“As I Have Loved You”

“As I Have Loved You”

by Robert Hamerton-Kelly

May 9, 2004

Scripture: Revelation 21:1-6
John 13:31-35

“A
new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved
you, that you also love one another. By this all people will that you are my
disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John
13:34-35

This is surely
one of the most demanding texts in the Bible, one that, I think, is honored more
in the breach than in the observance; or at least so it seems. Would you say of
this congregation that people know we are disciples of Jesus by the love we show
for one another? (Overheard amongst the stacks in Robert’s Market, “O, I
don’t go to that church; all the do there is fight”). The context of the
saying in the gospel is significant. Immediately preceding it Judas goes out
with feet washed by Jesus, rejecting that last symbolic plea for reconciliation,
to lead the police where they might arrest Jesus secretly. Immediately following
the passage, Peter boasts that he will never forsake Jesus and Jesus forecasts
that Peter will deny him three times before the cock crows to welcome the
morrow. Therefore, Jesus’ new commandment to love one another as he has loved
us, is sandwiched between two accounts of us betraying him. Is that significant? 

Our other text
is the famous vision of the New Jerusalem seen by John the Divine. The advent of
this perfect society is emphatically not the climax of human efforts to remake
the world or to bring liberty to nations on the point of a bayonet, whether they
want it or not, rather it is the work of the creator God. It is not the work of
politicians or soldiers, it is the work of God and nobody has to die for it,
excepting God’s only Son. A new heaven and a new earth frame the New
Jerusalem, which is “prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.” This
imagery of the bride recalls the words of love in the Gospel, as does the
promise that God himself will dwell in her and “… wipe away every tear from
their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor
crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away (Rev. 21:
3-4).” Her husband will bring to the bride the divine love that dries our
tears as it saves us from death, and the bride of will love him as he has loved
her. Thus our two texts tell us that the divine love always precedes human love,
and that only the divine love is able to remake the world and secure the pure
reciprocity that love demands.

Today is
Mothers’ Day, or, as my church dairy calls it, the day of the “Festival of
the Christian Home” and I fervently want to say something gentle and
encouraging. (I feel that the spirit of division in this congregation becomes
more as my day of departure draws near, but it’s not surprising that the
reality of the division in the nation impinges on us, especially since I have
insisted that we live our faith in the real world). So, what shall I do to
salvage a little goodwill, enough to last for five more weeks? Shall I simply
ignore the moral outrage committed by our Defense Department by sending young
and untrained reservists into circumstances that Philip Zimbardo’s famous
prison experiment of 1971 showed were bound to produce morally depraved
behavior? Shall I refrain from saying that the Secretary of Defense who is
responsible for the lamentable post war situation because of his failure to plan
and his self-blinding bumptiousness is honor bound to resign? Or shall I once
again speak the truth and say that instead of scapegoating little Lyndie England
from a trailer camp in West Virginia and six other service personnel, the high
officials who put them, untrained and unprepared, in that impossible situation
should resign forthwith, and themselves face courts martial or the equivalent
for dereliction of duty.

I say they are
honor bound, and for that reason do not expect them to resign, because they have
no honor. They have expertise, confidence, power, and pride, they have deep
devotion to Jesus, but like Judas and Peter in our Gospel story, they have no
honor. They do not hesitate to lie, stonewall, and slander, and now to scapegoat
the little guys. John Dean makes this case in his new book “Worse than
Watergate,” (and he should know since he was Nixon’s White House lawyer. He
also lists eight proven lies told by Bush in his 2002 State of the Union speech
to Congress advocating this war). Shall I ignore all that so that we may have a
cozy Mothers’ day celebration? Or shall I point out that similar torture is
going on right now at Guantanamo Bay, as reported by today’s Washington Post,
where we are holding people beyond the reach of our laws? Or shall I point out
that US citizens are being held by Ashcroft’s forces, beyond the reach of our
most fundamental safeguard, the habeas corpus law? 

