If Jesus had simply said, “Love one another,” this passage from John might seem a little easier. Instead he adds as I have loved you to the charge (v. 34). To love as Jesus loves calls us to a radical, countercultural embrace of all who are made in God’s image. Suddenly, loving one another feels much harder to live out.
Nearly 20 years ago, my husband pastored in northeastern North Carolina, and we became partners with two other churches in our town. One was a small African-American church in a location that had a long history of generational poverty. Our predominantly white downtown church had not always been responsive to the needs of this community. Brenda, the pastor of that loving church, patiently helped us along. In the early days of our partnership, she invited us not just to pack backpacks in August or donate turkeys in November, but to spend an evening at Christmastime in her community. One December night, led by Brenda’s larger-than-life personality, her booming alto voice, and her unwavering spirit, our three congre- gations walked arm in arm through the blocks of their church neighborhood singing “Joy to the World.” We were met with some surprised looks and skeptical faces, but they were not the only ones. Many of us were also well out of our comfort zone as we entered a new part of town. The experience changed us and led us to love our neighbors a little closer to the way that Christ loves us all.
Brenda’s embrace was instrumental in opening us to experiencing Christ’s love in new ways. Being loved by Christ is always the key to loving as Christ does.
Who is God’s love giving you the strength to love? How can we be the radical presence of Christ in a divided world?
Patient God, we find it easy to love those within our comfortable orbit. Push us beyond our routine boundaries to discover your bountiful table where all are welcome. Amen.