5 Easter Proper C5
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
John 13:31-35 Sermon
April 24, 2016
Click here for service internet broadcast/podcast.
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
WOV 716 "Word Of God, Come Down On Earth"
TLH 192 "Awake My Heart With Gladness" (st. 1-4; 8)
TLH 210 "The Strife Is O'er, The Battle Done"
TLH 466 "Christ, Thou Art The Sure Foundation"
A WORLD BEYOND THE CAMPFIRE
TEXT (vs. 34-35): "A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
It’s a warm summer’s evening, about ten o’clock. The night is still and almost perfect. The day’s activities are drawing to a close, as all of the young people at Bible camp are now gathered around the blazing campfire down by the lagoon. It’s a great fire too; the wood crackles and pops as the orange flames illuminate the trees and reflect off the water, and the pungent smell of burning wood fills the air.
The marshmallows are opened, and everybody has a sharpened stick. The toasted marshmallows are added to a graham cracker and a piece of a chocolate bar; and the young Christians and the counselors are gorging themselves on s’mores, as fast as they could make them.
Then Pastor Loren stands up with his guitar. “How about some songs?” he asks. And then begins the usual repertoire of “Kum-by-ah,” and “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder,” and “Living for Jesus.” And then he says, “Let’s sing everybody’s favorite!” as he begins the familiar song: “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord, we are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord; and we pray that all unity may one day be restored; and they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
Then Pastor Keith gets up and gives his devotion. Everybody sits silently and listens as he talks about living a Christian life in the world, and how people will see Christ living in us. He explains how it’s important to have our Saviour living in us by faith, but it’s also important that we show our Saviour to others.
After a prayer, it’s Pastor Loren’s turn again. He picks up his guitar, and has everybody stand up and join hands. You smile, because now you get to hold hands with Barbara Jean Peterson, who you’ve been trading glances with all evening. And the song begins: “It only takes a spark to get a fire going, and soon all those around can warm up in its glowing; that's how it is with God's love, once you've experienced it, you spread the love to everyone, you want to pass it on.”
Oh yes, everybody’s really into it. You and Barbara Jean are swaying back and forth to the music and singing your hearts out. “I'll shout it from the mountain top - PRAISE GOD! I want the world to know, the Lord of love has come to me, I want to pass it on.”
As soon as the song is over, Barbara Jean smiles and then heads toward her side of the camp. As you’re walking back to your cabin, your heart is full of joy. The words of those songs are going through your mind. Oh, there's so much joy, so much happiness, so much love, all in one place; it’s almost more than a young mind can handle. And of course there’s Barbara Jean Peterson too; and then, you notice your hand is kind of sticky, and you realize that Barbara Jean must have had some chocolate on her hand from the s’mores that she transferred to you while you were holding hands and singing. You smile as you lick it off, and think to yourself: “Yeah, life just doesn’t get any better than this!”
Our text for today is our rather short Gospel reading appointed for this Sunday, and our focus is upon the last two verses of that reading. This is the basis for all those “love each other” campfire songs. Even though the words are simple and even to the point of being trite, yet the meaning and implication of these words are very profound indeed.
When you’re gathered around a campfire with other like-minded people, those words and feelings come rather easy. You can sing “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord” and know that it is true. You can sing, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love,” with a certain sense of knowledge that the others gathered with you mean it just as much as you do.
But you know something, there’s a whole big world out there away from the campfire. Most of the people you’ll encounter every day weren’t there in that circle holding hands and singing “Pass It On.” The world outside the campfire isn’t always going to be filled with the warm, fuzzy, and cozy experiences, and your diet isn’t going to consist of s’mores. So we have to look beyond the campfire, into our day-to-day reality. And when we do, we have to take the message of love Jesus is giving us, and apply it appropriately.
In our text for today, Jesus is making three very important points for us to consider.
First, he is giving us a new command. In verse 34 he says, “A new command I give you, that you love one another.” Now in reality, this concept isn’t that new. If we go back even as far as the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament, the concept of loving your neighbor is brought out with unmistakable clarity. Jesus himself points this out when questioned about the greatest commandment. All of the commandments either have a "love God" or "love your neighbor" theme.
The New Testament Church however, needs to have this concept brought out in a fresh new way. There is a pattern of behavior for a Christian, which is to show love to others. The reason for this is brought out in the next important point Jesus makes.
Second, Jesus is giving a new standard. The concluding words of verse 34 quote Jesus saying: “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
Here Jesus is setting himself up as the standard, or the prime example. How has he loved us? What has he done? Didn’t he take all of our sins upon himself? Didn’t he bear the punishment for all of those sins? Didn’t he do this so we wouldn’t have to? Didn’t he die the sinner’s death, so that we might have eternal life? Didn’t he do this out of his undeserved love for us? Didn’t he give us the faith to believe this? Hasn’t he promised to be with us until the very end of the age? Doesn’t he hear our prayers and present our requests before God?
Those are all rhetorical questions. Of course he does. John chapter 15, verse 13 says: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” That certainly describes the love Jesus has for us.
