Love as Jesus Loves

“Love as Jesus Loves”

John 15-12 love one another, words

John 15:9-17 (15:12) – May 6, 2018

Love, love, love. When you think of love, what comes to mind? Valentine’s Day hearts and heart-shaped boxes of candy? Bouquets of roses? What about popular love songs from musicals or the radio? Or, do you think about loving your family—your parents or children, or grandchildren? Loving your spouse, or your pets? Or, how about dear friends?

At first glance, this seems like something natural, common sense. Of course, I love my children. Of course, I love my husband. Of course—when they were alive, years ago—I loved my two dogs. Of course, I go out of my way for my loved ones. I bet we all do those things.

But, is that the kind of love Jesus is talking about here? Jesus gives His friends the command to love: what does that look like?

Some people say they love one another. They talk really big. You know the kind I mean. They might speak of loving all different kinds of people, and put on a great show. How much they talk the talk of love! Telling everyone how big their heart is. But, when it comes to doing anything related to love, and caring, serving, and helping others, where are these people? Do they walk the walk of love? Do they practice loving like Jesus loved?

When I was in kindergarten, my parents started me in piano lessons. As the youngest of six children, I followed all of my older brothers and sisters in having at least a few years of playing the piano. And, practice I did. As I practiced over the years, I became better and better at playing the piano. I had a teacher to show me how to play an instrument, and I practiced.

The same could be said for anything people want to become skilled at. Practice! Whether it’s playing baseball, football, hockey or tennis, when we practice an activity, we can’t help but become better at doing it. Whether it is sewing, dancing, painting or whatever else we are striving to get better at, practice doesn’t necessarily “make perfect,” but it does help us to improve. A teacher or coach helps us to become more comfortable and accustomed to doing whatever thing we are trying to do.

Let’s go back to the blowhard, the one who says they love everyone. Can you hear them bragging and boasting? Look at them! They are so tremendous at loving. In fact, no one loves half as well as these super-special lovers.

Question: is their talk of  “love” only self-serving and selfish? Or, do they walk the walk of love? Can we see the genuine effects of their loving, in their families, among their friends and acquaintances, and out in the community?

Let’s take a closer look at the Gospel reading for today, from John 15. Jesus starts His command with a few words of preparation: “10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

The big thing I get from this introduction to our Lord’s command? Jesus tells us to keep His commands. This ought to be a no-brainer. We all need to keep, or follow, Jesus’s commands. Piece of cake, right? Walk in the park! No problem, Jesus.

Well, not so much. Jesus must have known how much of a problem we all would have with this command. He said, “IF you keep my commands.” I am assuming we are not braggarts and blowhards like some people. No, we really mean to try to love others. So help us, God! But, it is not so easy. That thing called sin gets in the way, snarling and tangling us all up.

But, why does Jesus say this? He wants us to be filled with His joy. It says so, right here in this reading. We all have the possibility for the joy of Jesus of be in each one of us. Not only the joy of Jesus, but the complete joy of Jesus. Chock full to the brim! Filled with His joy!

I don’t know about you, but I think that being filled with the complete joy of Jesus sounds amazing. Beyond awesome.

However, I keep coming across this problem. I know very well that my heart is sinful. I have sinful thoughts, and sometimes I say sinful words, and do sinful deeds. Self-serving things, selfish, bragging, and boasting. I wonder whether you might do or say selfish things, too?

I suspect Jesus knew that this was the case, which was why He phrased His command in this way. But, wait! There’s more. The next thing out of Jesus’s mouth: “12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Now, wait a minute, Jesus! What do You mean? Sure, “love one another,” that I get. But, “love each other as I have loved you?” Didn’t Jesus sacrifice a lot? Didn’t Jesus love people with an unconditional love? Jesus finishes the command by not only telling us about unconditional love, but He shows us what it can mean.

I consider these words of loving command serious words, indeed. Show one another unconditional love, just like Jesus. Let me tell you how one commentator’s mother followed Jesus’s words of command to love as He loved.

“My mom started a backpack program 8 years ago with an elementary school down the road from my parents’ church that has morphed into a partnership. Among many other ways that they support the school’s students and teachers, congregation members pack food every week for more than 100 children who may not otherwise have anything to eat during the weekend.

This story was relayed by the mother of a child who receives a weekly backpack.

“This mom watched from her window as her child and his friend got off of the school bus one Friday afternoon. Her son took his food bag out of his backpack and started unpacking some food at the bus stop. This little one shared half of what he had with his friend. When his mom asked him about what she saw, he told her that his friend needed some extra food, too.

