Sunday – April 24, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples…”
How would someone know if you or I were 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 Amish 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, unless perhaps you are a pastor or some other religious leader who wears certain clothing that identifies you as a Christian. 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…..fill in the blank. Unfortunately, this leads many people to think you 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 discussions at lunch and I learned a lot. 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 or that they talked bad about one another or other people. 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? Here it is the fifth Sunday after Easter and are we still walking on air celebrating the resurrection? Or have we already forgotten about Easter as if was a one day event rather than something we as disciples are called to celebrate every day, especially every Sunday? Yes, Bob brought up some really good points. And he made me wonder, do people know I am a Christian? That’s the question each of us needs to ask ourselves.
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 from you, but I love you because you are a child of God, whether you know it or not and whether I like you or not.. Love was the focus of everything that Jesus talked about. Other than money – and Jesus talked about money a lot – Jesus talked about love more than anything else. That was the entire reason Jesus came into this world – out of love.
A friend of mine who is a retired pastor now, received criticism all the time from a member of his congregation because he talked about love and loving all people all the time. But 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 so that we would never be separated from God. Is Jesus asking us to die for one another? Not necessarily, but he is commanding us to die to ourselves, and live a life based on following Jesus and listening to his voice. He is commanding us to love people – all people – in a self-sacrificing way. The kind of love Jesus is asking us to do is not an easy kind of love, at times it may be the hardest thing we will ever do.
Our reading today is a flashback to Maundy Thursday, the night before Jesus was arrested, suffered, and died. Jesus knew what was going to happen and that’s what made the events of that night so significant. He knew one of his disciples was going to betray him. He knew one of his disciples was going to deny him. He knew the other disciples and followers would abandon him. Yet knowing all this, Jesus gathered them together and shared a meal with them and knelt down and washed their feet like a servant. Jesus got down on his knees and washed the feet of the one who was about to betray him. Jesus showed love and tenderness even to Judas, the one who was about to betray him because that’s what real, true, honest love looks like. And that is the kind of love being a disciple of Jesus demands of us. That kind of love at times, goes against our very nature.
When someone close to us, perhaps a family member or a friend, disappoints or betrays us our nature is to hold a grudge or seek vengeance and fight back, but loving like Jesus means we forgive them. That doesn’t mean we pardon what they did, but it does mean we put it behind us and move forward without carrying it with us forever and hardening our heart. This was the case for the families of the victims of the West Nickel Mines School Shooting in Lancaster in 2006, the Newtown, CT shootings in 2013, and the countless other senseless murders that happen every day where the families choose not to let hatred fill their hearts, but instead choose love.
Every day we have the choice to love like Jesus or not and we many never know the impact of our actions, but Jesus assures us that whatever we do to others we do to him. Those are words that can either comfort or afflict us, yet if we take them to heart they can transform us, others, and even the world. Even the way we treat our planet – caring for the earth – is a reflection of our love for God and all God has made. Loving like Jesus means if you’ve had a fight with someone, don’t wait for the other person to make the first move, go to them and tell them you want the relationship to be better. Maybe someone in your past has hurt you deeply, loving like Jesus means letting go of that pain and asking Jesus to fill you with his peace and joy. Maybe you have deep regrets – things you’ve done or wished you did – again, loving like Jesus means letting those things go and accepting the forgiveness and grace that Jesus offers every time we receive the sacrament of Holy Communion. Loving like Jesus means being hungry for the word of God. Jesus grounded himself with Scripture and prayed constantly to always do God’s will. Worshipping God needs to be our first priority as well. Loving like Jesus means doing the hard things in life with a confidence that God walks with us and the Holy Spirit will make all things new if we have the courage to love like Jesus. That means loving without strings, without expectations, without limits – just like Jesus.
Jesus commands us both individually and communally as a church to participate in this transformative kind of love. He commands us to change lives by letting God’s love flow through us. Where there is love, there is real compassion, devotion, and commitment. That is what the churches of today need – real commitment. And when we are committed to love like Jesus that leads to real ministry because that is the core of ministry – not focusing on the budget, or how many members strong we are, but how much we love like Jesus. Jesus’ love is powerful. Jesus’ love is transforming. Jesus’ love makes all things new.
This week let the Jesus’ love shine through you in everything you do and say. Look for the ways God’s love is revealed to you and pray that the Holy Spirit will use you to reveal God’s love through you. This is how people will know we are His disciples, by the way we love one another. Amen.