Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister

 

 

 

A New Commandment

 Maundy Thursday

Thursday, March 24, 2005

 

 

John 13: 1-17, 31b-35

 
 

Rev. Dean Snyder

Dean Snyder, Senior Minister, is a preacher, writer and activist who coordinates a talented ministerial and lay staff. He has previously served congregations in Philadelphia as well as a director of communications, editor, specialist in congregational development and new church starts, campus minister and college instructor. A graduate of Boston University School of Theology and Albright College, his articles have appeared in dozens of publications.

 

 

During this last supper, Jesus says to his disciples: “I give you a new commandment...” And everybody listened to hear what the new commandment would be. And this is what it was: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.”

 

And I think to myself when I read that, what’s new about this commandment? The commandment that you love one another: what’s new about this? Isn’t this the core of Jesus’ teachings?

 

Then I realize it is a new commandment for Jesus’ disciples. This is something new. This isn’t what Jesus’ disciples signed up for.

 

When Jesus recruited his disciples, he said to them: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people.” And he said to them: “Take up your cross and follow me.”

 

Jesus’ disciples became his disciples because of their relationship with Jesus, not because of their relationship with the other disciples. They were following Jesus; they got stuck with the other followers.

 

Jesus chose such an odd collection of people to be his disciples – tax collectors and zealots, for example. The radical revolutionary zealots considered tax collectors collaborators with the imperial Roman Empire that was oppressing Israel . Traitors, really. When someone joined the Zealots, one of the oaths he or she took was that, if it were ever possible to do so without being caught, they would assassinate tax collectors. I suspect Matthew the tax collector spent more than one sleepless night camped next to James and John, the Sons of Thunder.

 

The disciples clearly did not find it easy to get along with one another. James and John were always maneuvering for position, wanting to sit at Jesus’ right hand and left when he came into his kingdom. And being around Peter must have gotten old pretty quickly...the man could not sit still. 

 

Read the Gospel of John closely and you will see these digs...these not very subtle put-downs of Peter. John will tell a story about Peter in which Peter comes off looking like a pretty sorry disciple, and then John will make a reference to “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” and he is obviously talking about himself in contrast to Peter especially. The jealousy and competition and lust for control and manipulation among these guys was unbelievable. 

 

These folk were not pals. They hadn’t signed on to be buddies with other disciples; they had signed on to be followers of Jesus and then gotten stuck with having to relate to these other folk, some of whom frankly they didn’t like all that much.

 

So this is the new commandment – that you love one another. “Just as I have loved you, you love one another.” John, love Peter just as I have loved you. Peter, love John just as I have loved you. Matthew, love the Sons of Thunder just as I have loved you.

 

So far as I can see, Jesus’ disciples failed pretty miserably with this new commandment. As soon as possible after Pentecost, the disciples split up. James stayed in Jerusalem. Peter took off for Rome. John headed to Asia. Thomas to India. They may have done it to spread the gospel. I suspect they did it because, without Jesus around to hold them together, they wanted to put some distance between each other.

 

Jesus’ disciples have had a harder time following this new commandment to love one another than all the old ones combined. Christianity now has some 33,000 different denominations.

 

“A new commandment I give you,” Jesus says, “Love one another.”

 

I wonder why no one has been wanting to put stone monuments on courthouse lawns in Alabama saying “Love one another.” If separation of church and state doesn’t matter, let’s go all the way, why not. Let’s put this commandment on our court house lawns: “Love one another.”

 

The old commandments are a lot easier to live with than this new one is.

 

Bishop Susan Morrison often quotes the South African Peter Storey who once said that when you pray for Jesus to come into your heart, you need to know that Jesus brings along his friends. 

 

And they are not the ones you might have chosen if you were looking for a bunch of folk to pal around with.

 

But Jesus says that this is the way the world will know whether we are his disciples – not  by the way we love Jesus, but by the way we love one another.

 

This is the genius of the decision this congregation made almost 10 years ago to become a reconciling congregation...not just a welcoming congregation, not just an open and affirming congregation, not just a hospitable congregation...but a reconciling congregation where we work with and through our differences to a place of mutual understanding and love. Not merely tolerating each other but committing ourselves to a journey together toward love.

 

This is the new commandment Jesus gives us, Foundry Church. Not just to smile at each other across our pews. Not just to do good work in the mission groups and committees we serve on together. Not just each one of us individually loving Jesus. But that we love one another, and that our love be real, honest, deep, sincere.

 

Not tolerating each other, not putting up with each other, not working together with civility on mission teams and committees, not currying favor with each other, not ingratiating one another, but loving one another the way Jesus loved us. I’m not sure Jesus’ disciples are always very good at this...real love. 

 

But this is the new commandment, the hardest commandment, and the one that is our only salvation.

 

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