Do you want to
know on this Mother’s Day of the many mothers in Iraq whose husbands and sons
are arrested by US military personnel, often bursting into their homes and
dragging off the males to disappear into the maw of the US detention system
there? Our own Kathleen Namphy, who has been there and done that, can tell of
this and of the immense patience it takes to find our what has happened to the
arrested men. (We now know that one of the corpses to come from the hands of our
Abu Ghraib torturers was not checked into prison at all, that there is no record
of his ever having been there). Do you want to know of the many Iraqi children
maimed and deformed by our military action over the last decade or so?
Probably not! I certainly do not want to hear this, but it is so, today,
and not yesterday. We are doing it now, troops sent by us, our children and
grandchildren, deceived by lying politicians and manipulated by public relations
experts, they are killing, torturing and maiming in order to make those poor
people just like us, to give them the blessing of our freedom to lie, cheat,
manipulate and maim.

So here’s
what I would be thinking if I were to sit down with mom to a festive meal today.
I would think of the all the moms in Iraq who do not know where their children
are and fear they might be in the hands not of Saddam Hussein’s torturers but
now of George Bush’s. I would think of all the moms in this country whose
children are dead or at risk because of the lies not of bin Laden but of George
Bush. I would at last accept the fact that we Americans are not different than
other people but just the same, only more so because we have the power to put
our depraved fantasies into action. In 1971 my colleague Philip Zimbardo,
Professor of Psychology at Stanford, using Stanford students as subjects, showed
that prison guards insulated from oversight and responsibility and thus given
absolute power over prisoners, behave in a morally depraved way. Not just Iraqis
or Frenchmen, but Americans too are just like that! I would also temper my
appreciation of mom by the realization that women as well as men are capable of
such moral breakdown. There are three women among the seven scapegoats now
offered by the president. Who will ever forget the picture of Lyndie England,
cigarette in hand pointing to the poor man masturbating? (One commentator says
perceptively that these unsophisticated Americans were collecting souvenirs. I
bet too that there will be those who regard her smoking as a more reprehensible
moral failure than her sexual mockery). I would be thinking that the only hope
we have of regaining a toe hold on the moral high ground anywhere in the world,
let alone among the billion or so Muslims, is if Rumsfeldt is dishonorably
discharged and put on trial for moral turpitude and dereliction of duty, and in
due course the man responsible for all this dishonor is voted out of office.
Short of that the whole sorry saga of this, the worst administration in US
history, will slouch on in infamy, poisoning our national life, reducing the
reputation of the US to shame all over the world, and strengthening our
terrorist opposition every day.

This is the
moral truth of this Mother’s Day and if you think it inappropriate to the
occasion, well it might help you to take note of the call to the first Mother’s
Day, issued by Julia Ward Howe in 1870:

Arise, then,
women of this day!

Arise all women
who have hearts,

Whether your
baptism be that of water or of tears

Say firmly:

“We will not
have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,

Our husbands
shall not come to us reeking of carnage,

For caresses
and applause.

Our sons shall
not be taken from us to unlearn

All that we
have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.

We women of one
country

Will be too
tender of those of another country

To allow our
sons to be trained to injure theirs.

(She goes on to
call for a great meeting of mothers, a mothers’ day of peace,)     

To promote the
alliance of different nationalities,

The amicable
settlement of international questions.

The great and
general interests of peace.”

So you see that
my mothers’ day meditation is in tune with the intention of the founder of
this festival, Julia Ward Howe. (She is also, by the way, the author of the
Battle Hymn of the Republic). Clearly her sentiments are dated – women are now
as vicious in battle and torture as men; an alliance of nationalities, the
United Nations Organization, exists, and women have the vote so deciding
agencies are no longer irrelevant to women- nevertheless, her founding call
gives our festival today a timely seriousness and helps us escape from the fog
of sentimentality into the bracing clarity of truth.

Let us pray
that the love of Jesus may indeed become a new commandment in us, and let us
pray for the coming of the New Jerusalem, and let us be clear that no matter how
puffed up the rhetoric, this Administration is not appointed by God to bring
liberty to the world, and George Bush is not a second Moses. Only humility,
patience, and strict justice are in order for us now…and a long road to moral
rehabilitation for our nation.

Amen.

 

 

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