A command and a commission
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. — John 13:34
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”— Matthew 28:19–20
I worked in a church that had a stunning stained-glass window of “The Great Commission,” where Jesus, before ascending into heaven, tells his disciples to go out into the world and make more disciples. Next to it was a window depicting another one of Jesus’ marching orders before leaving this world: Love one another, as I have loved you.
I never thought much about how the “command” and “commission” windows were side by side. That is until the day the rural congregation I served became a Matthew 25 church. (Matthew 25 is an invitation to the churches in my denomination, the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., to serve and love boldly as Jesus did.) The educated and well-off session members reviewed the three ministry focuses of the Matthew 25 invitation: building congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty. Like many congregations who have seen numbers dwindle dangerously low to the “closing-the-doors” level, they zeroed in on vitality over eradicating poverty and dismantling racism.
All too quickly, building vitality began looking like programming to get people into the pews. My heart broke. I reminded them that Matthew 25 was not a program to save a church. Rather, it’s an invitation to die to self to save others. It’s about boldly living as the body of Christ, and that living begins with loving as Christ loves. “That means loving all the shoppers in the local Walmart that I have heard this congregation talk disparagingly about,” I dared to say.
When Jesus said, “Love one another,” he didn’t want lip service. He wanted love to be shown in our actions that would transform a community — and, thus, the world. We are at the beginning of our Lenten journey. There are still more weeks to tread all the rough and undesirable places Jesus has already gone. But it’s here that we take a spiritual stop to examine our hearts before venturing further. We must be honest and question our commitment to Jesus’ command and commission. “Lord, when did we see you?” we ask. And he will answer, “When you began loving as I have loved, you have seen — truly seen. Now go with that love in your heart and make disciples.”
All-knowing God, you see how often we speak about love and how rarely we show it. In this season of Lent, help us go beyond words. May the world see your love through our actions. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
What are the ways in which love can become a verb as you go about living this day?