Today’s Word from Pastor Jim…
It has been my privilege, a sacred honor, to be at the deathbed of so many, to experience final moments, and a final breath. Pastor Dan Erlander, my friend, mentor, and partner in ministry at TLC for a decade, shared a deathbed experience with me. He said that as he was keeping vigil at the deathbed of a hospitalized parishioner, he moved closer to touch the man’s forehead, making the sign of the cross. Suddenly the man’s breathing became labored; it seemed clear to Pastor Dan that the end was near. Dan inched even closer, reading the 23 Psalm. He said that it was then, in labored tones, the man uttered his final words on this earth. “Pastor you are standing on my oxygen cord.” It was of course a joke, but he had me going until the end.
My first deathbed experience was at Billings Hospital in Chicago where my grandmother was dying of AIDS. She had been my constant companion, babysitter, and friend for the first 22 years of my life. We gathered around her bed, and she just closed her eyes, no final words to remember or treasure.
On a dark and cold Whidbey winter evening a decade ago, I drove to Whidbey General Hospital to be with Trudy Paulin. Trudy was a woman of faith, she had fought the good fight, death was near, but not an enemy; she was not afraid. We held hands, I read scripture to her, and we prayed. She then stroked my hand and said, “It is nasty outside, you go home now, be safe driving, and hug your girls.” I kissed her on the forehead and she smiled; Trudy died shortly after I departed.
When one is at the very end of this earthly journey words are not wasted, words are precious and chosen with care. At the end of his life, just moments before his arrest, Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment, “Love one another, as I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
Moses gave us 10 Commandments. Those 10 Commandments became the foundation for the legal codes embraced by countries across the world. Jesus did not discount any of the 10 Commandments, but he did consolidate them into one: love, love one another, as I have loved you.
This one commandment cannot be understood without two tiny, sometimes overlooked, words: “As I.”
We are to love as Jesus did. Jesus loved by serving, healing, touching the untouchable, listening, washing feet, forgiving, and ultimately by giving his life. He did not let a series of civil and religious laws obscure the rule of love. Love one another as I have loved you. The Apostle Paul understood this love to include patience and kindness.
The 10 Commandments given by Moses had become 613 religious laws by the time that Jesus was born. The law had taken on a life of its own; it was a cruel, judgmental taskmaster that unnecessarily restricted the lives of God’s people. Would it be possible for you to remember, must less keep, 613 laws? On his deathbed Jesus condensed the 10 Commandments and 613 laws into a single command. Jesus did not mince words. The command was to love, to love as he loved.
The great Seattle born theologian and guitarist Jimi Hendrix famously said, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”
Our world is troubled, not more troubled than it was in the 1960’s, not more troubled than it was in Jesus’ day; the world has always been troubled. We are not in a position to cure all the ailments of this world. We are not able to stop the waring madness of power-hungry dictators and politicians. We cannot, on our own, solve the crisis at our Southern border, the political unrest in Africa, or the evil of white supremacy.
That reality does not negate the call of Jesus to love. Our lives should still be guided by God’s theological North Star; this commandment to love AS Jesus loved. We are not helpless, far from it, we have at our disposal the very power that conquered the Roman Empire. We have the power that comes from God, and that power is love. “Love,” not armies, conquered the Empire; love conquered the same Empire that put Jesus on a cross.
To love AS Jesus loved is the command; that has not changed in 2,000 years. The love that is commanded is a choice to be made each day. This deathbed insight can illuminate a pathway to a more abundant life. The choice is yours, each morning, with each encounter with spouse, friend, or stranger. Can we make the choice to love? Can we be known for our patience, kindness, acts of charity and forgiveness?
A new commandment I give you, “Love one another, as I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
“When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” – Jimi Hendrix.
One beggar telling another where to find bread, I am your,