“Word got back to the school counselor. We sent extra food in this little one’s bag, until we could get the new child enrolled in the program. We added a note telling him how proud we were of him and that we would send extra food for him to share with his buddy until he could get his own bag of food on Fridays.” [1]

That weekly commitment – shopping, packing, delivering – is a way to put action to the words of love, a way to show others we care. We have the opportunity to stop being selfish. That makes possible other acts of self-giving and generosity. It’s a way to love with actions, the way that Jesus would love.

What self-sacrificing love! This kind of love is not self-centered. It does not brag or boast, it does not get all puffed up and just blather on about how loving they are. No, this kind of love is love with workboots on. Love that rolls up its sleeves and goes to work, for anyone. Loving one another, no matter what. Loving people the way Jesus would love them.

I ask periodically, “what would Jesus do?” Would Jesus roll up His sleeves, get in there and pack backpacks for kids who did not have enough to eat? I think so. What can we do for Jesus? How can we roll up our sleeves and show others that Jesus loves them?

We all have the opportunity to follow the commands of Jesus. Love one another. Go and do. Go and love, in Jesus’s name.

[1] http://www.ekklesiaproject.org/blog/2015/05/what-is-love/

“What Is Love?” Anna Macdonald Dobbs, Ekklesia Project, 2015.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Embody God’s Love

“Embody God’s Love”

John 13-34 love one another, swirls

John 13:34-35 – July 3, 2016

Have you ever seen the following scenario playing out? In a friend’s life, in a relative’s life, or perhaps on television or the movies? Two teens or young people bicker or argue, sometimes even coming to blows. A teacher or a supervisor or a coach steps in, and urges the two people to face each other, say they are sorry, and then shake hands. Then, sometimes, the relationship is repaired, even better than it was before. (At least, that is the hope.)

How often do we see the disciples of Jesus bickering? Arguing? I would not be surprised if—every once in a while—one or two of them even came to blows. Then, Jesus would have to take that adult or parental role. Encouraging His disciples to come together in relationship, in friendship, in His gentle yet firm way.

Here’s the situation. Here we are again in that Passion Week, the last week our Lord Jesus spent here on earth as a human. Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and went to a number of places with His friends that were particularly public. Out in the open. Jesus made no secret of being in Jerusalem for the Passover holiday.

Our scripture reading for today is set on this last evening. The last supper, that Passover dinner Jesus shared with His disciples. And here, in the Gospel of John, Jesus gives them some final instructions, as we can tell from this reading today. I’ll start in John 13:33. “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.”

Jesus is preparing the disciples—as best as He can—for the horrors and agony of the next twenty-four hours, and beyond. It’s true. There is a lot going on in this Passion Week, and Jesus and His disciples are still in the Upper Room. (The events of later that Thursday night and on Friday still have not happened yet.) Our Lord has some extremely important information to communicate in John 13:34. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

This is that Passover dinner where Jesus just got done washing His disciples’ feet. “As I have loved you—served you—wholeheartedly—so you must love one another.”

Problem: Jesus’s disciples must have been distracted. Fearful, anxious, forgetful. Perhaps their nerves were frayed. Tempers flared. Some might not have been able to concentrate fully on Jesus and His words, with all the tumultuous events swirling around. It’s true, many factors contributed to a fearful, anxious time. The possibility of hostile soldiers knocking at the door at any time of the day or night must have been only one of these fear-producing factors.

Jesus had a huge amount of things to contend with, too. However, here in John 13, we see Jesus once again demonstrating His never-ending love.

He shows huge love to these same guys who will fail Him, and fail miserably! Commentator Elisabeth Johnson said, “Jesus washes and feeds Judas who will betray him, Peter who will deny him, and all the rest who will fail to stand by him in his hour of greatest distress. The love that Jesus demonstrates is certainly not based on the merit of the recipients, and Jesus commands his disciples to love others in the same way.” [1]

Jesus is not referring to showing love to strangers outside of the church here. (Jesus talks about that in several other places.) He’s meaning our fellow church members! Brothers and sisters in the faith. Showing love, friendship, fellowship to those we worship with.

I am certain we all can tell horror stories about a church torn apart by arguments, or jealousy, or friction, or hurt feelings.

What about disagreements about church meetings or the color of the church carpet or Sunday service or the new pastor or the old pastor or the church music? Pro or con, big or little, one way or the other. Such disagreements and arguments are not the way to carry out this important command of Jesus.

Let’s change gears and take a look at the topic for our Summer Sermon Series, the UCC Statement of Mission. What is the section for this week? As I turn to it, I find: “Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called and commit ourselves: To embody God’s Love for all people.” I will repeat that last part: “To embody God’s Love for all people.”

