A few years ago, some friends of mine engaged in the elevator speech challenge. The idea was simple. If you were stuck in an elevator with someone for thirty seconds and were asked to tell them about your faith, what would you say? The challenge was to explain to someone your faith in Jesus Christ in thirty seconds or less. I remember when my friends started sharing their elevator speeches, I was totally intimidated. First, I knew that if someone actually asked me to do this in an elevator, I would probably stutter through some answer, mostly filled with “ums” and “you knows,” and not much of substance. But more importantly, even when I tried to sit down and give myself way more than thirty seconds to formulate my thirty-second speech, I could not do it. I could not figure out how to distill everything that had happened to me in my faith journey, why I still believe and am so devoted to church, and who I believe the three persons of the Godhead to be.
The last night in the upper room that we hear about in our gospel lesson today is a little like Jesus’ elevator speech. Although the disciples did not fully grasp the importance of that night, Jesus certainly did. If you remember, back on Maundy Thursday, we joined Jesus and the disciples on this night. Jesus tells the disciples many things. He teaches them about the importance of servitude as he washes their feet. He teaches them how to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. But when Judas leaves at the beginning of our reading today, Jesus knows he is out of time. The end is coming and he desperately wants to leave the disciples with a few words of wisdom. Knowing his time is up, Jesus does not tell anymore parables or give them any convoluted metaphors. He keeps his words simple and direct.[i] “Love one another,” he tells them. “Love one another as I have loved you.” That is all he gives them.
His words are simple, perfect, and beautiful. I am sure those words were in many of the elevator speeches I read. God is love. Our call is to love as Jesus loved us. That is how others will know us to be Christians – through our love. The problem is this: though “love one another” sounds simple, perfect, and beautiful, loving one another is really hard work. Think about that one family member who is so difficult – the sibling who always tries to start a fight, the family member who always has some story about why they need to borrow money from you, or that aunt who is just plain mean. Jesus says we must love them. Or think about that classmate who started a nasty rumor about you, the coworker who took credit for your idea, or that friend who shared your confidence with someone else. Jesus says we must love them too. Or think about that political candidate that you cannot stand, that religious leader who constantly says offensive things, or that homeless person you tried to help who was completely ungrateful. Jesus says we must love them too. Jesus words, “Love one another,” are simple, perfect, and beautiful. But Jesus’ words are also hard, frustrating, and sometimes seemingly impossible. Loving one another is at times the most wonderful, rewarding thing we do in this life, and at times is one of the most challenging, difficult things we do in this life. But we love because that is what Jesus taught us to do.
Today we will baptize a child into the family of God. Baptism is our sacred initiation rite. During any initiation rite, we normally summarize what is most important to us so that the newly initiated person knows what we expect from her. In this case, the parents and Godparents will be reminded of our ultimate priorities so that they can teach her in the years to come. Most of those promises and priorities come in the baptismal covenant. We ask five questions: Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers? Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? The questions are big questions – the guiding principles of our faith. But most of the questions boil down to that night in the upper room: love one another.
As we think about baptizing Elaina today, and teaching her to love, some of us may feel overwhelmed. We know how hard loving is. Elaina will even teach her parents and godparents how difficult loving is: when she learns and uses the word “no!”, when she throws her first epic temper tantrum, or when she first utters those dreaded words, “I hate you!” But Elaina will also teach the parents and godparents how wonderful love is: when she first calls you by name, when you first see her helping someone or tenderly comforting a crying friend, or when she finally learns those wonderful words, “I love you!” Everyday her parents and godparents will have the chance to teach her about what her baptism means by showing her how to love. They may not have a patented elevator speech, but Elaina will understand what her Christians identity means when she sees what “love one another” really means.
But today is not just about Elaina, her parents, and her godparents. Today is for all of us. Today is a day when we too can take stock of how well we are living into our own identity as baptized children of God. Every day we can take a moment to remember where we have failed to show love and where we have excelled in showing love.[ii] The moments will be small and sometimes seemingly inconsequential. But all those tiny moments add up to a lifetime of loving one another. And today we will promise to, with God’s help, keep trying to be a people who love another. Loving one another may not be a fancy elevator speech. But loving one another might be much more powerful in the long run than any fancy words we can assemble – because Jesus’ commandment today is not so much about what we believe, but about how we live.[iii] Jesus did not tell us to love one another because he knew loving one another would be easy. But Jesus did tell us to love one another because he knows that we can. He has seen each one of us do that simple, perfect, and beautiful act. Today, he invites us to keep up the good work. Amen.
[i] Gary D. Jones, “Pastoral Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 468, 470.
[ii] David Lose, “On Loving – and Not Loving – One Another,” April 21, 2013, as found at https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2542 on April 20, 2016.
[iii] Jones, 470.