eat it, enjoy it, find it delicious, and so just generally have fun! Once the child gets to the parlor, the rest follows. So also with love: if we can't do this, nothing else will work, either. If we can, the rest follows.

Scott Hoezee, comments and observations on John 15:9-17.
Remember, We Are the Fruits of the Vine

Our faith is not something we talk about. The weather, sports and politics dominate our conversations, while matters of faith rarely appear at all. Yet, Jesus said we are to be bearers of fruit. Each of you is a branch. You who are connected to the one true vine, represent the church wherever you go. And when you are faithful it is contagious.

One time I served a church that was hidden in an obscure corner of a suburb. The people of that congregation never thought highly of themselves. One time we took a survey and discovered that our presence had a profound affect on the life of the people who lived there. They noticed when the bushes were pruned, the parking lot was full or that remodeling was taking place. Just as the church is a visible presence of God's abiding love, each of you is a visible presence in the community.

Keith Wagner, Fruit of the Vine
Those Who Love the Lord

A poem by Leigh Hunt (1784-1859) describes a man by the name of Abou Ben Adhem who had a dream. He awakened in the night, and there in his room was an angel of the Lord writing in a golden book. 

He said to the angel: "What writest thou?" 

The angel answered:

"...The names of those who love the Lord."
"And is mine one?" said Abou. "Nay, not so,"
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerily still, and said, "I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men."

The angel wrote and vanished. The next night
the angel appeared again but this time with a great wakening light,
And showed the names of those who love God;
And, lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest!
When Adhem saw his name at the top of the list of those who love the Lord, he asked the angel what had happened.
The angel said, "If we love not our brothers and sisters whom we have seen, how can we say we love God whom we have not seen?"

James Delton Morrison, Editor, Masterpieces of Religious Verse, New York: Harper and Brothers, 1948.
Love: The Common Denominator

We are familiar with this phrase from our classes in arithmetic. When we are shown a random group of fractions, we must first find the divisor that is common to all of them. Once we have figured out that divisor, the common denominator, we can convert all our fractions to the same divisor. This will enable us to add and subtract the fractions. As long as we maintain the same ratio between numerator and denominator, the fractions are not changed in value. Reading our text, we find that the common denominator that underlies the whole of life is love. Whenever we are motivated by love, all else in life falls into line. The unique feature of Jesus of Nazareth is that love for his Father was his prime mover. He was thereby empowered to follow his Father's wishes to the letter. We might say that for Jesus love was the lowest common denominator around which all the random "fractions" of life could come together. 

Merlin Shorb, The Lowest Common Denominator 

I Am the One Who Jesus Loves

Author and speaker Brennan Manning came up with a slogan. The slogan is, "I am the one Jesus loves." It sounds a little arrogant doesn't it? But he is actually quoting Scripture. Jesus' closest friend on earth, the disciple named John, is identified in the Gospels as "the one Jesus loved." Manning said, "If John were to be asked, 'What is your primary identity in life?' he would not reply, 'I am a disciple, an apostle, an evangelist, an author of one of the four Gospels,' but rather, 'I am the one Jesus loves.'" 

What would it mean, I ask myself, if I too came to the place where I saw my primary identity in life as "the one Jesus loves"? How differently would I view myself at the end of a day? 

Sociologists have a theory of the looking-glass self: you become what the most important person in your life (wife, father, boss, etc.) thinks you are. How would my life change if I truly believed the Bible's astounding words about God's love for me, if I looked in the mirror and saw what God sees? 

Brennan Manning tells the story of an Irish priest who, on a walking tour of a rural parish, sees an old peasant kneeling by the side of the road, praying. Impressed, the priest says to the man, "You must be very close to God." The peasant looks up from his prayers, thinks a moment, and then smiles, "Yes, he's very fond of me." 

Brett Blair, Adapted from Phillip Yancey, What's So Amazing about Grace? [pp. 68-69]
Love: Greater Than Faith or Hope

In a beautiful sermon entitled "The Power of Love," Paul Tillich, one of the great theological minds of the twentieth century, writes of a Swedish woman who aided prisoners and orphans during the first World War. She ended up in a concentration camp herself because she gave aid and comfort. Tillich writes, "It is a rare gift to meet a human being in whom love - this means God - is so overwhelmingly manifest. It undercuts theological arrogance as well as pious isolation. It is more than justice and greater than faith or hope. It is the very presence of God in the form of a human being. For God is love. In every moment of genuine love we are dwelling in God and God in us." 

