More Than "Love One Another"

John 13:31-35

28 April 2013 – 5th Sunday of Easter

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Church

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. 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.”

Prayer.

Judas had just slipped out the door.

Peter was just outed as the friend who would deny knowing Jesus.

Feet had been washed

And bread and wine had been shared.

In this environment of betrayal and denial,

Of Christological crescendo

And Jesus nearing the peak of his purpose

Jesus pauses,

Slows down the pace of momentum,

Pulls his disciples in for one last lesson,

Teaching them,

- and us -

“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.”

Everyone loves surveys,

Don’t we?

Unfortunately, our world has succumbed

To an onslaught of never ending surveys.

Whether the purpose is to satisfy grant or gifting organizations,

To increase customer satisfaction,

Or to improve program performance,

We’ve all become Lemmings

Filling out endless paper and online forms

Each with scales from one to something

Spanning from poor to excellent

Or strongly agree to strongly disagree.

Surveys have become a reluctantly tolerated, necessary evil

In today’s society.

It is the graduated scale of surveys that interest me

As I consider our Gospel lesson for today.

Jesus commands: “Love one another.

Just as I have loved you,

you also should love one another.”

Love is a graduated scale.

Rarely is love a black or white,

Yes or no

Kind of proposition.

Love must be patient

Because it takes a long time

For love’s seed to be planted,

To grow to maturity,

To bloom,

And to fulfill its maximum potential.

Like the diversity of flowers

So too, is the graduated scale of love in our lives.

On a scale of one to ten,

With one being easy and ten being hard,

What number would you give loving your family?

Generally, it is easy to love the family.

Blood is thicker than water, we say.

We also spend the greatest portion of our life with family.

It is into family we are born,

Supported by love,

Imperfect or perfect as it may be.

In family we learn to cope, accommodate, fight & make up.

In families we learn how to stick together through thick and thin,

To cheer for each other’s victories

and hold each other through our defeats.

Not all families are perfect, for certain,

But when most people look at a strong, loving family

They think to themselves how wonderful it is

That they are so in love.

Our Gospel lesson today

Begs us to ask the deeper question:

Has your family love become a witness

To the cross of Jesus

And our resurrected Lord?

“Love one another. “ Jesus commands.

“Just as I have loved you,

you also should love one another.

By this

Everyone will know that you are my disciples.”

Step one is to love.

That would seem difficult enough.

But, step two

Is to make your love a witness to Jesus Christ.

On a scale of one to ten

With one being easy and ten being hard,

What number would you give loving your friends?

It is pretty easy to love our friends.

We choose our friends.

Then, once they are our friends,

We are free to keep them;

Or not.

Friends who don’t work out can simply be discarded

Or left behind.

Friends that we like

Can become as close as blood.

Trust is built.

We learn what we can say and do,

And what is pushing the boundaries.

Friends respect those boundaries

And learn not to push the wrong buttons.

When people look at friends

Often times what is said is something to the effect of,

“Oh, look how nicely they get along!”

Or, “Isn’t it wonderful they vacation together?”

Or even, “I wish I had friends like that.”

Yes, we should love one another, Jesus commands.

It is easy to love our friends.

But our Gospel today begs the question,

Do our friendships give witness

To Christ,

His cross and his empty tomb?

If not,

What can we do as friends

To witness to our faith and discipleship?

Step one is to love.

But, step two

Is to make your love a witness to Jesus Christ.

Let’s see how this survey is going.

On a scale of one to ten

With one being easy and ten being difficult,

What number would you give to loving your church family?

Yes, it is somewhat easy to love our Church family.

This number might vary from person to person

And the average will certainly vary from congregation to congregation.

Some member of our church family

We feel especially drawn to,

While others we feel like we want to keep at arms length.

Disagreements rarely have to do with issues;

Rather, disagreements more often have to do

When our cultural backgrounds, norms, values, and beliefs clash.

The love of the people of a parish

Will often times be shown with how committed

We are at working through disagreements

Of working together

To accomplish God’s greater will.

Often times it takes great love to hold the tongue,

To submit the personal will to the greater will,

To allow the voice of God to speak

Through the words and efforts of others.

