Fifth Sunday of Easter – John 13:31-35. Sermon by Rev. Dr. Rolf Svanoe
For those of us who are Norwegian American, Friday was a big day. It was the Norwegian Independence Day called, Syttende Mai. Syttende Mai is Norwegian for 17th of May. We flew the Norwegian flag at the parsonage and sent congratulations via Facebook to friends and family in Norway. Yesterday I drove to Spring Grove to see the big Syttende Mai parade. It is a proud day for Norwegians who celebrate their heritage with lefse and rømmegrot and lutefisk. And the day is especially meaningful to me because my 3x great grandfather Svanøe was one of the signers of the Norwegian Constitution in 1814. I admit to being proud of my heritage, especially when the winter Olympics comes around and tiny little Norway usually brings home the most medals of any country in the world.
A few years ago, I had my DNA tested. It came back 100% Norwegian. No surprise there! I often tell people that I am 100% Norwegian, but I’m taking pills for it. We Norwegians are proud, but not too proud. And we love to laugh at ourselves. Yust ask Ole and Lena and Sven about dat! Why is it there are no German jokes? Germans are no laughing matter!
A few years ago, there was a powerful video circulating on social media. It was called “The DNA Journey” and was made by an organization called, Momondo. They assembled a group of 30 strangers, people from all over the world, and interviewed them. People talked about their self-identity and ethnic heritage. Many of them expressed great pride in their ethnic or national background. Many of them also expressed some disdain for people of other backgrounds. Then they were asked the question, “How would you feel about taking a journey based on your DNA?” Many were intrigued. Some were nervous. One responded, “What could you possibly tell me that I don’t already know?” Two weeks later they reassembled the group to reveal their results. Many were shocked at what they learned. Their DNA revealed things about them they had no idea of. One man who disliked Germans found out he was 25% German. Another woman who disliked Turks found out she had Turkish DNA. Another woman realized what this meant for them all. She said that this DNA testing should be compulsory. “There would be no such thing as extremism in the world if people knew their heritage like that. Who would be stupid enough to think that there was something like a pure race?” At the end of the video, it was revealed that among these 30 strangers, two of them were distantly related. They asked one woman to turn at look at the rest of the group and try to figure out who her cousin was. It was a powerful moment when the cousin stood up and the two embraced. Neither had any idea this would happen.
What if we all went through life looking at each other that way? Am I related to this person? Do I share DNA with this person? It’s been interesting being here in Harmony where there are so many Norwegians. I’ve done funerals for three people that I found out I was distantly related to: Carmona Sauer, Norris Storlie and Lillian Benson. And that’s just going back a few hundred years. What if we looked at everyone that way? Do I share DNA with this person? Wouldn’t it change how we look at each other and how we treat each other?
Scientists say that all human beings share 99% of their DNA with each other. We all have a lot more in common than we like to think. It’s when we start to emphasize the differences of culture or language or skin color, that we start to separate ourselves from others. Then its easy to think of one group as better than another. And that can easily lead to fear and suspicion, or even hatred of the other who is different. And that can lead to conflict and war. What if instead of focusing on the 1% of our DNA that is different, we focused on the 99% DNA that we share with each other? What if instead of seeing our differences, we saw each other as created in the image of God? What if instead of seeing different races, we saw each person as someone God loves and someone Jesus died for? Do you think that would make a difference in how we lived?
When the first Apollo astronauts orbited the moon, they came around the moon’s far side and saw the earth off in the distance, a blue ball hanging in the darkness of space. I don’t think they thought of countries with borders or people of different races. They saw one earth, inhabited by one people. I think that’s how God sees the world, one beautiful magnificent world created by God and populated with people that God loves. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” God is like a parent whose children all share the same DNA. And like that parent, God just wants his children to get along with each other, to respect each other and care for one another.
In our gospel lesson, Jesus gives us a command. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” It’s not very complicated. Jesus didn’t give us a long list of rules to follow. He gave us one command- to love one another. And he wasn’t just talking about loving other Christians. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for them. In fact, Jesus says that this is to be the mark of the Christian community, the way that others will know we follow Jesus- if we have love for one another. It’s like the old Bible camp song, They Will Know We are Christians By Our Love. Somehow the community of Christians is to rise above our fears and prejudice toward those who are different, and practice kindness and compassion. We are called to put our love into practice, to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, clothe the naked. We are called to speak out on behalf of victims of injustice. We are called to try to bring peace and reconciliation between people and nations who fight with each other.
Graduates, we celebrate your accomplishment in finishing high school. You will go on to further education and training. We want you to be successful, and we pray that God would bless your efforts. But the Apostle Paul has some words of guidance for you. In First Corinthians 13 Paul talks about the importance of love and that if we don’t have love, somehow we’ve missed out on the meaning of life. I’m going to read from a version called The Message. “If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.”
That is a message for all of us. Make it our aim to go through life known as lovers. We are people in love with life, people in love with God’s creation, and people in love with each other. Jesus wants to help us to do that. The church wants to help us do that. May it be said of us- they will know we are Christians by our love.
Fifth Sunday of Easter – John 13:31-35. Sermon by Rev. Dr. Rolf Svanoe