Patricia de Jong, Partners and Friends

 The Nature of Friendship

Graduation is upon us. And soon so will be all the class reunions this summer. I don't know if you have been to your ten year class reunion, if you haven't you're in for a surprise. You think everyone would have grown up. But you find out, once you get there, if feels like your still in high school. Once upon a time, there was a fiftieth reunion of a high school class. Everyone was in their late sixties, yet they had no trouble remembering one another. The reunion was a grace for all because everyone felt young again and felt a promise that perhaps they could be young again permanently. Two men who had been inseparable through grammar school and high school and who had a fight on graduation day met each other for the first time in fifty years. They grinned, shook hands, and then, with the new emotional freedom that some men have learned from their wives, they hugged one another. They spent the rest of the day laughing together about the good times they had enjoyed when they were young, so much fun, so much laughter, so many good times, so much happiness. They talked about all the years since then, the excitement and terror of the war, the surprise of prosperity after the war, happiness despite strain in their marriages, problems and triumphs with their children and grandchildren. Somehow it seemed that they eliminated the separation of a half century, that they had been close all those fifty years since their graduation. Old grudges are forgotten, differences are ignored. Turns out you've been friends all along without knowing it. And someone said, we couldn't get away from our friendship no matter how hard we tried. Such is the nature of the friendship Jesus promised us in his last supper discourse. 

Adapted from a homily by Fr. Andrew M. Greeley 

An Arm around the Shoulder

You will remember Jackie Robinson as the first black man to play Major League baseball. In his first season with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson faced venom nearly everywhere he traveled. Pitchers threw fastballs at his head. Runners spiked him on the bases, brutal epithets were written on cards and spoken from the opposing dugouts. Even the home crowds in Brooklyn saw him as an object of reproach. During one game in Boston, the taunts and racial slurs seemed to reach a peak. To make matters worse Robinson committed an error and stood at second base humiliated while the fans hurled insults at him. Another Dodger, a Southern white man by the name Pee Wee Reese, called timeout. He walked from his position at shortstop toward Robinson at second base, and with the crowds looking on, he put his arm around Robinson's shoulder. The fans grew quiet. Robinson later said that arm around his shoulder saved his career. 

Brett Blair,

 The First Service We Owe 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote some years ago that "the first service that one owes to others in the (Christian) fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love for God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for (brothers and sisters in Christ) is listening to them. It is God's love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear. So it is His work that we do for our (brothers and sisters in Christ) when we learn to listen to (them). Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking" 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p. 97.

 Sermon Ender - Because God Told You 

On my way out of the church late one afternoon, I was chagrined to see, coming towards the church down the walkway, a rather forlorn looking man with a small bag, obviously a wanderer, a vagabond, a drifter, obviously coming toward the church seeking a handout. 

This is what you get for having a church situated near a busy highway. These drifters drift through about twice a week, seeking a tank of gas for their trip, a meal, a gift -- preferably in cash -- for their journey to who knows where. They always have some sad story of woe to tell but the end is always the same -- can you spare about $25.00 in cash. 

I sighed as I watched the man approach. It had been a long day. I had a meeting to return for that night and I was anxious to get home. I would meet him at the door, head him off, give him the only cash I had -- a mere $15.00 as I recall -- and then send him, and me, on our way. 

"What can I do for you?" I asked with some annoyance in my voice. 

"I wondered if you might be able to help a fella' on the way South," he said. "I was headed down to...." 

"Yes, yes," I said. "Well, I'm in a bit of a rush. So here is all I have. A five and a ten. That's all I've got." 

The man took the money as I offered it. Looked at it. And without a word, he turned, and headed out toward the street. 

