“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
In just a few days’ time, I will be on my way to visit my friends in the Morogoro Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania. I will be accompanying four women from the Arkansas-Oklahoma Synod who are going to Tanzania to begin building relationships between women in our synod and women in the diocese. This is not a “service trip.” We are not going to “do for…” the people there. We are going, quite simply, to get to know one another better, so that we might accompany one another in mission and ministry more effectively in the future. We offer ourselves. They offer themselves. We will give and receive. They will give and receive. Together, we will learn from one another in a deeper way what Jesus means when he tells us to love one another as he has loved us. We will celebrate both the ways we are different and the ways we share a common humanity and faith.
It is striking to me that Jesus’ new commandment to love one another as he loved us (which he demonstrated by washing his disciple’s feet – the master serving the student) is sandwiched in between Judas leaving the upper room to betray Jesus and Jesus telling Peter that he will deny him three times. Between betrayal and denial, Jesus calls his disciples to a servant-love that will bind them to one another in the dark and painful days that lie immediately ahead of them, and on the challenging and often dangerous journey they will take following the Resurrection and Pentecost.
Learning to love like Jesus loves, means doing the hard work of figuring out how to love one another when we find ourselves living in the tension between betrayal and denial. No easy task.
What I hope and pray we will all learn during our time in Tanzania is that Jesus’ love is so powerful that it transcends a world that is fractured by factions and fighting. I hope we will experience how Jesus’ love binds disciples across cultures and languages and nations and anything else that might divide us. I pray that Jesus’ love will move us beyond platitudes and paternalism, beyond romantic mushiness and sentimental sweetness, to take seriously those things that divide us, embrace the wonder of our diversity and motivate us to work together for the good of all people. All people.
In a world where fleeing immigrants are treated as less than human, where people are attacked in subtle and not-so-subtle ways because of the color of their skin, the language they speak, the religion they practice, their orientation or their gender, learning to love in the way of Jesus is a critical step in learning how to walk together as siblings and as friends.
Sometimes, it takes going half way around the world to figure that out.
Please pray for us as we travel this next week. Look for the next “On the Way” reflection in two weeks. Thanks for reading!