Step one is to love.

That would seem difficult enough.

But, step two

Is to make your love a witness to Jesus Christ.

If the parish is feuding and not getting along,

It’s witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is tainted,

Distorted,

False.

People from outside the church look at the people of a parish,

Brush their hands,

And vow avoid that land mine.

Or, worse yet,

Draw the mistaken assumption that

all Christianity is like that rotting cesspool of fighting Christians.

Be certain the reputation we create for ourselves

Is one that we are willing to live with in the larger community;

That our reputation is that of love

And always bears witness

To the values of Jesus, his cross, and his resurrection.         

Love one another;

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.”

Okay, we got some pretty good survey results

From loving family, friends, and church family.

Now, let’s see what happens:

On a scale of one to ten,

With one being easy and ten being difficult,

What number would you give loving visitors or strangers?

The introvert inside of me wants to scream, “Run away!”

But the disciple of Jesus part of me says, “Man up, Todd.

Go over and warmly welcome them.”

The challenge with strangers,

Like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates,

Is you never know what you’re going to get.

Is this person, or this family, dysfunctional?

(like we aren’t, of course)

Is this person a drunk or come with mental illness?

Is this person or family socially awkward and hard to relate to?

God forbid if this person is a cling-on!

What we forget,

Or, more so, what we suppress,

Is the fact that God has a motive to bring a stranger into our life.

God wants that new acquaintance in our life for a purpose.

What might that be?

When we run and hide from the visitor or stranger

We are closing the lips of the Holy Spirit

And blunting the will of our loving God

who wants to draw us closer in,

who wants to grow His earthly kingdom.

Jesus command to love one another

Includes the visitor,

The stranger,

The sojourner who walks among us.

When we love extravagantly

People outside of our comfort zone,

We become the witness of the living, breathing

Body of Christ,

Who redeems and saves us.

Now I’m pushing the envelope of your comfort:

On a scale of one to ten

With one being easy to ten being difficult

What number would you give loving people who are different than we are?

“Whoa, there, pastor Todd!

Now you’re making me a little bit annoyed!”

The dynamics are changed when the situation goes

From the stranger who comes to us

To the stranger we seek out and welcome

To our circle of love.

To love others that don’t look like ourselves

We have to leave these doors

and this building behind.

My guess

Is that there are some people in this world with whom,

Like me,

We find it very difficult to relate to,

Let alone love.

I look at tattoos and body piercings

And all my defenses become aroused.

For some it might be relating to others

With a different skin color,

Sexual orientation,

Age,

Intellectual or physical ability.

The fact is

Grace means everyone is welcome and invited to the table of discipleship.

The cross means every person is welcome,

Everyone is accepted,

No one is denied access to the love of God.

Regardless of past behavior

There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God,

The Apostle Paul proclaims.

Everyone is a beloved child of God,

Created perfectly in God’s image,

And is to be welcomed home by us,

As if we are the patient father waiting for his prodigal son to return.

The Good News of Jesus Christ

Is the command that we love one another

- without exception –

And by that love

We will witness to the world

That we are disciples of Jesus Christ.

On a scale of one to ten

With one being easy and ten being difficult

What number would you give loving people on the other side of the world?

It is hard to love those who don’t live nearby,

Let alone in Central America, Africa, or Chechnya.

It is hard to love people we’ve never met

Let alone making the personal sacrifice to visit

And allow ourselves to love.

It is especially hard to love those

Who have come to hate us

And think of us as their enemy.

“Charity begins at home,” the old saying goes.

If Jesus believed that,

he’d never left Nazareth.

He would have never

reached out with love and compassion,

healing, exercising, feeding, and ministering to the masses

in Jerusalem, Samaria, Galilee, and the world.

Perhaps our greatest challenge as Christ’s disciples

Is to be the love of God beyond our horizons,

Beyond our borders,

Beyond our comfort zone,

To think of the world, as John Wesley said,

As our parish.

The world is our parish.

Just as Jesus binds us by his love here at Zion,

So too is Jesus calling us,

through his love, to make Zion the world

and the world, Zion.

Jesus commands: “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.”

Be the love.

Be his witness.

Amen.