Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | April 24, 2016

16.04.24 “Love One Another” – John 13: 31 – 35

Central United Methodist Church
Love One Another
John 13: 31 – 35
Pastor David L. Haley
The 5th Sunday of Easter
April 24th, 2016
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When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little 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.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. 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 love for one another.” – John 13: 31 – 35, New Revised Standard Version

 

marquesgainesWhat happened to 32 year-old Marques Gaines on February 7th in Chicago, is one of the most callous acts of indifference I’ve heard about in a long time. It was almost as bad as the infamous Kitty Genovese murder in New York City on March 13, 1964, when 37 people watched her murder, and not one person called the police.

Marques Gaines was a popular bartender at the Marriott Magnificent Mile. After his shift ended in the early hours of Super Bowl Sunday, he went out with some friends and then around 4 am – as John Kass puts it, “the time of street rats and predators, drunks and madmen” – he stopped in the 7-Eleven at Hubbard and State to get a bag of potato chips. Outside the store he got into an altercation, and got knocked out by a punch, falling into the crosswalk of the street. As he lay there unconscious — again, as John Kass put it – “two human hyenas ran up to him and stole his wallet and cellphone and then ran away.” Another group gathered, hovered over him, and then walked away. Nobody did anything to help him, not drag him out of the street, not stop traffic. They left him there, unconscious but alive. That is, until a cab turned the corner and ran over him. Police and an ambulance were finally called, and he was transported to Northwestern hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Everything I’ve described is recorded on video, which was released this week. (John Kass, “Ignoring Helpless Man is Another of Chicago’s Sins,” The Chicago Tribune, April 23, 2016)

That no one came to his aid or moved him to safety has been too much for Drexina Nelson and her mother, who raised Gaines after his parents died. Last month, attorneys representing the Nelsons filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court against several entities, including Chicago Taxi and the driver who struck Gaines. This week, a judge allowed the attorneys to amend the complaint to add the 7-Eleven to the lawsuit as a defendant. And – though caught on camera – there has been no identification or arrest of the assailant.

Said Ms. Nelson: “We as people, as humans, we should care for one another. Who leaves a person in the street for that long? That’s devastating to me — the fact that he could have been saved. He could still be here with us.” (William Lee, Lawyer, family: 7-Eleven, bystanders failed assault victim before he died, The Chicago Tribune, April 21, 2016)

As a former first responder – as a compassionate human being – it makes no sense to me that no one bothered to help, which would have saved the man’s life. Social scientists call it the “bystander effect,” that when – in a crowd or group of people – we are more likely to ignore the situation and less likely to help – assuming someone else will do it.

As callous as this is, especially in an extreme situation like this one, which resulted in a fatality, I would suggest that even in Christian congregations, we know something about it. Guests come to church, and we do not welcome them. People disappear, and we do not call to inquire why. We hear or see people in need, and we do not offer our help. Not because we are callous or indifferent; but because we assume some one else will do it. I confess, I have done it – or not done it – myself. And so – like the Levite in Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan – we figuratively walk by on the other side of the street.

Hearing this story about Mr. Gaines and fearing what our response – if we had been there – might have been in it, given the response of those that were; it is timely on this fifth Sunday of Easter that we should be reminded today that loving and caring for each other is not only the heart of Christian ethics, but THE sign of Christian discipleship.

Our Gospel today is a familiar one, last heard as recently as Maundy Thursday. It is the new commandment – the “novum mandatum” in Latin (from which we get the name “Maundy Thursday”) – that Jesus gave to his first disciples, and to all who would be his disciples: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. 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 love for one another.”

My guess is that our problem is not that we don’t know this new commandment – which is not so new anymore – but that we find it hard to practice, to love one another, as different and as separated as we often are and as annoying to each other as we can sometimes be.  Let me put it another way: that is my problem with it. I know it well, by chapter and verse, I have preached it many times. It’s practicing it that is the problem. As one scholar observed, “This new command is simple enough for a toddler to memorize and appreciate, and it is profound enough that the most mature believers are repeatedly embarrassed at how poorly they comprehend it and put it into practice.” (D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 484.)

Especially that second part: “Just as I have loved you, so you should also love one another.”  I mean – Wow – who can possibly live up to that? John chapter 13 begins, John chapter 13 begins: “Having loved his dear companions, he continued to love them right to the end.” Just before this, he had made himself a servant to them, modeling it by watching their feet. Just before this, his disciple Judas – whose feet he had also washed – when out to betray him, which Jesus knew. So when he’s saying, “Love one another as I have loved you,” he’s not been idealistic and naïve here, he’s talking about loving people who are sometimes unlovable, like Peter who would deny him and Judas who would betray him.

Just after Jesus says this, he goes out to die for them, and not just for them, but for us. Not to make a just and angry God satisfied or happy, not as payment against some debt God holds against us, not because this was the only way to satisfy God’s wrath and make it possible for God to forgive us. Rather, Jesus goes to the cross to show us how much God loves us, and that we might be so moved as to love others, as Jesus has loved us.

We don’t have to do this perfectly to do it meaningfully. Indeed, as we remember those who have loved us, we would acknowledge that while their love was not perfect, it was none the less powerful, possibly even life transforming. And they did it not by dying for us, as Jesus did, but much more simply: by loving us and feeding us and hugging us and calling us and showing up just at the time we most needed them. (David Lose, “Questions About Love,” “In the Meantime,” posted April 22nd)

I think of my dear departed friends Earl and Mabel Major of Memphis. In 1976, when I graduated from Trinity Seminary in Deerfield, Trinity Church in Memphis, TN, decided to hire me as their Associate Pastor. I drove from Chicago to Memphis with almost nothing, everything I owned could fit in my car. The church had hired an Associate Pastor, but they had not planned where they would house the Associate Pastor. The senior pastor, George Comes, made a phone call, and Earl & Mabel agreed to put me up until I could find a place to live. I had no friends in Memphis, so they took me to lunch almost every single day. It would be one of the most significant friendships of my whole life. They are both gone now; I still can’t think of them without crying.

In all five congregations I have served in my ministry, I think of the countless acts of kindness I have seen parishioners show each another: caring for children and youth and seniors, visiting the sick and lonely, feeding and sheltering the homeless, caring for people at the passages of life, such as birth and marriage and death. I have seen people showing up in living rooms and hospital rooms and nursing homes and funeral homes, to show their care and concern for each other.

When Jesus said to “love one another, as I have loved you,” this is what he was talking about. Not to die for one another, as he did (although that is sometimes necessary), but to care for each other by the simple compassionate words and deeds whereby we demonstrate love for each other.

It’s too bad someone could not have done this for Marques Gaines; a phone call to 911 on anyone’s cell phone might have saved his life. Standing near the spot where he died, John Kass said he asked Phyllis Nelson if she wanted to tell the people of Chicago anything. “What do I want to tell them?” she said. “Tell them they need to do better.” (John Kass, “Ignoring Helpless Man is Another of Chicago’s Sins,” The Chicago Tribune, April 23, 2016)

And so do we, each and every one of us. “Love one another,” said Jesus. “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this will everyone know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

 

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