Today’s passage from John starts with the words, “If you love me, keep my commands.” Then towards the end of the passage, again, Jesus says, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.” These are important words or Jesus would not have said them repeatedly. He wants it to be clear – you show Jesus that you love him, you show God that you love God by doing what God calls you to do, by doing what Jesus told us and showed us to do.
Not to say this is easy. It is simple. All we have to do is love. But simple is not the same as easy. And while it may be fairly easy to love the people here in church, in our faith community, to love our friends and our family members (most of the time!), it is hard to love the unlovable. It is hard to love the people on the street, or people who scare us or people who are dirty or smelly, people who are unpredictable, people who just want things from us, people who are demanding or asking, people who are unkind. Sometimes it is hard to love people with whom we disagree. And it is really hard to love people who have done things we hate, or people who have hurt us or our loved ones. Showing these people the same love and care that we show ourselves, our families and our friends is far, very far, from easy.
But Jesus is clear – the way we show him that we love him is to do what he asks which is to love God and love neighbor as ourselves.
In the blog “Wellness by choice” Susan McMorris told this story: One day I hopped in a taxi and we took off for the airport. We were driving in the right lane when suddenly a black car jumped out of a parking space right in front of us. My taxi driver slammed on his brakes, skidded, and missed the other car by just inches! The driver of the other car whipped his head around and started yelling at us. My taxi driver just smiled and waved at the guy. And I mean, he was really friendly.
So I asked, 'Why did you just do that? This guy almost ruined your car and sent us to the hospital! And then he was nasty about it and yelled at you!' This is when my taxi driver taught me what I now call, 'The Law of the Garbage Truck.' He explained that many people are like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger, and full of disappointment. As their garbage piles up, they need a place to dump it and sometimes they'll dump it on you. Don't take it personally, he said. Just smile, wave, wish them well, and move on. Don't take their garbage and spread it to other people at work, at home, or on the streets. The bottom line is that successful people do not let garbage trucks take over their day.
McMorris ends the story this way, “Life's too short to wake up in the morning with regrets, So ... Love the people who treat you right. Pray for the ones who don't.”
That’s where the story ends. But I think we have to take it a step farther. It is not enough to just pray for those who treat you wrong. We are called to love them like the taxi driver, to show them care, even when we don’t want to, even when we don’t think we can. So our prayers might more appropriately start with praying for ourselves: praying that we are given the strength to show love and care towards those who hurt us or those we love. Pray for ourselves the strength and then take up the challenge and work hard to treat every neighbor who crosses our paths with love.
Dan Clark tells this story in “Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul”... One cold evening during the holiday season, a little boy about six or seven was standing out in front of a store window. The little child had no shoes and his clothes were mere rags. A young woman hurrying by to get home to her own family was none the less caught by the needs of the little boy and the longing she read in his pale brown eyes. She took the child by the hand and led him into the store. There she bought him some new shoes and a complete suit of warm clothing. They had come back outside into the street and the woman said to the child, “Now you can go home and have a very happy holiday.”
The little boy looked up at her and asked, “Are you God, Ma’am?”
She smiled down at him and answered, “No, son, I’m just one of God’s children.”
The little boy then said, “I knew you had to be some relation.”
A father told this story about his child, Shay, who was mentally and physically disabled.
“Shay and I had walked past a park where some boys Shay knew were playing baseball. Shay asked, “Do you think they'll let me play?” I knew that most of the boys would not want someone like Shay on their team, but as a father I also understood that if my son were allowed to play, it would give him a much-needed sense of belonging and some confidence to be accepted by others in spite of his disabilities. I approached one of the boys on the field and asked (not expecting much) if Shay could play. The boy looked around for guidance and said, “We're losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we'll try to put him in to bat in the ninth inning.” Shay struggled over to the team's bench and, with a broad smile, put on a team shirt. I watched with a small tear in my eye and warmth in my heart. The boys saw my joy at my son being accepted. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shay's team scored a few runs but was still behind by three. In the top of the ninth inning, Shay put on a glove and played in the right field. Even though no hits came his way, he was obviously ecstatic just to be in the game and on the field, grinning from ear to ear as I waved to him from the stands. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shay's team scored again. Now, with two outs and the bases loaded, the potential winning run was on base and Shay was scheduled to be next at bat. At this juncture, do they let Shay bat and give away their chance to win the game? Surprisingly, Shay was given the bat. Everyone knew that a hit was all but impossible because Shay didn't even know how to hold the bat properly, much less connect with the ball. However, as Shay stepped up to the plate, the pitcher, recognizing that the other team was putting winning aside for this moment in Shay's life, moved in a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shay could at least make contact. The first pitch came and Shay swung clumsily and missed. The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly towards Shay. As the pitch came in, Shay swung at the ball and hit a slow ground ball right back to the pitcher. The game would now be over. The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could have easily thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shay would have been out and that would have been the end of the game. Instead, the pitcher threw the ball right over the first baseman's head, out of reach of all team mates.. Everyone from the stands and both teams started yelling, “Shay, run to first! Run to first!” Never in his life had Shay ever run that far, but he made it to first base.. He scampered down the baseline, wide-eyed and startled.
Everyone yelled, “Run to second, run to second!” Catching his breath, Shay awkwardly ran towards second, gleaming and struggling to make it to the base. By the time Shay rounded towards second base, the right fielder had the ball, the smallest guy on their team who now had his first chance to be the hero for his team. He could have thrown the ball to the second-baseman for the tag, but he understood the pitcher's intentions so he, too, intentionally threw the ball high and far over the third-baseman's head. Shay ran toward third base deliriously as the runners ahead of him circled the bases toward home..
All were screaming, “Shay, Shay, Shay, all the Way Shay”
Shay reached third base because the opposing shortstop ran to help him by turning him in the direction of third base, and shouted, “Run to third! Shay, run to third!”
As Shay rounded third, the boys from both teams, and the spectators, were on their feet screaming, “Shay, run home! Run home!”
Shay ran to home, stepped on the plate, and was cheered as the hero who hit the grand slam and won the game for his team. “That day”, said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, “the boys from both teams helped bring a piece of true love and humanity into this world.”
Shay didn't make it to another summer. He died that winter, having never forgotten being the hero and making his father so happy, and coming home and seeing his Mother tearfully embrace her little hero of the day!”
Those kids got it. They understood what it was to love someone else on that day. May we be able to do the same. Make your life in the image of God, the God of love. In doing so, you honor God, you show Jesus that you love him. Amen.