I chose these verses from the Gospel of John to illustrate this important part of the Statement of Mission. We are not only to show God’s Love to others, but we are to strive to embody God’s Love. Go above and beyond.

My first thought was, What on earth does “embody” mean? A great place to start is close to home, and this—St. Luke’s Church, our local church—is our church family. Our church home. We are able to show others God’s Love through genuine, earnest, wholehearted, servant-love towards each other in the church.

Now is a good time to look at verse 13:35: “By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” Did everyone hear? Jesus is telling us to love one another. That means to get along with one another, not bicker and argue and fuss with each other. What better way to let everyone outside of the church know that we love one another—to be genuine and pleasant to each other, to care for each other, to go out of our way for each other.

This is for real. Not pretending, not putting on a false face. For real.

How many of us know someone who gossips about other people in their church? I am not talking about anyone in this church, mind you. But I know we all know people in other churches. What about someone who is mean to other people in their church? Or, someone who ignores others, or is openly disrespectful, or even goes around trying to stir up trouble for others in their church? I know these awful things go on at churches all across the country, every day.

Would it be different if we tried things the way Jesus wanted us to do? What if we loved others? Could we strive to embody the love of Jesus? Show His love to everyone we meet, and especially in the church? What kind of witness would that be to people outside of our church? Wouldn’t they be curious about St. Luke’s Church?

“I wonder what is happening at that church? What gives? What kind of preaching is going on there? Those people really show each other that they love and care for each other. I’d like to find out more about that church!”
One of the commentators I respect has an article on just this subject. I quote from John Pavlovitz: “As a Christian, Love is the only acceptable legacy I care to leave the world; not Love covered in doctrine, not Love couched in religion, not Love loaded down with caveats and conditions; just the beautifully potent thing itself, distilled down to its essence and delivered directly to people as honestly and purely as I can.

“And let’s not kid ourselves, most people know when they’re really being loved and when they been handed a lousy imitation with the same name—especially when it comes to religious people. I’ve come to believe that if someone’s color, gender, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation keeps you from fully loving them, you’re probably doing Love wrong.” [2]

Thank you, John. Loving others in Jesus’s way is what we are commanded to do, what we have been called to do. Yes, we can celebrate Jesus and His love for us! And, we can take the next step—the step He commands.

Love one another. No fooling. For real.

Alleluia! Amen.

[1] Commentary, John 13:31-35, Elisabeth Johnson, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2016. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2830

[2] http://johnpavlovitz.com/2015/09/18/i-want-to-do-love-right/?utm_campaign=coschedule&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=johnpavlovitz

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Participate in God’s Mission

“Participate in God’s Mission”

mission word cloud

John 20:19-21 – June 5, 2016

The Morton Grove Community Peace Vigil happened last Wednesday night at the Civic Center on Dempster Street. This was a wonderful opportunity for the larger Morton Grove community to get together, pursue peace, and celebrate the diversity that is Morton Grove. The people who attended did their part to promote peace, harmony, hope and friendship.

I have not been saying much about the negative side of this Peace Vigil, or the Peace Project, either. I haven’t wanted to focus on all the negative stuff, and highlight the down side. Instead, I want all of us be positive and hopeful! To pursue peace and promote harmony. However—I do not want anyone to be naïve.

We see and hear reports on the news about the negative side, regularly. Alienation, dissention, fear, and even the threat of violence. That was very much a part of what the followers of Jesus felt immediately after the Crucifixion.

They were afraid for their very lives, and for good reason! Since their leader and Teacher had just been arrested, tried and crucified, it is not beyond possibility for the Jewish or Roman authorities to also come after the close associates of the upstart, rabble-rouser Rabbi Jesus. I suspect I might be very much afraid, if I happened to be in their shoes. (or, sandals)

Let me set the stage. Our Gospel writer John opens the scene in the Upper Room, where Jesus and His friends met for the Passover Supper. The time is immediately after the Resurrection. The horror, shock, fear and anger of the last few days are still overwhelming the disciples. And John has Jesus entering a locked room—the Upper Room. Jesus just died on the cross, a couple of days ago, for goodness sake!

Imagine the intense fear at seeing what everyone suspects to be a spirit, a ghost.

Jesus does not stop there. He gives His disciples a normal, conventional greeting of the day: “Peace be with you.” Just as two friends might say to each other on the street, the marketplace, or in the synagogue. Except—I think Jesus was reminding His followers of the promise He had just made a few days before. The promise of peace. The gift of His peace. Peace be with you. What’s more, He repeats it!

