“I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. 35 This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”
—John 13:34 (Common English Bible)
By the Sea of Galilee on the beach sits a little chapel built on the site where people believe that Jesus fed 5000 men, women and children with a little boy’s lunch of 5 loaves and 2 fish. In the shops and along the paths, the symbol of the loaves and fish have become one of the major symbols of the Sea of Galilee area. The careful observer will note the fish symbol many places including on the beach and in the walkways, indicating that Jesus and his ragtag bunch of fisherman friends frequented these beaches. Like many chapels around, the little chapel here holds fewer than 100 people and resonates wonderfully. As our small group of 34 mediocre voices ring out, we sound like a full choir in a cathedral!
Among the wonders along the upper part of the beach are the natural heart-shaped limestone rocks that lie on the beach. How appropriate that this universal symbol of love lines the beach of such a great miracle as the feeding of so many hungry people who had come to see Jesus, to listen to his words of wisdom and to be healed by his miracles. Examining the rocks closely, we see cracks and crevices etched deeply into the rocks. Some heart rocks remain intact with only a few crevices, while some are broken all the way through. Some have seen heavier foot traffic and trauma than others, but all are there to witness to the love of Jesus for the people who were hungry so long ago.
This week, as I have watched the people around me, I have noticed that some hearts seem broken and worn, etched deeply by the cares of life and by the burdens of others, while others seem only slightly etched. Those who love deeply fall often under the foot-traffic of life, and like the rocks on the beach, our hearts can become worn and even broken by the pressures, words and actions of others.
This week, as a nation and as a Church, we have wrestled with issues of life including hate crimes, threat-charged letters to female clergy, the burning of sister AME churches in South Carolina, and same-gender marriage and covenant services. Like the waters of time wear away the rocks on the beach, these heavy concerns wear on our hearts, and we wonder why there is so much hate in the world. While many fall on diametrically opposed sides of many issues, we remember the teachings of the man on the beach, who came to heal and to restore broken and weary hearts. Jesus healed anyone who would come to him, and he fed those on the beach, some of whom were probably grumbling that he preached too long. Jesus came to show compassion and to be an instrument of reconciliation and restoration to those worn down by the cares of life. Jesus came to bring hope and love to a hurting world.
In this day of shalls and shall-nots, of name-calling and hate-flinging, of drawing lines in the sand to divide us from one another, we remember the words of the compassionate teacher and healer on the beach: “Love one another.” Jesus reminds us that loving the same way that he loved us means giving up one’s life for another, regardless of our dividing lines, regardless of our heritage, skin color, gender orientation, denomination, or any other label that we use to divide ourselves from one another. Christ came so to show us what God’s love looks like. The Holy Spirit came to enact in us the same love that was in Christ Jesus so that we might be one in him and one with each other in ministry to the world.
In the Church, we sing many songs, and our varied and untrained voices ring out differently, but like the voices in that little chapel, when we sing together about God’s love, our voices blend together, and we sound like a majestic cathedral choir. One of the songs we sing from time to time that I remember from Youth Group when I was a teenager is “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love.” It takes all of us to spread God’s love to the world so that all will know God’s love.
How are you living out God’s love today? Will the world know you are a Christian by your love for others?
Rev. Jan McCoy is the Associate Pastor of Covington First United Methodist Church in downtown Covington. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.covingtonfirst.org.