Deacon Tom's Homily for the 6th Sunday of Easter



[Acts 10: 25-26, 34-35, 44-48; 1 John 4: 7-10; John 15: 9-17]

James Shaw Jr, along with his best friend, had just sat down early Sunday April 22nd in the Waffle House — one of their favorite haunts, when they heard a loud, crashing sound. They had been watching a dishwasher pile plates high and wondering when they would topple. At first, they thought the sharp crackle was gravity’s work. It quickly became clear it was something else. Bullets shattered the restaurant’s windows. A man collapsed onto the floor. Servers ran. A young man whom Mr. Shaw had seen minutes earlier, silhouetted in a pickup truck, was gripping a rifle. He was squeezing the trigger and squeezing it again as he moved toward the building. Then the firing paused. Mr. Shaw could see the man reloading his weapon just after entering the restaurant. He sensed a moment when he could fight back. “I acted in a blink of a second,” Mr. Shaw said.

James Shaw Jr. was hailed as a lifesaver after he disarmed a shooter who killed four people and injured others early that Sunday morning. Authorities said Shaw's bravery saved numerous lives, but he has refused to call himself a hero, saying: “I’m not a hero. I’m just a regular person”. He later said: "All I can say is ... this was a true test of a man.

Five days earlier, Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was acclaimed for her nerves of steel when she safely landed Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 in Philadelphia after one of the plane’s engines exploded in midair, tragically claiming the life of passenger Jennifer Riordan. Shults said she and her team were “simply doing our jobs.”

Angels, heroes — apply whichever label you prefer to both James and Tammie. But heroes often are ordinary people who do extraordinary things on behalf of others. Shaw and Shults meet not just the dictionary’s definition of “hero,” but ours. Shaw tried to downplay his heroics, saying anyone else would’ve reacted the same way. But some of us are probably wondering: What would I have done in that situation?

The truth is, we don’t know until we’re confronted with it. Yet it’s clear, given the instances of heroism we hear about, and sometimes witness, that people find amazing reservoirs of strength when they need to. We’ve seen it so many times. They are in fact, acts of transcendent love. “No one has greater love than this,” Jesus says in today’s gospel, “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Love is Christ’s great message to his followers this Sunday – his parting word. “As the Father loves me, so I also love you,” Jesus says. Think of that: how deep and how eternal that love must be.

But Christ follows that with a challenge so bold, and so daunting, it seems impossible. “Love one another,” he commands them, “as I have loved you”. In other words: As deeply as God loves his son, and as powerfully as Jesus then loves us, that is how we are to love one another.

It’s wild to think about loving like this. Even if we aren’t called to martyrdom in the physical sense, radical love asks us to lay down our lives for our friends in real ways every day, just like James and Tammi. We pour out what we have in love so that others might live more fully. Jesus calls us all his friends.

In a good marriage, spouses can say that, and they can say it to their children. It is more than a natural bond when faith enters the relationship. It is "supernatural," but still very possible. We can experience it in close friendship as well. We "remain" united in each other. Jesus is offering us a different way, an ultimate way, that we can share with others. It takes courage, but we have the Holy Spirit he has promised, and this means both joy and sacrifice that will make an ultimate difference in our lives. 

Love is not merely a sentiment; it is an act of will. We cannot be ordered to “like” someone or to “fall in love”, but we can “choose to love” our enemies. More importantly, when we experience God’s love for us, the joy of being loved leads us to want to respond to that love. And God has loved us first: “It was not you who chose me[1]….” We experience his love for us each time we receive the sacraments, but also each time we reflect on the fact that he is keeping us in existence.

Most of us probably feel we could never measure up to the standard that Christ is setting for his disciples. We have a hard-enough time just getting along with our neighbors and co-workers and family members. But we are called to something greater. “This I command you,” Christ says. “Love one another.”

It’s his commandments that are the path to joy. It’s through obedience to God that we’re going to find joy and peace. He is calling us not just to love, but to love sacrificially, to choose the good of another over and above our own good, even to the point of laying down our life for the sake of the other.

In friendship with Jesus, all of humanity becomes our friends as well. Little sacrifices teach us slowly how to lay down our lives for one another fully. This was achieved in life by James and Tammie in ways that led those who were saved by them to call them a hero or angel. Would our friends say anything like that about any of us? Are any of us able to love so powerfully?

It is giving, when we know we’ll get nothing back.

It is sacrificing, when we know there’s nothing to be gained.

It is jumping into the pit, when we aren’t sure how we’ll get out.

It is an offering on an altar – or on a cross.

“This I command you: Love one another.”

[1] John 15:16