Read John 13:31-35
Love one another.
This is the task that Jesus leaves the disciples and all of us. Love one another just as I have loved you.
We hear this a lot right? Like you are sitting there thinking, “Oh boy, here she goes again with that love thing.” I mean, it's what Jesus lays out right?
Love one another.
It seems an impossible task really. Love one another as I have loved you. To love like Jesus.
I want to share a little bit about my faith journey and what this means to me.
In 2012, I went to the ELCA National Youth Gathering in New Orleans, LA. I had just started serving as the campus minister for the University of Northern Iowa and I was tasked to go to basically just network. I had no youth I had to be responsible for. I didn’t have any particular place I had to be each day… it was really the greatest way to go to a gathering.
But something you never miss in these gatherings in the evening mass gathering events on the main stage. So these gatherings bring roughly 30,000 high schoolers and additionally adult chaperones to one place to learn about our faith and do service. Each evening, there is an A list line up of speakers that share their amazing stories of God’s love witnessed in their lives.
We take over a major stadium, in the case of NOLA, the Mercedes-Benz SuperDome, and fill it floor to balcony with kids in bright colored shirts, pastors, youth directors, parents, and volunteers from around the country. It’s a thing like I’ve never seen anywhere else.
And these speakers. There are bishops and pastors. Nobel Peace Prize winners like Leymah Gbowee of Liberia. And then there are high schoolers who created a wearable sleeping bag company to clothe the homeless and a trans youth advocate.
Yeah it’s a totally radical and amazing event that the church puts on for our youth every 3 years.
And in 2012, I was not a youth but God wanted me to be there to hear something.
I was at a place in time where I was struggling with my faith and being queer. See this book is a very powerful book. It can invoke incredible love and incredible hate. I had gotten to a point in time with this book where I didn’t even want to open it because of how it had been used AGAINST me.
So here I was at this youth gathering, having just accepted a job to use the Bible and I was struggling with my own personal faith.
And that Wednesday night onto the main stage walked Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber of the House for All Sinners and Saints from Denver Colorado. It was the very first time I saw her speak.
She got up on that stage and said everything that I was feeling. How sometimes “Christians” can be the worst. That sometimes you will meet Christians who think the way they are Christians is the right way or the only way. And quite often they are loud.
And then she said that often times in churches people are forced to culturally commute from who they are to who the church thinks they should be. And we shouldn’t have to check part of who we are at the door to be loved in God’s church.
Because this was her story too.
And she said, “I should not be allowed to talk to tens of thousands of young people having the past that I have of drug and alcohol abuse, covered in tattoos, sarcastic, and someone who swears like a trucker, but you know what? That is the kind of God we are dealing with people.
This is a God that slipped on skin and walked among us with sand between his toes and who ate with all the wrong people and kissed lepers and touched the unclean, and spoke through thirsty women and hungry men, and did not lift a finger on the cross to condemn the enemy but rather said I would rather die than be in the sin accounting business anymore.
And comes to us in the most offensively ordinary things of wheat, wine, water, and words.
And this God has never made sense and you don’t need to either because this God will use you, this God will you all of you, and not just your strength but your failures and your failings, and your brokenness. Your brokenness is fertile ground for a forgiving God to love you and love through you.”
Finally, I learned what it meant to love one another.
I learned that even though I felt something broken inside because of how other “Christians” had made me feel was not something to be ashamed of or sorry for who I am but rather, what I had inside of me was a bold witness of faith to share with the world, especially others who have been made to feel less than or wrong by “Christians”.
Whenever I hear this scripture passage, I think of that day. Because truly, to love one another as I have loved you, as Jesus says, is a remarkable thing.
To love each of us wholly, fully, unconditionally for who we are is nothing short of a miracle.
I came home with this new found boldness. I went to meet a network of other church leaders and instead I met Jesus. He met me where I was and gave me exactly what I needed: to be loved and seen.
This idea took root in my faith and my ministry, to “love like Jesus”. Because each and every person needs to hear a message of love. THE message of love: that you are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God’s own self. You are worthy and beloved.
A few days after the gathering, Carley and I were sitting at our favorite pizza place and I was sharing this story with her. I said I wanted to get it tattooed so that I always remember and always share and live this out. As my reminder to love one another. I told her my vision for this tattoo and she scripted it out quickly on a napkin. And I was like, Yes exactly like that!
Several months later, we went to the tattoo parlor and out of my purse I pulled out this crinkled, dirty bar napkin with the words “Love Like Jesus” slightly faded.
I said I want something like this, and the artist said, I’ll do you one better, and he scanned the dirty bar napkin and tattooed my wife’s handwriting on my leg.
My promise that I carry with me and I share is this: to Love like Jesus. To love openly and honestly. To love all of God’s children. To follow the guidelines of Matthew 25 to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned. And most importantly, to remind each and every person that I can that Jesus loves you and you are worthy of that love.
I am flawed. I am broken. And I am loved. And so are you. Now let’s go share it. Amen.