Our Life Together
Grace United Methodist Church
May 2, 2010
John 13: 31-35
When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him,* God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33Little 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.” 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
“Love one another.” It is the simplest, clearest, and hardest command of all. It’s sort of like telling an eight-year old boy to listen. It seems like an easy enough instruction, but for an eight-year old boy, listening is about the hardest thing to do, except maybe to sit still. Love one another. Jesus’ words sound so very easy, but when we really get down to trying to live that out; us weak, broken, sinful creatures, it is not so very simple…at all. Yet, this is nothing less than what Jesus commands of us. And this command stands at the very heart of Christianity; it encapsulates the full spirit of discipleship. When it comes to following Christ, there is nothing more important than to love one another as Christ has loved us.
Do we really love in this way? Do we really want to love this way? One Christian has written, “It is decidedly impractical to love as Jesus loves. It’s amazing to me that we church people aren’t mad at Jesus more than we are. For his teachings challenge much of what we hold so dear. But if you read the Bible closely, prepared to be bothered.” It is so easy to say, “Love one another.” But it is such a difficult thing to do! We don’t have to look too far to see that we quite often fail at love. We have defined “one another” so tightly that it means only, “love the people who reinforce the sense of who you are.” We ostracize entire populations because of ageism, or racism, or sexism, or any of a number of other “isms.” We bully people who are different from us. We gossip and talk ugly about our peers or co-workers. We hold grudges when someone acts contrary to our desires or otherwise hurts us. I believe we can think of all kinds of ways that we do everything except love one another, and often this happens because we define love too narrowly, or we put love of ourselves above love of others. Ultimately, love shows itself most fully not by self-service or by simple declarations of affection, but by the service we render to the ones we profess to love, especially service that inconveniences us or that calls us to sacrifice.
You see love, the kind of love that Jesus commands of us, is all about the other person. Such love overflows into service not in order to show off how hard-working it is, but because that is its natural form. This is the kind of love the God has for us; the love that Jesus showed to this world during his time walking among us. It may take us a long while to understand how vastly great this love is; a lifetime, perhaps. But it is also at the core of getting to know who the true God is and what God is calling us to do. And here’s what we need to know about the love that Jesus demands of his disciples that night in the Upper Room just before he was arrested; there is no greater love than this. This love that Jesus asks of us is more than just “loving your neighbor as yourself.” When Jesus says to us, “love one another as I have loved you,” he’s telling us to take ourselves completely out of the equation; true love is all about the other person, the love that Jesus asks of us is all about serving God by being obedient and by serving the needs of others. And isn’t this exactly what Jesus did?
Throughout his ministry on earth Jesus emphasized that he was in constant communion with God the Father. Remember, Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” And that obedient love took Jesus into some amazing places! Jesus’ obedient love took him to a wedding in Cana of Galilee where he turned water into wine. Jesus’ obedient love took him to a well where he encountered a prostitute and forgave her. It brought him face-to-face with the Pharisees, who Jesus taught with patience and love, even as they hurled insults at him. Jesus’ obedient love carried him among crowds where he healed lepers, paralytics, and a perpetually bleeding woman. Jesus’ obedient love took him into the pungent tomb of a dear deceased friend, who walked out alive only moments later. Jesus’ obedient love took him all the way to the cross, where he died in obedience to God’s will and taught all of us a great lesson about the love of God. Certainly, the love that Jesus shows us and asks of us is a sacrificial love, but that sacrifice is borne out of complete love of God and obedience to God’s will; it is unconditional, including everyone, excluding no one! Where will such obedient love take us?
A preacher at a church in the slums of New York tells a remarkable Easter story. It was Easter Sunday and I was so tired at the end of the day that I just went to the edge of the platform, pulled down my tie and sat down and draped my feet over the edge. It was a wonderful service with many people coming forward; many were still kneeling at the chancel in prayer. As I sat there I looked up the middle aisle, and there in about the third row was a man who looked about fifty; he was disheveled and filthy. We have homeless people coming in all the time, asking for money or whatever. So as I sat there, I said to myself, though I am ashamed of it now, “What a way to end Easter Sunday. I’ve had such a good time, preaching and ministering, and here’s a fellow probably wanting some money for more booze.”
