“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

These are the words that Jesus said to his disciples on the last night of his life. Love one another. Jesus was a man whose actions always matched his words. So on this last night of his life he demonstrates two ways to live out this final instruction to his followers.

The first was washing the feet of his disciples, an act that shocked and horrified them. Washing dirty feet was the work of a servant, not one called Teacher and Lord.

The second was sharing a meal, and telling his friends he would be with them whenever  they gathered in his name, in the breaking of bread and sharing of wine.

Two millennia later, we gather tonight to remember both of these acts of love. I’d like to share two examples of how Jesus’ words and action that night still are powerful reminders of love for us today.

The first is from Carlton Pearson, who died last November. Pearson as a young man was a rising star in evangelical circles. He was the protégée of evangelical superstar Oral Roberts. Like many of his fellow evangelicals, hellfire and damnation was an integral part of his preaching and teaching. He even believed that his grandparents were in hell because they played cards and enjoyed an occasional alcoholic beverage.

One day Pearson was watching a news report about the refugee crisis in Rwanda. “And you saw these African people — mostly women and children walking slowly back trying to come home. There was no light or life in their eyes…I’m looking at these people assuming they’re probably Muslim and going to hell. 

“And I said, ‘God, I don’t know how you call yourself a loving God and allow these people to suffer so much and then just suck them into hell.’

“And I believe it was the Spirit of God in me saying, ‘Is that what you think I’m doing?'”

Suddenly, Pearson said, he heard God telling him to preach a new message — that hell is a place in life, and that after death everybody is redeemed. Everybody.

Pearson was eager to bring this new message to his flock. He called it the Gospel of Inclusion, the good news that all people will be reunited with God.

But his congregation did not consider this message to be good news at all. His congregation with a weekly attendance of 6,000 people melted away to a few hundred. The church campus was foreclosed on. His fellow evangelicals, including Oral Roberts, denounced and disowned him.

This gospel of inclusion, this preaching of radical love, had excluded him from everything he knew.

Then one day, when things were at their bleakest, Pearson got a phone call. It was an invitation to preach in a small church in San Francisco. It was a church full of outcasts, gays and lesbians, abused women, AIDS patients. Those who the world — and the church — have all too often rejected.

Pearson told them his notion that heaven was waiting for everyone — even them. When he finished the minister invited him to sit down and take off his shoes. Then she brought out a bowl of water.

“And she knelt,” Pearson said. “Now I was hurting, man. Everybody I knew had thrown me away. And these people were singing and weeping and washing my feet. 

“Talk about a holy moment. The room began to spin. And everybody there suddenly became an angel. Everybody was Jesus. It was so powerful. These people had been so hurt and so broken and so rejected and so bruised, and they healed me. They literally healed me.”

The actions of these outcasts show that they are Christians, following Jesus’ command to love one another.

The second example of living out that command comes from Bethlehem. The town where Jesus was born is now in the West Bank. Early last year Becca Stevens, an Episcopal priest in Nashville, contacted a group of women potters there to see if they would be interested in making patens and chalices to sell here.

Becca’s life has been devoted to helping women who have been marginalized. She opened houses for women who had been prostitutes or victims of sex trafficking, offering a two-year program to help prepare them for re-entry into a life away from that world. She started Thistle Farms, making lotions, oils, and candles, giving the women a place to work.

Part of Becca’s ministry is to form partnerships with other women’s groups around the world, like the women in Bethlehem. After reaching out to them Becca heard no response. She assumed they were not interested in partnering with her.

Then last fall, on October 6, one day before the Hamas attacks on Israel, boxes showed up at Thistle Farms’ office. Together they contained 150 patens and chalices, with the promise that 150 more would be arriving soon.

The paten and chalice you see on the altar, which we will be using tonight, are among those that were made by four displaced women potters.

Becca sees the timing of the vessels’ arrival as a miracle. 

“Since that day the world has changed,” she said. “Now we hold these pieces as a remnant of a peace that passes our understanding. We hold them praying that love remains a powerful force for change. They call us back to our humanity as we humbly cherish the gift of life.”

In a few minutes these vessels will hold Christ’s broken body and blood, offered to us as his gift of love.

“Life for the women potters, and all of us, has changed,” Becca said. “We hold onto these relics to feel strength and hope and the unwavering doggedness of love.

“May love always be our guide.”

Pin It on Pinterest