When I was going through Confirmation I was invited to attend a Share The Word, Teens Encounter Christ retreat by fellow members of my Youth Group. STW TEC is an intensive faith formation retreat weekend developed by teens for teens similar to Walk to Emmaus, Cursillo, or Via de Cristo. Throughout the 3 day retreat weekend teens, adult leaders, and pastors leading the retreat would give talks where they shared their personal faith journey tied to themes of Jesus’ Death, Resurrection, and Commission of the Disciples that we explore in the Lent and Easter seasons. At the end of each talk the speaker would close with the same refrain: God Loves You And So Do I. It’s the same words that I closed our Children’s Messages here at Holy Trinity. Over the course of the weekend the words God Loves You And So Do I were repeated dozens of times and I still use them with friends from those retreats 16 years later. They are words that bear repeating.
Even though our Gospel reading this morning is short, only 6 verses, Jesus packs a lot into one of the last exchanges he will have with his friends before he is handed over to the authorities to be crucified. In this brief exchange Jesus says the word love 5 times, 4 of which are found in the final verse. Jesus challenges his disciples, to put their love into action, taking an intentional responsibility for carrying out the commandments that he has just given them. What is the new commandment that Jesus just gave the disciples earlier that very same evening? “That you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Again, Jesus commissions the beloved community gathered with him to love. And Jesus finds that those instructions bear repeating. Jesus, conscious of the fear and uncertainty that the disciples will soon face, invites them and us into a world where love is widespread, where we are not orphaned and left to our own devices. Instead have an Advocate to walk beside us through the anxiety, fear, and doubt. Jesus speaks his commandment to love just as much to Peter, who is now wrestling with the knowledge that he will deny Jesus in his final hour, as he does to anyone else. No one is excluded from that love.
Jesus speaks, not to an individual, but to a beloved community. After all, living through challenging times requires community in its many forms in order for Jesus’ message of God’s love to be sustained and to continually expand. Jesus embodied this message of love in the washing of the disciples feet, in his pastoral care where Jesus says to let not your hearts be troubled, in his reminder that though he may not be physically present with them for much longer, that the loving mutual relationship between God and humanity cannot be severed even in death, but is instead built from a shared willingness to live the love Jesus exemplified in his life and ministry. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
The love that Jesus describes is more than just passive emotion, it requires active participation. How do we as a community love in the way that Jesus commissions, embodies, and equips us to? How can we allow ourselves to be receptive of the love of others? I invite you to share your responses in the comments and will give you 3 minutes to do so. [3 minute pause for responses]
Jesus promises that we will have help. That while he is going to advocate to God on our behalf, that God will send the Holy Spirit as an Advocate to walk with us. In Greek the word for Holy Spirit (paraklētos) has many different meanings: Comforter, Counselor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, and the Holy Spirit fulfills all of those roles, actively working in our lives even when we’re tired, scared, frustrated, or doubt, emboldening us to continue loving. It’s something that bears repeating.
I worked actively with the Share the Word, Teens Encounter Christ organization for 10 years, until I moved to Chicago to finish my seminary education. During that time I experienced the love of God and the love of community in such profound ways that with their help I discerned God’s call in my life to become a pastor. Right before I started at Wake Divinity, they held a celebration for me and two friends who started seminary with me at the same time. We each received journals with a verse printed on the cover. The verse printed on mine was taken from the foot washing in John. Inside the journal was filled with messages of love from the TEC community and at the end of each message was a sentence that bears repeating:
God Loves You, And So Do I