I would like to interrupt for a moment. Give a bit of background. St. Luke’s Church is taking the exciting and historic step of rejoining the United Church of Christ.

In order to help prepare this congregation to rejoin the UCC, I recently enrolled in the course the denomination offers on the History, Theology and Polity of the United Church of Christ. In the past two months, I have read books, written research papers, and had several intensive all-day sessions of class time. Several weeks ago, I received a whole packet of information and material from the UCC.

The UCC has several formal statements—statements of purpose for the whole denomination. One of these includes a Statement of Mission, which is straight-up biblical in every point, every expression. I was fascinated by this particular statement, which includes a preamble, followed by different expressions of Christ’s mission.

Which brings me back to our Gospel reading for today. Here, the resurrected Lord Jesus gives His followers a command, an exhortation: Reading from John 20: “Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After He said this, He showed them His hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.’”

Jesus gives us a succinct statement of mission in John 20. “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” This is how Jesus sent His followers out into the world.

I’d like for all of us to turn to the insert in our bulletins. We will look at the UCC Statement of Mission now. In particular, I want us to concentrate on the preamble: “As people of the United Church of Christ, affirming our Statement of Faith, we seek within the Church Universal to participate in God’s mission and to follow the way of the crucified and risen Christ.”

This is as clear as clear can be: a clear command for everyone—all of us—to participate in God’s mission. Just as the risen Lord told His disciples in John 20:21, we are commanded to bring people to God. To introduce them to our Lord.

Participation. How does that work?

For that, we need to look at the reason Jesus came to this world. He loved humanity, and gave Himself for them. Jesus had compassion on people. Jesus loved people so much, He wanted to reach out and introduce them (or, reintroduce them) to the Lord. And here in the Gospel of John, he gives us the same command.

Do we love the Lord? Can we introduce people to our God? If we do, we are following Jesus, participating in the mission of the church.

Wait a minute! Participate in mission? But, how? When? Can anyone help me? Going out and doing things? Talking to other people, people I don’t know, sometimes? That’s scary!

There are lots of ways to tell other people about God. Another way to introduce people to God is through action, by doing things for God. Common things. Everyday things.

Dallas Willard, an important Christian writer and professor of philosophy, had this to say about doing things for God: don’t think we have to reinvent the wheel. He advised Christians to get on board with a ministry or mission that already was moving. There are so many places and missions already started. Just think of what this church, St. Luke’s Church, is involved in. One big thing is the Maine Township food pantry. That is certainly a mission. Giving food and finances to hungry people? Hunger never stops, no matter what the time of year. It is always a great idea to give to food pantries. And—giving food is a common, everyday thing.

Our church financially supports two missionary couples, too. We pray for Bundled Blessings (the diaper pantry ministry) and for the Rev. Dan and his work with Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship. Those are all outside of the church. Inside our church, we have the Good Shepherd fund, and the St. Luke’s email Prayer Project, our weekly ministry of prayer through email.

            Participate in God’s Mission. Show God’s love to others. Isn’t that what Jesus is commanding all of us to do here in John 20? Seems pretty straightforward to me.

Today, as throughout the past 2000 years, Christians strive to follow Jesus’s command.

As many of you know, this church is in the process of rejoining the UCC; the denomination has formulated its mission—to do what Jesus said. Just like Jesus did, love one another. The mission of the church is often showing that love in everyday ways. Concrete, helping kinds of ways.

For our Summer Sermon Series, we are going to take a closer look at what the UCC denomination says about Jesus’s command. Each week this summer we will be looking at a different aspect of Mission, as set forth in the UCC’s Statement of Mission.

This church—St. Luke’s Church—is on a Mission from God. Will you participate?

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

 

 

Friends, Not Servants.

John 15:9-15 – May 10, 2015

handshake drawing

“Friends, Not Servants”

How would you like to have no friends? None, at all? According to several recent surveys, a significant number of American adults say that they have no friends. Today, in this fast-paced world with so many people rushing to and fro, and so many things filling our lives, who has the time for real friendship? Who has the commitment? How do we meet friendly people? How do we make room in our lives for genuine, honest relationships?

Another name for having no friends is being disconnected, or cut off. This idea of being cut off, with no friendships or relationships, to my mind, is like living without love. It is exactly what condition I am in without God.

Without God in my life, without a vertical relationship with my loving Heavenly Parent, I am lost. I am hard-pressed to find any joy in my life. This makes it very difficult for me to connect with other people in a horizontal way, in any meaningful way.

Let’s turn to our gospel reading for today. One of the important points He makes when He is talking to His disciples, our Lord Jesus mentions servants. As the Greek word doulos is translated, slave. Jesus describes His disciples being called servants, or slaves.

