Sermon – Sunday, April 28, 2013
Zion Lutheran Church, Hoople, ND
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples…”
How would someone know that we are a Christian? We don’t walk around with a sign on us, although maybe we might wear a cross. But even someone who is not a Christian may wear a cross because they think it a nice piece of jewelry. You can’t always tell by our clothing because most Christians dress like everyone else, unless perhaps your denomination is one that wears special clothes like Mennonites or Hutterites in which case it is very easy to identify them. It’s nearly impossible to tell if someone is a Christian just by looking at them. Most Christians don’t have a tattoo on their body that says, “I’m a Christian.” Actually, a lot of Christians often judge people who have a lot of tattoos, or who smoke, or drink, or listen to “weird” music, or…..fill in the blank. Maybe that’s it. Perhaps we can identify a Christian by their judgementalism.
It’s certainly how many people see Christians. One of my co-workers many years ago said he was an atheist, but I’m not really sure that was true. I think he just ran into too many Christians who rubbed him the wrong way. We used to get into some very great theological discussion at lunch and I learned a lot about what being a Christian means from him as odd as that sounds. You see, Bob, used to say that one of the things he noticed about “church people” as he called them, was that they would make negative comments about people who didn’t go to church rather than try to understand why they weren’t there. He thought “church people” often had a click going of who was “in” and who was “out” and you felt really uncomfortable if you were “out.” And Bob used to say many Christians he met were so negative all the time. He used to say, “If Christians really believed Jesus rose from the dead they would be happy all the time.” He had a good point.
With that kind of spectacular, earth-shattering news, why would we ever be in the depths of despair? Why would we ever doubt that God is walking with us right here and now if Jesus is alive? Yes, Bob brought up some really good points. And he made me wonder, do people know I am a Christian?
I’ve said it before, but one of my favorite phrases is from St. Francis of Assisi who said, “Preach the Gospel and when necessary use words.” St. Francis was saying what Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” So how do we tell if a person is a Christian? By their great love. Not an ordinary I love you when you love me back, or I love you if I am going to get something out of you, but I love you because you are a child of God, whether you know it or not. If there’s one thing Jesus talked about more than anything else it is love.
I spoke with a pastor recently who said he has received criticism from a member of his congregation because he talks about love all the time and loving all people. Isn’t that what Jesus talked about all the time? Isn’t that what Jesus said was the most important of all the commandments. He said, “I give you a new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. “ Just as I have loved you…..that’s not an easy kind of love that Jesus is talking about here. Jesus loved us so much that He was willing to die for us if that is what it took to bring us back to a right relationship with God. Wow, is Jesus asking us to die for one another? Jesus is commanding us to be followers of Him who loved people – all people – in a self-sacrificing way. He’s commanding us to stand up for justice.
Jesus never loved people out of what He was going to get back. He washed the feet of Judas even though He knew Judas would betray or hand Him over to the authorities. Jesus forgave the adulterous woman when others were ready to stone her. Love, for Jesus, was not putting Himself above others, but becoming a servant – not of others – but God’s servant. Jesus was a servant doing God’s will and loving people no matter what the cost.
One of the confirmation students asked why God loves us even when we do bad things. That’s a great question to ponder. Why? Why does God love us even when we continue to sin? Because God loves us and wants us to have a great relationship with God forever. And so God loves, and loves, and loves, and doesn’t stop even if we don’t deserve it. And we don’t. None of us deserve that kind of amazing love, but God doesn’t discriminate. God’s love is a one size fits all kind of love.
That is the kind of love we are commanded to express to all people. This reminds me of the movie The Sister Hood of the Traveling Pants, based on a series of books with the same title. The story journeys through the lives of 4 young women as they grow up. One day as they are in a thrift store they find some jeans that somehow amazingly fit every one of them- from the skinniest to the more full-figured. And whenever one of these friends is going through a tough time – no matter where they are – they send these pants in the mail to them. These pants are more than just an article of clothing. What makes these pants special is love – a love that sees beyond their size or ethnicity or distance or mistakes that they make. This bond, this sisterhood, is based on love that has no limits or boundaries. Over time, the pants need patching. Over time don’t we all need patching? God wants to work through us to accomplish the patching that needs to go on in the world. And the world certainly needs a lot of patching. In fact there’s so much that we hardly know where to begin. We begin where we are.
Right here in the Red River Valley, the floods are beginning and maybe we can help sandbag. People right here in this congregation are having real struggles in their lives – and you may not know it – but we can be there for them – to listen, to encourage, to pray, to love them. There are members who haven’t come to worship with us on Sunday mornings for a long time – maybe years – pick up the phone and call them or send them a note and say we really miss you at worship. Or perhaps you know someone who has no church family at all and you could invite them to come and see what it is that means so much to you. We need to keep our eyes open to the needs of people around us and take action. That’s what love does; love takes action. It doesn’t just wait for someone else to make the first move. Love is an active, vibrant, living energy that is anything but stagnant. Love is transformative. It changes lives.
Jesus commands us to participate in this transformative kind of love. He commands us to change lives by letting God’s love flow through us. This is how people will know we are His disciples, by the way we love one another. Amen.