Lectionary Readings – (Sixth Sunday in Easter)
If you’ve been watching television since 1966, then you’ve most likely heard of Captain Kirk, the United Federation of Planets, Starfleet, and the Starship Enterprise. If you only started watching television in the 80’s then you probably managed to see the Next Generation with Captain Picard, or Deep Space Nine, or Voyager, Enterprise, or even the latest show: Discovery.
If you’re a real fan, you’ve probably watched every episode of every franchise, all of the movies, and you might even be able to speak a few words in Klingon (though I will neither confirm nor deny any such allegations).
Even if you’re not a fan, you’ve probably run across the show at one point or another, and heard the characters talking about something called the Prime Directive. For those of you who might not have heard of this, the simple paraphrase is this:
No Starfleet personnel may interfere with the normal and healthy development of alien life and culture.
Captain Picard once said that “The Prime Directive is not just a set of rules. It is a philosophy, and a very correct one. History has proved again and again that whenever mankind interferes with a less developed civilization, no matter how well intentioned that interference may be, the results are invariably disastrous.”
And then, of course, every one of the franchises has an episode where they go through a painstaking decision making process to determine if they would really be breaking the directive by helping out another culture, and usually things end up going sideways.
It’s a simple concept, but one that is not always easy for the characters to follow.
The Christian Prime Directive
These characters in Star Trek had this philosophy that infused their entire life, which they had sworn to uphold, even to death.
We too have been given a simple set of commandments that are to guide our lives.
In today’s Gospel reading we hear Jesus telling his disciples that “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.” Or, as he says in various other places in John, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” And he also tells the disciples “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
Looking at these commandments we see that this is a simply a different form of the Greatest Commandment:
- Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.
- Love your neighbor as yourself.
These are the Christian Prime Directive
Everything that we need to know about living out our lives with God and community can be handled through those two commandments.
The First Commandment
The first commandment is straightforward and simple. Love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. The “heart” in this passage doesn’t actually mean your passions or drive, motivation, etc. Here it refers to your center of logic, your thinking parts, your brain.
The Soul refers to that sense of passion, those things that make you unique and make you you.
The Mind refers to something more like your “conscience.” In other words, something that takes the passions you have and the logic you’re thinking and makes a decision between on what you know to be true, and what you want or desire.
We can follow this simple commandment by coming to church and hearing God’s word, listening to sermons, taking part in Bible Studies in the evening, or the Sunday Schools between services. We can spend time talking with other believers about God, and thereby getting deeper knowledge of the Word. In other words, Seeking God.
Sometimes, though, we may find that our passions have a different idea, and we might want to skip Church altogether and watch football on TV, or skip church and take a 4 hour motorcycle ride through the mountains. Or maybe we feel that God is trying to draw us to volunteer activity, and we would rather watch movies or work on our hobbies, or spend time doing anything else that furthers our own agenda.
Now, I’m not saying that these things above are always wrong. Not at all. We may need to grant ourselves these things occasionally to take care of ourselves spiritually. <pause> Only you can decide for yourself what your motivation for doing these things really is. If we choose too often to follow our own passions, rather than making the decision to follow this commandment to love God with – essentially – our entire being, we may find soon enough that we have developed an idol of our own making – something more important to us than our relationship with God.
Love God. Keep his commandments. Simple; but not always easy.
At least not when there’s motorcycles to ride and mountains nearby.
Now, the second commandment is to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Or, in John’s words, “Love one another.” It seems simple enough, doesn’t it?
For those of you who have attending “The Story” Bible Study, you’ve probably heard me tell the story about a shooting at an Amish schoolhouse in (Nickel Mines) Pennsylvania in 2006. This story has stuck with me since I first heard it: A man barged into a schoolhouse and shot ten 10 young girls, killing 5 of those girls. Then he shot himself.
These Amish people, only one day after having performed the funeral services for their own daughters, attended the funeral service of the man who had killed their children. They all hugged the widow, and the man’s children. Later on, they raised money to support this man’s family.
