Don’s Speeches and Writings

Sermon Delivered to Dighton United Methodist Church

May 17, 2009

We have heard today readings from the Gospel of John and from the First Letter of John. They are very similar and both deal with the matter of love. In John 15:12 we heard Jesus say “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” That’s interesting because Jesus was not real big on giving commands. In fact, except for a couple of times when Jesus commanded an evil spirit to come out of someone, this is the only time in the gospels when Jesus issues any kind of a command. But wait a minute. Can anyone really be commanded to love? Imagine a scene where a couple of young brothers have spent the day fighting, calling each other names, and seem intent on doing great bodily harm to each other. It could have been me and my little brother Tom when we were younger. Anyway, the father of the house has finally had enough of their constant bickering and in exasperation he commands “That’s enough! LOVE EACH OTHER for crying out loud. Just do it. Feel love! Feel it NOW!” Do you think that worked? Of course not. We can’t be commanded to love; it has to come from us. So what did Jesus mean by saying that?

To find the answer let’s go back to the Gospel reading. In John 15:9 Jesus says “As the Father loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love” before he commands us to love one another. The key is that we are loved first by Jesus. We love because he first loves us. It has been said that love is so much a characteristic of God that anyone who has really known God will show love. This is so true that the presence or absence of love in our lives can be used as a test of whether we really do have knowledge of God. We can’t say we love God unless we are loving to one another. These are inseparable. Again in 1 John it says “The person without love has known nothing of God, for God is love.” We cannot claim to love God if we hate our brothers and sisters. And it is God’s acceptance and love for us that opens the door for us to love others. We are meant to be a conduit for God’s love. Henri Nouwen put it this way: “The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love a gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.”

One day a member of a congregation went up to the pastor and told him that he felt there needed to be more friendliness among the church members . The pastor pondered this for a moment and replied that he agreed. He told the parishioner that he had a plan to address the issue. So the next Sunday the pastor announced to the congregation that starting the following week they would include in the Sunday service a time for folks to turn and greet those around them. As the service was finishing, the man who had brought up the subject turned to greet the woman in the pew behind him with a hearty “Good Morning”. With a shocked and incredulous look on her face she replied “That doesn’t start until NEXT Sunday”. Obviously she isn’t living the example of Christ, but all of us struggle with it from time to time.

Christ calls us to love one another as he has loved us, and he makes it a command to emphasize that he understands that there will be times when it will be hard for us. I stuck a couple of whimsical examples in the responsive reading as a nudge that I, for instance, am called to love even Wildcats and Democrats. But of course Christ calls us to much more than that. He calls us to love the homeless, the foreign, those with alternative sexual orientation, the corrupt, the most unlovable, just he has loved them. And that is sometimes hard for us to do, but the example we are given should empower and encourage us to that kind of love. Because the truth is the kind of love we receive from God is love that we don’t deserve and could never earn. And in that way we are all alike.

Jesus also makes it a command because he isn’t talking about some kind of mushy, warm and fuzzy, easy kind of love. He is talking about the hard kind of love… the kind he exhibited continually. What does it mean to love Jesus-style? Loving Jesus-style includes…

  • challenging corruption,
  • caring for the welfare of our enemies,
  • forgiving seventy times seven those who hurt us,
  • giving without wanting gratitude or praise,
  • confronting honestly the hypocrisies of religion,
  • expressing anger when one’s fellows are being exploited,
  • embracing outcasts and welcoming sinners,
  • accepting that in some circumstances misunderstanding will be our lot;
  • and, that rejection and suffering may be the only apparent result of our holiest efforts.

But why does Jesus want us to love? Is it just because he wants us to “be good”? The gospel reading indicates there is much more to it than that. Jesus says “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. “ So his love command is issued so that those who abide in Christ may experience joy. Put another way, it has been said that to know God is to love, and to love is to have true life. Paul Tillich once said “Only the fulfilment of what we really are can give us joy.” So it seems what Jesus is implying is that what we really are, what we are intended to be, is precisely what God is… love!

John wants us to discover the abundance, the joy of life that God has for us in Jesus. Isn’t it strange that most secular people see Christians as sour-pusses who are hung up on a bunch of “Thou shalt nots”? Someone once characterized a Puritan as “a person haunted by the suspicion that someone, somewhere, is happy!” Maybe that describes too many Christians today.

Let’s look at one more passage from the Gospel. Jesus says “I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me, but I chose you.” This phrase is very significant in light of the customs of the time when it was spoken. At the courts of kings or emperors there was a very select group called the friends. At all times they had access to the king. He talked to them before he talked to his generals, his rulers, and his statesmen. The friends of the king were those who had the closest and the most intimate connection with him.

Jesus calls us his friends. He has chosen us for that role, that position, that intimacy, even when we, like the first disciples, have not thought or dared to choose him or regard him in that fashion. Jesus called his disciples “friend” and yet they were soon to abandon him, at a time when he could have used a few good friends. Jesus didn’t say “You have proven yourselves to be great friends”, because they hadn’t. At times they really didn’t get it, and acted like total knuckleheads. And yet he simply dubbed them “friends”. He does the same for us, even though we are subject to the same human shortcomings as the disciples. That is a tremendous thing.

How many of you are familiar with the internet social networking device called Facebook? How many of you are on Facebook? Well I am, not on my own initiative, but because my son Andy set me up on Facebook once I became a politician. He said it was a way I could connect with younger members of the electorate. I don’t use it a lot, but I do now understand how it works. You slowly build a network of “friends” on Facebook through a process of issuing friend requests. First you connect to friends and family members who you know are on Facebook, then the network grows as some of their friends see you listed on their Facebook page as a friend, and they send you an email that says “So-and-so has issued you a friend request. Do you wish to respond.” The networking then occurs as folks put short comments on their Facebook page about what they are doing or going to be doing, or maybe what they are thinking. Their friends then have a chance to read this and respond. It’s interesting how the friend requests get spread around, and how your network expands. One can even get obsessed with “collecting” friends. Some folks have friends lists that number in the thousands. That’s pretty silly, I believe, although I have to admit that some of my friendships are a little sketchy as well. I’m Facebook friends with Kirk Heinrich, who once starred as a basketball player for K.U. and now plays for the Chicago Bulls, in spite of the fact that I have never met him and he has no clue who I am. But then, I’m also Facebook friends with Barbara McLain, who pastored here several years ago, and it’s nice to keep up with old friends like that. But think about the Facebook analogy in relation to Christ’s statement that “You did not choose me but I chose you.” He just issued us a friend request… the most important one we will ever receive. But the question then is, will we accept? Accepting won’t be nearly as frivolous as accepting a Facebook friend request, but the benefits are much greater as well. Your response or lack of response isn’t going to change whether or not God loves you, or even how much God loves you, but it is going to make a huge difference to you, and God cares passionately about what happens to you.

As we think about the awesome fact that Jesus has chosen us as friend, reflect on that deeper meaning as we sing the closing hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”, number 526.