Stop, Look, Listen, and Love!
Rev. Dr. Donna Giver-Johnston
May 19, 2019
Stop, Look, Listen! This is a lesson that parents teach their children before crossing the street. A basic lesson, but not easy to learn. I see parents of our Wooden Ladder preschool teach this lesson to their children. Sometimes with a question, “Now what do we do before we cross the street?” Sometimes with a reminder, “Now remember what we do before we cross the street.” But sometimes what is needed is nothing less than a command, “Ethan, Stop! Look, Listen!”
In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus addresses his disciples as “Little children.” A sign of affection, maybe. A put-down, not likely. I think Jesus was getting their attention. Stop what you are going, look at me and listen. Only then did he go on. But this time, unlike most other times, Jesus did not tell a story or parable. Jesus did not heal or feed. Jesus did not invite or encourage. He commanded them. Not something Jesus did often. Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” As one New Testament scholar observed: “This new command is simple enough for a toddler to memorize, and it is profound enough that the most mature believers are repeatedly embarrassed at how poorly they comprehend it and put it into practice.” (Carson, The Gospel According to John).
Notice Jesus does not talk about the importance of believing or confessing. “The Bible and creeds would become terribly important to believers over the years, while the one thing most important to Jesus would get lost as Christians wrestled with power and orthodoxy (right belief).” A religious scholar Gary Jones says, “Wars--with words and weapons--have been fought over the centuries about who had the correct beliefs. Ex-communications and Executions happened all over belief. Theologians have debated and preachers have divided churches over belief. Jesus was not concerned about right belief. His primary concern was not about what you believe but how you live.” He said, “Little children, I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.”
Did you know that since the 1960s researchers have been studying the empathy levels of young people? They noted a sharp decline around 2000, and by 2007 they found that people were 40 percent less empathetic than the previous generation. An empathy deficit. Their empathy appears as a form of tribalism; they tend to be empathetic only toward people like themselves.
No wonder Jesus made love a commandment. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
In this week’s edition of Christian Century, I read this amazing letter from a woman named Nicolette Rohr from Riverside, CA. She writes about feeling despair and helplessness after the travel ban targeting nations with Muslims and the chaos she saw at airports. She didn’t know what to do, but wanted to do something. So she wrote a message to an organization supporting refugees: “I am heartbroken and wondering if there is anything I can do to help (besides write, call, pray, etc.). She received a message back: “We have Engligh as a Second Language classes tomorrow. Can you give a family a ride?” “I don’t want to do this,” was my first thought. But I had never felt more strongly that I was doing what God wanted me to do.
She writes of driving Shabana and her three sons to the church where the class meeting was.
A few women were already there talking and laughing, one I met was Friba. They each greeted each other with three kisses. I took a seat, feeling like a newcomer observing this growing circle of women and children, warm embraces, friendship, and resilience.
Later that day, I went to the car wash, physical therapy, and a church meeting, and told everyone about my morning. Within a week, my physical therapist had bought shoes for Friba’s daughter, my cousin had started providing childcare during class, and Marge, a woman from my church in her eighties, had started coming to class and we were becoming fast friends. This is what we were all supposed to be doing.
Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” What is new is the way Jesus interpreted and practiced that love, namely, through service, as exemplified in the washing of the disciples’ feet.
“For more than two thousand years Christians have been identified as the people of the cross, a symbol of self-sacrifice in John but of conquest and colonization in recent history. I wonder what would have happened if instead of the cross Christians would have been identified by the basin and the towel. Perhaps our world would be less divided, and everyone would love each other a little bit more.” (NT Scholar Osvaldo Vena, Working Preacher)
How can we keep Jesus’ commandment to love? It’s too hard to do alone.
We can’t learn it from listening to the news. Or watching how our politicians behave. We can’t even learn it from just reading the Bible. We learn how to do it by going to church and watching how others do it. Like children, we learn by watching and doing.
I learned a lot about how to love by watching Sandy Stauffer, who died one year ago today.
She stopped and helped wherever needed. Ed could often be found sitting in narthex waiting for Sandy to finish up just one more little project to help.
She looked and saw people. She gave them a word, a smile, or asked them to help her with something. As Amy Reed and others used to say, “you can never say no to Sandy.”
She listened to people. She always had time for others. Even while she was in the hospital for chemo treatments, she listened to stories and worries of the nurses. Even though she was the sick one, she was helping to make others well.
She loved people. Family, friends, neighbors, church members, and also people others refused to love. She had enough love in her heart to share generously with all.
Jesus said then and says now, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.”
It’s a basic lesson, but not easy to learn. Sometimes we need a question, “What does it mean to love?” Sometimes a reminder, “Now remember to love others.” But sometimes what is needed is nothing less than a command, “Stop! Look, Listen and Love!”
Stop--stop rushing through life, being too busy to care, or shutting people out
Look--look around, see people--really see them as God’s beloved
Listen--listen to the voices around you, no matter what side of an issue they are on
Love--love in ways great and small. Maybe you can help a refugee with a ride or send a card to a friend; maybe you can serve a meal at the Men’s shelter or prepare a meal for someone in need; maybe you can put your faith in action with a church project or reconcile with an enemy.
Stop, Look, Listen, and Love! By this people will know we are Jesus’ disciples. By this, we have the power to change the world for good. Jesus is counting on it.
May it be so. Amen.