Now, people being people, the Amish were accused of not caring that their own kids died, since they had “Gotten over the tragedy too quickly.” The Amish, however, responded that they were still grieving for their own children, but that the family of the shooter had lost a husband and a father, and that they were grieving too.
When asked how they could possible forgive someone who had killed their children and love the family of that same man, the Amish responded: “God has commanded us to love one another. That is what we are doing.” When asked if it was difficult, the answer was, “Of course it is difficult. We grieve for our loss every day, but we have been commanded to forgive sins and to love one another. That is a choice we have to make every single day.”
Now, to me, while it doesn’t involve an actual death, it feels to me like these Amish people are embodying Jesus’ words from today’s Gospel that “Greater love has no one than to lay down their lives for another.” They are acting upon the commandment to love one another by choosing to lay down their own lives and feelings to show love to the grieving family of the shooter.
This, I believe, where the second portion of the Second Commandment comes into play. The second portion states that we are to “Love our neighbors, as we love ourselves.”
If we know that we are forgiven by Christ, then we know that we can forgive those who harm us by accepting our forgiveness.
If we know that we are loved by God, then we can know that we can muster the love to give to others, by accepting and internalizing the Love God has for us.
If we know that we have the promise of eternal life, then death has no power over us and we are free to live out our lives showing God’s love to others, regardless of the consequences.
The Amish internalized their forgiveness through Christ, they internalized the love they received from God, and they chose to live out that love at personal cost.
Love One Another. Simple; but not always easy.
Joy May be Made Complete
Now, I don’t know about you, but I prefer the whole idea that Love is a warm fuzzy feeling. That would be a whole lot easier because then I could just love those who love me and collect that reward like a good tax collector. Unfortunately, not even psychology is on my side.
The psychologist Erich Fromm said this about Love:
Love is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever. A feeling comes and it may go. How can I judge that it will stay forever, when my act does not involve judgment and decision
So where do we go from here?
In the Gospel of Matthew, in the Sermon on the mount, Jesus says, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you… If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Isn’t that what the tax collectors do too?” If you only love those who love you, you already get the reward that everyone else does, which is happy feelings that may come and which may go.
The good news is that Jesus told his disciples to Love him and keep his commandments and to love one another so that their joy might be complete!
I figure that Jesus wouldn’t have told his disciples to love their enemies unless he knew that the command to love those who didn’t love them would bring them joy…
Another psychologist, William James, said, “Action seems to follow feeling, but really, actions and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.”
Or, in other words, “Feelings come from action.” Or, “What we do, we come to feel.”
Don’t quite feel like keeping God’s commandments? Choose to do it anyway – even through clenched teeth if you have to. Love is a choice. Act on that choice and the feelings will follow.
Jesus said that if we kept his commandments, we would remain in his Love. Earlier, in Chapter 8, Jesus tells his disciples that if they keep his commandments, that they would live in Truth, and the truth would set them free. In Chapter 7 he told them that from the hearts of believers would spring forth rivers of living water. And then here again, he tells them that if they keep his commandments and love one another, their joy would be complete.
Those are some fantastic promises.
- Out of our hearts will come rivers of living water.
- We will live in truth and the truth will set us free.
- We will remain in God’s love.
- Our joy will be complete.
For me here, I see images of a little child bubbling over with excitement that she simply can’t hold it in and wants to tell everyone about the awesome thing she has
Or the awesome thing she found or learned or did or….
We can have all of that.
All it takes is to make a choice – to Love at every opportunity.
Mike is a jack of all trades, master of none. He’s a data analyst, programmer, and loves to cook. If he doesn’t have his face buried in a book or is staring blankly at a computer screen, you can find him on a motorcycle, enjoying the ride.
Mike holds a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary, and is a postulant for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona. He will attend Sewanee School of Theology for a year of Anglican Studies in the Fall of 2022.