Gospel: John 13:31-35 31When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
On Tuesday morning, a woman named Paula was driving her 5-year-old daughter to school from their home in Chicago. About 2 minutes from her home, she was pulled over. Agents hand-cuffed her and took over the wheel of her vehicle, returning her to her home. There, Carlos was just leaving for work. They made him let them into the house, where Betty was still in her pajamas. I have a picture of Betty, who serves as a Synodically Authorized Minister at Emaus Lutheran Church in Racine, Wisconsin. They hand-cuffed her, searched the entire house with guns focused into each room. One more person was found hiding in the basement, also arrested.
Betty, the woman pictured, arrived from Colombia several years ago after she and her family were threatened by guerillas at the school she ran there. She applied for asylum. Asylum was denied due to lack of a police report, and appeals were exhausted in 2009. A deportation order was issued but not enforced, at least not until now. It has been reported that at least one of the ICE agents expressed glee at the number of arrests resulting from a single raid.
The agents did allow Betty to dress before leaving the house, and to phone the other set of grandparents to come for the five-year-old. Paula, the child’s mother, was eventually released because she arrived in this country at a young enough age to qualify for DACA. It may be that Betty, Carlos, and the guest will be deported, and Emaus will need to find someone else to provide pastoral services.
In addition, the agents neglected to secure the door of their home, which was burgled as a result. A neighbor reported that.
The next pictures I’m about to show come from Brazil. Actually, they come from YouTube, but they originated in Brazil J. There, gang violence is rampant, and the death toll is immense. The man furthest to the left in the bottom corner is a pastor. He has been recording the gang members’ confessions of Christianity (conversions, actually) and posting them to YouTube. This actually protects them from being murdered by gang members, either their own or rivals. Apparently, the church has at least some respect even from the gangs of Brazil. Those who convert have to stay faithful, though. If they go back to gang activity or the drug trade, they are no longer protected, and the gangs closely watch former members, executing them for failure. They are not welcomed back.
Way back in the late 1970s, I was chosen from my class to attend Girls’ State, where we were given the opportunity to see how government worked in this country, and we played the parts of elected representatives presenting bills we thought ought to be enacted into laws in our state. One young woman stood up with a presentation to require special efforts to meet the needs of children who had learning disabilities rather than leaving them to struggle on their own.
As I listened, I realized that she was proposing something that already existed in the laws of our state. I actually won an award for standing up and objecting to the passing of any law that essentially duplicated another law already on the books.
In this country, we already have laws to deal with immigration. We have laws dealing with drugs and murder, in this country and in others like Brazil. We have laws to provide education for all, to regulate abortion, provide additional safety precautions for children, dealing with sexual trafficking, taxation, healthcare, the abuse of the less powerful, fair trade, fraud, and just about anything else we can imagine. Do we need more? Or is change what is needed?
The disciples may have wondered the same as they listened to Jesus with the words from today’s Gospel reading. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Some of my colleagues insist that what is new about this new commandment is that Jesus says, “Just as I have loved you…” I’m skeptical, though. Can we love as Jesus has? Can we cure with a word or a prayer? Can we multiply food to satisfy all? Can we be executed by a hostile government while shepherding hundreds of followers within God’s realm?
On the other hand, do we actually love one another even in a lesser way? What is the best way to love people who flee the violence of guerillas or gangs in foreign countries? What about those who come from other communities within this union of 50 states and various territories?
My previous community of about a couple thousand in rural Minnesota somehow gained a reputation among the poor of Chicago as being a good place to receive benefits. Many who arrived from Chicago to settle in that small rural community found the relative isolation unbearable and did not stay long. Were we not able to love them well enough?
What is the best way to love those caught within the systems of violence or poverty? What is the best way to love those victimized by abuse or fraud? What is the best way to love those who have learned to be bullies?
The writer of today’s Gospel reading provides Jesus’ conclusion to this section as a reassurance that people will know that we are disciples of Jesus by our love. There’s a Sunday School song that ends with similar words, that “They will know we are Christians by our Love.” The only problem with that is that Christians are generally not portrayed as loving in today’s media. Most of what we hear on the news about Christians is more hateful than loving, with people using particular passages of the Bible to tell the rest of us what we’re doing wrong.
They did that to Jesus, too, so we are not alone. They told Jesus how he should not work on the Sabbath. They told Jesus he should not bother with Samaritans or those even more foreign. They told the parents to keep their children away from Jesus. They told the women to shut up.
Jesus, though, loved the foreigners, and the children. He loved those who denied him, and those who killed him. He gave women the first responsibility to proclaim the resurrection. He allowed for different people to serve in different ways, not by color of skin or ethnicity or age or societal expectation, but by ability and interest. “Love one another as I have loved,” he said. It’s a new law, based not on restriction, but on hope, and peace, and joy. Love one another in Jesus’ name. Amen