That image struck me. I know something about slavery at the time of the 1st century of this common era, when our Lord Jesus was here on this earth. I know about the imagery that the Apostle John brings up here in chapter 15 of his gospel: the image of slavery. Bondage. This image was very familiar to the people of the first century; ancient society was built on slavery. This image is less familiar, even distasteful for us, here in 21st century America, but John uses it several times in his gospel, including here.

If I consider a similar passage about believers being servants—slaves in Romans 6, where the Apostle Paul also talks about being a servant, a slave, I find out some interesting things. Slaves became slaves through a number of different ways: through economic hardship, by becoming prisoners of war, or by being children of slaves. Slaves were utterly dependent on their masters, and were looked upon with scorn in the world of the first century. Slaves have no rights, no voice, nothing at all except to do the will of their master. The Apostle Paul says sin is our master. So sin claims our allegiance and service.

Except—Jesus through His death on the cross has transferred us from being slaves, or servants of sin to servants of God. To me, that is good news indeed!

But wait, there’s more. Much, much more.

Jesus talks with His disciples for the last time here in the room where they ate the Passover dinner, just a few hours before He is arrested and tried. He tells them all kinds of really important things, like how to be close to Him, how to treat each other, and even commands them to love each other. Here, in this reading today, our Lord Jesus makes a tremendous statement: “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends.” That’s friends! Of our Lord Jesus!

When I was doing some study last week and preparing this sermon, I happened upon a biblical reflection about this particular passage from John 15. A pastor named Melissa Bane Sevier made the following observation.

A few months ago this pastor was eating pizza with some of her church’s youth on a Sunday night at youth group. She asked them what it means to be a friend. She wrote down all the definitions, because they were better than any she could come up with. “A friend is someone who is herself.” “A friend cares about you, listens to your problems, and helps you.” “A friend thinks about you before he thinks about himself.” “A friend cares about other people’s opinions and beliefs, and respects them.” Astute descriptions coming from these teenagers. They are showing wisdom beyond their years.

Just imagine: that’s what these teens thought were the attributes of a good friend. Here, in this passage from John 15, Jesus is offering us friendship, a relationship, intimacy with God! I repeat Jesus’ words: “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends.”

The Greek verb in this verse is significant, too. The Greek word for “called” is the verb “ereo.” This verb means “to declare,” or “to promise.” So, our Lord Jesus is not only calling or mentioning we are friends, He is declaring, or promising that we are now friends. This change in our status did not happen because of anything that we did or said. No. This change in status was totally up to Jesus. It’s all Him. He decided, He declared that we are now the friends of God!

This was rare in the Hebrew Scriptures. “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to a friend,” the book of Exodus says (33:11). Absolutely, the Lord extends His friendship and favor to Moses. In the book of Isaiah it is God and God only who says the same thing of Abraham. “Abraham, my friend,” God says of him (41:8). It is a staggering thought. Think about it! The friendship of God?

During the time of the first century, there was a special designation for certain, very special people. They were called Friends of the Emperor, or Friends of the King. They had the privilege to have access to him at any time, day or night. The Friends of the King had the closest and most intimate connection with him of anyone.

I have news for you—we are friends of the King. The King of Kings. We have the ability to talk to our Lord Jesus at any time, night or day. That is a tremendous opportunity, a wonderful privilege. You and I no longer have to stand afar off like servants, with our eyes lowered and faces to the ground, like servants who have no right to enter into the presence of the master. No! Jesus gave us this intimacy with God, so that God can be our best friend, our heavenly Friend!

We can see from our Lord’s words that God wishes to reveal Godself to us. Jesus tells us that He has revealed the things of God to us. That is what a friend does. How many people can you go to, can you reveal deep troubles to, or share wonderful joys?

Jesus wants to be friends with us! Good friends, the best there is!

And Jesus not only is friends with us, but He wants us to be friends with each other, to love one another. We know from experience what kind of friend Jesus is to us.  His command to us is to be that kind of friend to others. “Love one another,” He says.

And friendship is a two way street. Relationships go both ways, otherwise they are not much of a relationship. I urge you to think about yourself, about your friendship with Jesus. What kind of a friend are you to Jesus? And consider: what kind of friend is Jesus to you?

What an opportunity to have the relationship of our lives!

Praise God that God has sought us out, and offers us the opportunity to be friends with God. Good friends, the best friends there is. We can tell the Lord anything—absolutely anything at all, and we will receive understanding, help and encouragement from a loving, caring God.

What a tremendous gift! And what a tremendous God.

Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)