The man walked up to me. When he got within about five feet of me, I smelled a horrible smell worse than anything I had smelled in my life. It was so awful that I could barely face the man to speak to him. Yet I took a deep breath asked him, “What’s your name?”
“How long have you been on the street?”
“How old are you?”
“Thirty-two.” He looked fifty- hair matted; front teeth missing; wino; eyes slightly glazed.
“Where did you sleep last night, David?”
Well, I keep in my back pocket a money clip that also holds some credit cards. I fumbled to pull the clip out, thinking; I’ll give him some money. Usually we don’t give money to people; we take them to get something to eat. But I was too tired, so I took the money out. David pushed his finger in front of me. He said, “I don’t want your money. I want this Jesus, the one you were talking about, because I’m not going to make it. I’m going to die on the street.”
I completely forgot about David, and I started to weep for myself. I was going to give a couple of dollars to someone God had sent to me, just to get him out of my hair. I was only concerned about myself. See how easy it is? I could make the excuse I was tired. There is no excuse. I was not seeing him the way God sees him. I was not feeling what God feels. But oh, did that change! David just stood there. He didn’t know what was happening as something came over me and I started to weep deeply. Then David began to weep. He fell against my chest as I was sitting there. He fell against my white shirt and tie, and I put my arms around him, and there we wept on each other. The smell of his person became a beautiful aroma.
Here is what I thought the Lord made real to me: If you don’t love this smell, I can’t use you, because this is why I called you where you are. This is what you are about. You are about this smell. Christ changed David’s life. He started memorizing portions of Scripture that were incredible. We got him a place to live. We hired him in the church to do maintenance, and we got his teeth fixed. He was a handsome man when he came out of the hospital. They detoxed him in 6 days. He spent that Thanksgiving at my house. He also spent Christmas at my house. When we were exchanging presents, he pulled out a little thing and he said, “This is for you.” It was a little white hanky. It was the only thing he could afford.
A year later David got up and talked about his conversion to Christ. The minute he took the mic and began to speak, I said, “The man is a preacher.” This past Easter we ordained David. He is an associate minister of a church over in New Jersey. Christ had changed my heart that day too, I had been so close to saying, “Here, take this; I’m a busy preacher.”
Love is about so much more than convenience; it’s about obedience, whatever the cost. For a preacher in the slums of New York, the cost was a smelly hug from a drunken homeless man, and for Christ that cost was ultimately the cross. There are certainly costs for us, too, if we take this command from Jesus seriously. Loving Jesus’ way means that we will die to self, but this is the key to life! And loving this way isn’t safe or comfortable, but it’s the only way to find joy and happiness; true freedom! We will find ourselves in the slums, the mental hospitals, or the prisons. We will ache with the burden of carrying loads of food to the hungry, or fixing the disrepaired homes of the poor. Our time will fill up as we take moments to tell others about the amazing love of Christ. Our wallets will lighten as we donate to God’s purposes. We will have to work against the cynicism and skepticism of others, and we might even lose friends in the process. But ultimately it’s not about us anyway! Love is all about the other person. That’s all that Jesus was saying to us as he spoke with the disciples in the Upper Room. The newness of this commandment from Jesus isn’t a matter of never having heard these words before; it’s a matter of the mode of this love, the depth and type of this love: love one another in the same way that I have loved you! Such love will overflow into service, not in order to show-off how hard-working it is, but because that is love’s natural form. This is the love that we were made for, and it is the badge that the Christian community wears before the watching world.
What will the world see when they watch us? Will they see the obedient and sacrificial love of Jesus, or will they see petty selfishness? Do people know you are disciple of Christ by how you love? It is all gathered up in one little word. Love. What Christ asks of us is to be unselfish, generous with ourselves, obeying God and using our lives for others, not merely for personal interests and our own ends. And when we can love one another in such a way, our love of God will grow as well, and we will know more fully God’s unconditional love of us. This is what we remember at the Lord’s Supper. We remember that we are loved completely and sacrificially, and we remember that we are called to share that love with others; to invite them to join us in Christ’s abundant feast. As we share in this Holy Meal today, my prayer is that we will remember Christ’s great love for us, and we will rise strengthened to share that same love with others. The command from Jesus is clear, but the choice is ours. Love one another. “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” May God’s love find new expressions in and through each of us!