Then he stopped, and turned toward me as I locked the church door. "I guess you think I'm supposed to thank you, to be grateful," he said with a surprising tone of defiance...
From Fr. Jude Botelho:
In today's passage from the Acts, Peter, moved by the Spirit, enters Cornelius' home. Cornelius, who had heard of the miracle Peter had wrought, fell at the feet of Peter and worshipped him. Peter, wiser after the resurrection, asks him to rise, as he does not deserve this honour. "Stand up; I am only a mortal." As Peter mixes with the household of Cornelius he comes to the realization that God's spirit is present among them even though they are not Jews. Peter himself experienced God's spirit descending on all who were present, even on the pagan family of Cornelius, and they all received the gifts of the Spirit. Today, we are reminded that if we are believers, we have to be open to all and build bridges rather than barriers between ourselves. God's spirit is a spirit of openness, of sharing and of loving and no one should be excluded.
"Don't bug me! Hug me!"
"Don't bug me! Hug me!" says a bumper sticker. One man who believes this strongly went around giving hugs to all sorts of people. Challenged to come to a home for the disabled, he hugged people, who were terminally ill, severely retarded or quadriplegic. Finally he came to the last person, Leonard, who was wearing a big white bib, on which he was drooling. Overcoming his initial reluctance, the man took a deep breath, leaned down and gave Leonard a hug. All of a sudden Leonard began to squeal, "Eeehh! Eeeehh!" Some of the other patients in the room began to clang things together. The man turned to the staff -physicians, nurses and orderlies -for some sort of explanation, only to find every one of them was crying. To his enquiry, "What's going on?" the nurse said, "This is the first time in twenty three years we have ever seen Leonard smile."
Harold Buetow in 'God Still Speaks: Listen'
In the gospel we are reminded of the outgoing nature of God, because of which he continues to love us and share his spirit with all peoples. If we are to be his disciples we too have to be people who go out of our way to love others. Jesus reminds us; "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; remain in my love." We could ask: What does remaining in his love imply? Jesus has a simple response to this query. "If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love." Somehow when we hear the word 'commandment' we are a bit uneasy. When someone commands us our natural instinct is to rebel. To a "Do this!" our reaction is "I will not!" What Jesus is asking of us is not a slavish obedience to God. God is not interested in keeping us in line. He is not watching to see if we step out of line, he is not a police-man God. God wants what is the best for us and it is in obeying him that we do what is best for us, and what will bring us peace, happiness and love. Commandments then are not a set of difficult rules but an assurance that we are following God's will, moment to moment. We sometimes tend to believe that God is out to make life difficult for us, that he keeps testing us and deliberately does not answer our prayer. To put the record straight he reminds us that He is our friend, and we are not his servants or slaves, but his friends. The essence of Christianity is love's self-forgetfulness and total dedication. We have many modern day heroes, who have followed in His footsteps. Can we make our lives channels of his love?
Damien the Leper
When Damien the Leper arrived in Molokai, he spent the first few weeks sleeping out under the trees, because he was unable to cope with the stench in the hovels of the lepers. He certainly wouldn't dare preach to them about God's love for them because as they saw it, it would be offensive. He opened his heart to the grace of God and, in no time at all, he was washing them, bandaging them, and burying them. He came to love them and through him, they came to believe that God loved them. He smoked a pipe to counteract the stench, but soon he was passing the pipe around for others to have a smoke. He ate food with them from a common bowl, out of which they scooped the food with hands that had no fingers. He caught the disease himself, and was happy to be able to live and to die for them. Greater love than this...
Jack McArdle in 'And that's the Gospel truth'
God is Love
Once there was a young man who was having doubts about the existence of God. So one day he paid a visit to a monk who had a reputation for holiness. He asked the monk, "Do you believe in God?" "Yes, I do," the monk answered. "On what evidence do you believe?" the young man asked. "I believe in God because I know him," came the reply. "I experience the presence of God within me every day "."But how is that possible?" the youth asked. "When we love, we experience God, and doubt vanishes like the early morning mist before the sun," replied the monk. The youth thought about this for a while, then asked, "How can I achieve this kind of certainty?" "By acts of love," came the reply. "Try to love your neighbours; love them actively and unceasingly. As you learn to love them more and more, you will become more and more convinced of the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. This has been tested. This is the true way." The monk was only echoing the words of St. John: 'My dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.'
Flor McCarthy in 'New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies'
Choosing to Love
In everything that he did Jesus kept on choosing to love. He did not choose once upon a time; he chooses to love at all times. It drained him. That self-giving quality of divine love is one that can be seen in the lives of many people. One doctor saw it in a way that he can never forget. As a young medical student he watched an unusual operation in a London hospital: It was the first time that this particular brain operation had been carried out in this country. It was performed by one of our leading surgeons upon a young man of great promise for whom, after an accident, there seemed to be no other remedy. It was an operation of the greatest delicacy, in which a small error would have had fatal consequences. In the outcome the operation was a triumph: but it involved seven hours of intense and uninterrupted concentration on the part of the surgeon. When it was over, a nurse had to take him by the hand, and lead him from the operating theatre like a blind man or a little child. That kind of self-giving and concentration on the needs of another reflects something of the quality of God's love in Jesus.
Denis McBride in 'Seasons of the Word'
Where love is, God is
In a certain village in the Swiss Alps there is a small church which has been used by generations of worshippers. What makes it so beautiful is the story of how it came to be built on that particular spot. The story goes like this. Two brothers worked a family farm, sharing the produce and profit. One was married, the other wasn't. The climate was harsh with the result that grain was sometimes scarce. One day the single brother said to himself, "It's not fair that we should share the produce equally. I'm alone, but my brother has a family to support." So every now and then he would go out at night, take a sack of grain from his own barn, quietly cross the field between their houses, and place it in his brother's bin. Meanwhile, his brother had a similar idea, and said, "It's not right that we should share the produce equally. I have a family to support me but my brother is all alone." So every now and then he would go at night, take a sack of grain from his barn, and quietly place it in his brother's bin. This went on for a number of years. Each brother was puzzled how his supply of grain never dwindled. Then one night they bumped into each other in the dark. When they realized what had been happening, they dropped their sacks, and embraced each other. Suddenly a voice from heaven said: 'Here I will build my church. For where people meet in love, there my presence shall dwell.'
Flor McCarthy in 'New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies'