Sixth Sunday of Easter — Rev. Polly Hilsabeck

John 15:9-17

Last Saturday, heading back to land-locked Durham from East North Carolina, David and I decided to stop off in the Pamlico Sound waterfront town of Washington, or Little Washington, for some world-famous, boiled-in-oil Bill’s hotdogs, which we always order “all the way”—in the local vernacular, meaning slathered in mustard and homemade chili sauce by the three spatula-wielding women who work Bill’s assembly line.

The sky was blue and the air was warm—everyone was out, so we were lucky to find a bench on the boardwalk, where we savored the near-suppertime, late-afternoon sun glistening on the water and the sights and sounds of this small marina and port, due east of Greenville, which saw action in both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars—and, was, now, being enjoyed by boaters, ECU students, visitors and townfolk alike.

A hotdog and half a bag of chips into our bystanding—or bench-sitting—greeting and being greeted by promenaders—grandmothers pushing baby strollers, dogs straining at leashes, teens in short shorts, old men in hiked-up pants—when our attention got pulled down the boardwalk by a burst of tangerine chiffon and what appeared to be a photo shoot: a professionally equipped photographer and his assistant sculpted and clicked, sculpted and clicked the fresh-as-a-magazine-cover couple: she, in neon orange gown; he, in black tuxedo and matching neon orange vest. WOW!

At the same time, their paparazzi siblings and mothers—we assumed they were the mothers—also, posed and snapped, posed and snapped.

Another minute, and another dressed-up couple with entourage of family piled out of cars and began posing and snapping. Then another…and another.

“Wait! there’s a whole crowd at the other end—the end that took boardwalkers to the waterfront park.

“Something big was going on in that little place…” so we abandoned the bench for a closer look.

And that’s why we got to witness the unfolding of—a love-one-another tableau…
a love-one-another tableau: of young kids cartwheeling, chasing each other, jumping, dancing, twirling, swirling like dust bunnies around their tuxedoed and gowned brother or sister or cousin, with mothers and aunties safety-pinning a tuck here,
dads and uncles helping with a boutonniere there,
as they clucked over their newly-minted babies-in-evening-clothes—
took a zillion pictures of their almost-grown, trying-to-be-grown kids—
who kept making their high-heeled and shiny-leathered entrances
onto the large, open, grassy area—dressed in race car reds. . .
and—starry-night-sky blacks. . .
and—cupcake-icing pastels. . .
and—fluorescent greens. . .
and—peacock blues. . .
and—just-picked plums.
WOW! everywhere, every one— a WOW!

Then, to top off this whole, iconic scene—in one corner of the love-one-another tableau, at one of the two gazebos, there was a wedding forming. First a a trio of musicians set up, then the ushers appeared and started greeting arriving guests—and before we knew it, the signal was given for the music to start and the flower girl, ringbearer and bridesmaids were walking, followed by the bride on the arm of her father to join the groom—then both, stepping to this altar in the park to say their vows.

A pre-prom, racially-mixed fest of families and friends and photo ops—that becomes the congregation for an interracial wedding…WOW!

one, contemporary frame of what Jesus’s love-one-another bequest might look like
did look like—
early evening, last Saturday in a small southern town,
150 years after the Civil War’s and slavery’s end,
50 years after the civil rights and voting acts,
a year after Jacksonville,
months after Ferguson,
weeks after N. Charleston,
and not yet a week, since justice-seeking protest erupted in Baltimore.

Though we know that the occasion of Jesus speaking in today’s gospel, is no pre-prom, pre-high school gala gathering—it is his pre-murder testament to his followers, those whom he has loved as friends and for whom he is concerned—still, the operative words: love one another, despite and in the face of societal, even legislated, not love one another—are true for all circumstance and all time.

John’s gospel speaks of love more often than the other 3 Gospels combined. In today’s reading, Jesus tells—actually, repeats again, to his friends: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.”

How will they manage to abide in Jesus’ love?— which, as often as it is revealed in the world, is more often, endangered by those who do not know that love or betrayed by those who do.

“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love…This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

As I have loved you is different from the other Gospel writers’ Jesus, who commands the “young man” and later, “a Pharisee lawyer” and, again, “a scribe”:

You shall love your neighbor” [not as he, Jesus, loves, but] as you—you, young man, Pharisee, scribe— love yourself.”

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” The context in John’s gospel is not a public challenge to Jesus from the opposition—the context in John’s account is an intimate setting with those whose feet Jesus has washed.

Jesus is at table with friends—after the accusations, the verbal assaults, after the fear of his power and authority have built to such a crescendo that he will be physically taken from them…from everyone—and be publicly executed. His murder is not Jesus’ mission—it is a reaction to and a consequence of his loving others as God has loved him.

On this auspicious night, Jesus could have said, “I appoint, I command you to go kill all my enemies, all those who do not abide in me, and, therefore, do not abide in God.”

Mortal, human beings, from time immemorial, have adopted this reasonable—and to a certain way of thinking—sane—approach to defending self and loved ones from harm.

But in the face of harm, Jesus focuses on the beloved community, whom Jesus says he “chose”—and says they are to love one another and to keep his commandments so that they are able to love one another—to love one another in a way that is impossible—apart from God.

Poet, essayist, and playwright, Elizabeth Alexander—an Episcopalian, by the way—wrote and read her “Praise Song for the Day” at President Obama’s first inauguration. There is a part of the poem where she says:

“Love beyond marital, filial, national. . .love that casts a widening pool of light,. . .love with no need to pre-empt grievance.”

“Love beyond.” “Love beyond “. . .is hard to do.

“Love beyond. . .” is the love Jesus commands: “love one another” beyond what is humanly possible. . .”love as I have loved you.”

This is Easter’s somber message:

“No one has greater love than this. . .to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus commands, as he confronts his friends’ fears about loving—this is not new. It is his confronting fears in people from Jerusalem to Galilee by his non-exclusive love, his love beyond love that made him a target for hate.

Who is it I fear to love? We fear to love?

Jesus is talking to his friends then, as he is talking to us, his friends now. Jesus is commanding us to love one another, at the same time he is confronting our fears about loving one another, because he, as with his first-century, disciple-friends, has appointed us, expects us, to bear fruit—fruit that will last.

Pray with me that God continue to give us the awareness and courage to bear fruit that will last as part of the creation-divine unity of love.

Be with me in praise to God for continuing to give us—gathered in Eucharist today—ears to hear and eyes to see the opportunities to love one another as God-in-Jesus has loved us.