Year C; 5 Easter.FB; 5.15.2022

John 13:31-35

            I have never participated in a personal exercise to identify my core values until I spent a week on retreat at CREDO. CREDO is an Episcopal offering for active clergy in the Episcopal Church. It’s sponsored by the Church Pension Group.

            I am familiar with the concept of Core Values. As a trainer in industry, I led workshops to help managers arrive at core values for their sales and marketing teams. Large companies spend a lot of money to consultants to help them distill their core values that ultimately define their mission.

At the retreat I attended two weeks ago, our daily agenda included large segments of time during which we uncovered our core values, defined at the retreat as “…those basic beliefs or organizing principles that give our lives meaning and shape our relationship to the world around us. When we get in touch with what truly matters to us, we discover what makes us most alive. When we find that which rests at our core and gives us life, we rediscover what God intended in us and for us.”

            I discovered, to my surprise that beauty, art, music are things that give me energy. I also was surprised that love, joy and delight are my core values along with integrity, meaning and strength.

            At the center of John’s Gospel, Jesus wants his disciples to learn his core values. There is really only one core value, and his followers learn it over and over again. That value is “Love.” Pure and simple, “Love.” The command to love was so important to Jesus that he regularly repeated it.  

“Love one another as I have loved you. 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 a love for one another.” Five times, he mentions “love!”

In Holy Week, a month ago, this is the same passage for the Gospel lesson on Maundy Thursday. In fact, Maundy Thursday is named after this commandment of love that Jesus gave his disciples. “I give you a new commandment that you love one another.” The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin root, “mandate“ or “commandment.”

This core value, this commandment, this teaching is not a mere empty word. Like the brilliant teacher Jesus was, he demonstrated it in action. The washing of the disciples’ feet was his example of what it means to love through humble service. Foot-washing was a teaching moment that he passed down to us. It’s not just a moment in Holy Week liturgy. Love, Jesus shows us, is demonstrated through action.

Jesus is preparing his followers in this intimate last time together…he is preparing them for his death. He knows it will be traumatic. He also knows they will fall way short of what they say they will do to defend him. Peter professed his loyalty by saying, “I will never deny you!” And the betrayer Judas had just left the room to sell out Jesus to the authorities.

Even knowing all this, he speaks tenderly to them. He calls them “little children.” Maybe it seems, to soften the harsh blow of his going away. “Little children, I am with you only a little longer…where I am going, you cannot come.”

And then he gives them his core value. “I GIVE you a new commandment, that you love one another.”

Jesus doesn’t say, “I command you to love!” He states his love as a gift. “Little children, I give you the command to love…”. These were pretty worldly guys he was calling “little children!” Yet, what little child doesn’t want a gift from her teacher? What adult doesn’t want a gift from a beloved teachers? I love teachers! I love their gifts. They are passionate about sharing lessons. You can see it in their faces as they formulate a way to pass learning along so that it is sustained as knowledge and action.

I learned recently that my Sunday School teacher at First Pilgrim Congregational Church in Kansas City, Kansas died. Mrs. Young was an incredible teacher. My favorite memory of Sunday School was the giant box of sand she built in the Sunday School room. She strung a grid of string in squares above the sand and had made tiny play-dough objects that would have been found on the site of an archaeological dig in the days of Jesus: A jug, an oil lamp, a plate, a cup all were placed in the sand under the grid of string for our make-believe biblical archaeological dig.

Mrs. Young was quite an intellectual AND her core value was to teach and bring the times of Jesus to life. Mrs. Young labored with joy to build this “archeological site” for the little children of First Pilgrim Congregational Church. I remember now how she put her love for the Sunday School children into action.

I’m wondering at this moment, this Sunday, what love in action looks like for us as we receive the news of another mass murder hate crime that happened yesterday in Buffalo, New York. An 18-year-old white man dressed in tactical protective gear, carried an automatic weapon, a live camera attached to his helmet, into a grocery store full of Saturday shoppers and started shooting. He had driven three hours to this historically black neighborhood and shot 13 people. Ten died. He had written a hate manifesto against black people. I ask you, what can’t we produce LOVE MANIFESTOS and spread them everywhere on social media to shout down the hate??

This guy planned for this specific mass shooting, to the tactical detail and yet, the most sinister thing to me was that he seemed to want to be arrested. He plead not-guilty – REALLLY?- and no doubt, wishes to become an attraction to white hate groups across the country. He knows he will be their “darling” for hate and white supremacy.  THAT’S what is sinister to me.

I was finishing this sermon last night when the Episcopal bishop of Buffalo, Bishop Sean Howe posted his commentary with an invitation to a Zoom and Facebook Live prayer service at 3:30 today. His words rang true to me when he said, “I know that frequently, in the wake of a mass shooting, politicians take refuge in offering ‘thoughts and prayers.’ But I ask you to pray, not as a substitute for taking action, but to prepare to do so. In the coming weeks, we will need to gather our resolve and raise our voices again against racism and hatred, and commit ourselves to freeing our nation from this epidemic of gun violence.”

We are being called upon to put our core value of love into action. My heart was quickened to read Bishop Howe’s call to prayer NOT as a “substitute for taking action,” but to prepare for action. Many of us at St. Paul’s and in the Brunswick community are taking or have completed the course called Sacred Ground. We have been assembling in conversation circles to have honest conversations on race and racism. I can see the love in each of you as you enter these conversations and ask the question, “What’s next?” Well, my friends, what’s next is action. Preparing for action and “gathering our resolve and raising our voices and planning action to end racism and gun violence in this country.” They are killing us.

Love is our core value and our inspiration to action.

Jesus, we pray to you our teacher and lover of our souls, prepare your people to take direct action against racism, white supremacy and gun violence! Amen!