We’ve entered the season after Pentecost, Ordinary Time, my favorite season of the church year. The past six months have been filled with special times to await the Messiah’s birth, celebrate his arrival, anticipate his death, and rejoice in his resurrection. Now we have the luxury of six months to dive deep into the gospel narrative. This year it’s Mark, giving us time to examine what Jesus said and did, and how it relates to our lives.
The linchpin for understanding how what Jesus said and did relates to our lives is the new commandment: to love one another as he loves us. Recorded in John’s gospel, chapter 13, it has echoes in the synoptics and throughout the epistles, especially in the letters attributed to John. As some skeptical students said in years past, that’s all fine and dandy, but how did he love us? Answering the question is what these next six months are about. Sunday after Sunday, churches in the liturgical tradition will hear readings from Mark’s gospel demonstrating what Jesus said and did that point the way to what Christians are to be saying and doing in their own lives. Associated epistle readings often give us a sense of how the early church tried to live into this new way of being, but not without plenty of trial and error.
Preachers are counseled to avoid straying too far from reminding congregations about the central question: how did Jesus love us? It’s tempting to go off on tangents, which, taken to extreme, leave the in depth study of the gospel far behind, and evade hard issues about what the Christian life requires. We have six full months. It’s enough time to take our time, read slowly, think deeply, raise questions and probe for answers.
There may be some discomfort. A congregation may not like having to struggle Sunday after Sunday with practical questions about the meaning of Jesus in their ordinary daily lives, especially if they are accustomed to giving absent minded attention to sermons telling them what the gospel reading already told them, linking it to some amiable principle. But when we end services with the admonition to go in peace to love and serve the Lord, we need to have a solid, practical understanding of what loving and serving the Lord means.
Too often the work God has given us to do is assigned as something far removed from ordinary daily life, a mystery to be solved. Sometimes it is far removed from our daily lives, but it’s never a mystery to be solved. We don’t have to search for it. It finds us where we are. Parishioners and congregation may be called to do extraordinary things, but the call will come from the compelling force of God’s Holy Spirit – no mystery about it. We’ve seen it happen when schools and hospitals have come into being, communities revitalized, and justice for the poor and oppressed raised up. As important as such things are, they are not the core of what it means to love and serve the Lord.
The fundamental work God has given us to do in the way of love that Jesus commanded, is no farther away than the place where we are, among the people we’re usually with, doing the things we normally do. To love others as Jesus loves us is to engage in ordinary daily life with daily recommitment to do and say as Jesus taught us. It has everything to do with being persons of integrity who respect the dignity of every person. He gave us simple guidelines: be humble, honest, merciful and peaceable. Let your yes be yes and no be no. Don’t be too pious, give generously, serve God not wealth. Don’t be so quick to judge others. Let your good works inspire others to give thanks to God. These are the ordinary ways of daily life that define what it means to love and serve the Lord, what it means to do the work God has given us to do.
Is there more? Of course there’s more. That’s why we will take six long months to consider how Jesus loves us as recorded by Mark, and discuss how that guides our daily lives. It’s a life long work in progress, one step at a time.