PREACHING TO THE CHOIR[1]

JOHN 13:31-35

JUNE 28 2015

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

Play Audio

 

            Glen MacDonald, started a new church development in Zionsville, Indiana, just outside Indianapolis.  When the both of us were young to middle-aged pastors, Glen and I were in a national covenant group with pastors from around the United States.  We would meet for three days once a year for mutual support and prayer.  Recently Glen shared a time when he asked the members of Zionsville Presbyterian church if they would be willing to write down a time when someone in the congregation shared with them an act of kindness or service.  He received sixteen pages of personal accounts of kindnesses offered and kindnesses received.  Here are three of them:

 

            One woman wrote, As a single mother with no family here, a very kind, thoughtful single mom asked us to join her extended family for a Mothers Day lunch. I would have been alone again on a holiday.  How much I appreciated the gesture.

 

            Another woman said, I thank God for someone who cut our grass all summer after my husbands heart attackwho decorated the outside of our house one Christmas when he was sickwho sent cards on unofficial occasions.

 

            Another person wrote, During an extremely difficult time emotionally and physically, I became unable to care for my family in any way.  At that time, several couples adopted my family:  fed them, watched the kids, ran errands, anything that was needed.

 

            This morning we bring our Five Great Loves sermon series to a close.  We have  been unpacking five love directives given by Jesus. We have looked a loving God, loving our neighbor, loving ourselves, and loving our enemies. Today we come to Jesus last love directive, and this one he directs to the church, to how we are to relate to one another.  This directive the Zionsville Presbyterian Church seemed to have in spades.

            Turn with me to John 13:31.  Jesus has gathered with his disciples in the Upper Room.  Its the night of his arrest and he says,

 

            When he had gone out (that is, Judas Iscariot), Jesus said, Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.  If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, Where I am going, you cannot come. 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.

 

            We might consider Jesus words to his disciples here as sort of a Last Will and Testament. He speaks of his coming death not as a probability but as a certainty, and he speaks with new urgency wanting to etch every word indelibly on the minds of each of them.  And what does he say to them?  What does he want them to do after he is gone?  What is job one? I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. People will know you are my followers by your love for one another.

            Of course, we might ask, What is new about it? It certainly is not new in its content, for many centuries before Jesus the prophets told Gods people that they were supposed to love one another.  Greek philosophers said the same thing. 

            So we may well ask, Whats new about it? A cynic might reply: Well, it is new in that it has been so rarely used! Thats an indictment of how some see us in the church.  They see us more for our squabbles than our love for one another. What Senator Sam Ervin said about the infamous Watergate co-conspirators, could be said about the church. Ervin said,These gentlemen have such a high regard for truth that they use it very sparingly. Some might say that we Christians have such a high regard for Jesus commandment to love one another, that we have used it very sparingly.  Of course, its not just Christians. Religious people for some strange reason seem to have had a peculiar penchant for hatred.  Some of the bloodiest wars in history have been religious wars, not all, but many.

            Some years ago Lewis Browne wrote a book titled, This Believing World.  The prologue to his book gives us pause. It reads

 

            The Arab in his robe looks with loathing on the Armenian in his sack suit; and both look with disdain on the Jew ... The Carmelite monk looks with anger at the Anglican missionary; and both look with contempt on the Greek priest.  Hatred seems to

be all around one: almost a noxious vapor that one can see, a veritable reek that one can smell.  These creatures seem unable to bear the very sight of each other.  They actually seem ready to kill! 

 

            The Irish humorist T.P. OConnor said words about his native Ireland which would be funny if not so true: Ah, in Ireland the Catholics hate the Protestants and the Protestants hate the Catholics; I wish to God theyd both become atheists so they could live together as Christians!

            Yes, perhaps Jesus command is new because it has been so rarely used, and yet, that isnt the whole story.  At its best, Christianity has been a religion of love, even when its adherents havent always lived up to that standard.  The great Christians of the ages, the men and women who have truly brought the redeeming power of the living Christ to bear on the life of the world have been men and women whose hearts have overflowed with love; love for every creature that breathes, love for the least, the last, and the lost.  This kind of love sent Francis of Assisi on a spiritual pilgrimage that swept through a corrupt church with purifying power.  St.Theresa of Avila, Father Damien of Molokai, David Livingstone, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mother Teresa have all exemplified this kind of love.  And the world took note.

            So some people have caught Jesus command to love one another, and that is why we are here today.  We are a part of the Christian Church today because somebody cared enough to touch somebody who cared enough to touch somebody down through twenty centuries until the love of God in Jesus Christ has come to touch us! 

            By the way, the directive to love one another contains the same Greek word for love we saw last Sunday when it came to loving our enemies.  Its the word agape, more a thing of the will than the heart. It does not have to do with how we feel toward someone, but rather how we act toward someone. This love is not an emotion. It does not mean feeling spontaneous affection toward people.  Some people turn us on, others turn us off.  It has nothing to do with that.  We cannot whip up an emotion if it is not there, but we can take a position of goodwill toward someone.

            I have always appreciated the fact that in the traditional marriage ceremony, nowhere does the couple being married say I do. The question asked by the presiding minister is not, Do you love so-and-so, but rather Will you love.... True love is a

matter of the will as much as the emotions.  Emotions can vary with the wind or the digestive tract.  I have nothing against emotion.  It would be a pretty poor marriage without emotion.  But by the same token a marriage that is built simply upon the emotion of the moment is built upon a foundation of sand.  The amazing thing about true love is that when we begin to act lovingly toward someonewhether we happen to feel loving or notthe emotion usually follows.  But whether or not it does follow, the love for one another that Jesus talks about here is a position rather than an emotion.

            One last thing, and then we are done. Jesus commandment is new because of Jesus Himself.  Look at the entire verse. Jesus said, I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. Its that last part that makes all the difference.  Christianity does not have a monopoly on love.  It has often been noted that adherents of other religions and of no religion at all are perfectly capable of acting in a loving manner, sometimes in ways that put Christians to shame!  Christianity does not have a monopoly on love.  But the New Testament does claim uniqueness when it points to the love of Jesus. 

            Ideas, wrote George Eliot, are often poor ghosts; our sun-filled eyes cannot discern them.  But sometimes they are made flesh.  They breathe upon us with warm breath.  They are clothed in a living human soul.  Then their presence is a power. The ideas of Jesus here have originality and power not because no one else ever spoke them before or since, but because in his own person he embodied everything that he taught. 

            A man was driving home from work one day when he saw a group of young children selling lemonade on a corner near his home. The kids had posted the typical Magic Marker sign over their lemonade stand, Lemonade 50 cents

            The man was impressed with the enterprising young children, so he pulled over to the curb to buy a cup of lemonade and to give his support to the childrens financial effort.

            A young boy approached his car and the man placed his order for one cup of lemonade, and he gave the boy a dollar bill. After much deliberation, the children determined that the man had some change coming and they perused through their shoe box cash register and finally came up with the correct amount.

            The boy returned with the change and with the mans cup of lemonade, but then the boy just stood there by the mans car and stared at the man as he enjoyed his fresh lemonade. Finally, the boy asked the man if he were finished.

            Just about, the man said, but why?

            The little boy said, Thats the only cup we have, and we need it back to stay in business.

            Its difficult to operate a lemonade business if you have only one cup! And when it comes to this Jesus business of loving we need a minimum of five cups.  One for God, one for our neighbor, one for ourselves, one for our enemies and one for one another in the church.

            Amen.



[1] Many thanks to Donald Strobe and his sermon One Commandment, Slightly Used, for some of the material in this message.