The third and final point Jesus makes, is that he is giving us a new sign. Verse 35 says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
A Christian defines love differently than the world does. The Greek word for Christian love is “a-ga-PA-os” (the noun form) or “a-GA-pe” (verb form). Simply translated, it means that this type of love is to seek the greater good of someone else. It is a sacrificial love, which is the same type of love that Jesus had going to the cross for us is the love he gives us as an example. A psychology professor I had in college defined it this way: “Putting the welfare of someone else equal to, or above that of yourself.”
This kind of love isn’t easy at all for us sinful human beings; in fact in many cases it can be quite difficult. But yet, this love is to be a sign to an unbelieving world. When we show love when the world would dictate that we should show indifference or hatred definitely sets us apart as special people. We operate according to a different standard, so the sign of love we show to others is going to reflect that.
It’s sad to say, but it seems like so many Christian congregations have left this concept of love back at the campfire. If we were to hear the proceedings of some of the Church Council meetings and Voters’ meetings that take place today, and witness some of the loveless words and self-serving attitudes, it would almost seem that Christ’s love has been put on a shelf someplace, and is gathering dust. And if this is what the unbelieving world sees, then it’s no wonder that people of today tend to spend their time in other places, and have no use for the Church.
This comes right down to individuals, and what is in their hearts. There’s an old saying that goes, “You can’t give what you don’t have.” And some people, who complain about the lack of love amongst a group of Christians, need only to look in their own hearts to see where the lack of love really exists. In this case, that old saying can also be read, “You can’t receive what you don’t give.”
If we place ourselves in this picture, we know we haven’t been shining examples of Christ’s love. We’ve fallen far short. We’ve had those times in our lives where we’ve placed ourselves above others. We’ve had self-serving attitudes. We’ve grown cold and indifferent where we should have cared. We’ve often shown others that we love the ways of the world more than the ways of God.
Sin makes us imperfect in every respect, especially when it comes to loving like we should. But thankfully Jesus loved us as he should, which is perfectly and completely. He’s taken all of those loveless acts and words, and those things which would condemn us. He’s taken them all upon himself, and carried them toCalvary’s cross. Even when we haven’t shown perfect love, he has; and he did it on our behalf.
So we come to Jesus in faith. We come to him with our sins and iniquities, so we might experience the love he has for us. We come to him broken, knowing he will restore us and make us whole. We come to experience the forgiveness he has to offer; we come to be recipients of his grace. The Holy Spirit gives us the faith to accept Jesus as our Saviour, which is in itself an act of the perfect love God has for each of us.
One pastor listed seven ways that we can express love, and I’d like to share them with you.
The first is touch. A hug says so much without anything being spoken. A kiss between spouses or lovers, or to a child, or to a relative says a lot too. And how can words even express the love shown as a mother rocks her child to sleep?
The second is speech. The words we use, how we say them, and the timbre of our voice reflects what we have in our soul. Proverbs chapter 25 verse 11 says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”
The third is serving. What we do for each other and the attitude we have when doing it is important. Maybe it is doing a simple chore around the house, or jump starting someone's car with a flat battery, or helping a neighbor move a piano. There are many ways we show love in serving others, both in our personal relationships, and collectively through our church.
The fourth is provision. Parents provide for their families out of love all the time. This doesn’t often come with words; it’s something that’s just simply understood.
The fifth is by giving gifts. People often express a token of their love by giving someone a gift; and the size or price doesn’t matter. Think of how many mothers appreciate the red construction paper hearts decorated with glitter and macaroni they receive from their child on Valentine’s Day. That’s a child’s love that goes beyond words.
The sixth is by making opportunities. People will show love by looking for opportunities to express it. Husbands might plan a romantic evening. Wives might prepare that favorite dish for her husband. Parents will take their children someplace they know they’ll like.
The seventh and final way is by being present. People will show love to others by simply being there. Parents and relatives show up at a child’s recital or at an awards ceremony. Maybe you attend a friend’s special event. Or maybe it’s just your presence when there’s a crisis in someone’s life. It may just be the assurance that when someone picks up the telephone and calls you, they know you’ll be there and that you care.
Even though this list isn’t exhaustive, yet these are the ways we can show that we are Christians, and that the love of Christ lives in us.
But do you know that God has much the same list of the ways he shows his love to us? He touches us with his love, in much the same way as Jesus touched the children brought to him. He serves us by sending Jesus our Saviour, who came to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many. He speaks to us in words of love throughout the Bible. He richly and daily provides for all of our needs. He gives us the gift of eternal life. He provides opportunities for us by giving us spiritual gifts. And finally, he promises us his presence and peace, as Jesus says in Matthew chapter 28, verse 20: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” He also says in Matthew chapter 18, verse 20: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I amongst them.”
The love Jesus has for us is the love we are to show to and share with others. It’s easy to say this when you are all nice and cozy singing around a campfire, maybe even holding hands with Barbara Jean Peterson. The words, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love” and “You spread the love to everyone, you want to pass it on” roll off our lips so easily. You feel energized and charged, like God has given you a big boost; or maybe it’s partly the sugar rush from all the s’mores you’ve devoured.
But there is a world out there beyond the campfire. It’s a world that needs the love God has given to everyone through the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the love we reflect in our day-to-day lives.
In our text for today, Jesus says: "A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love. And certainly we want the world to know, so we’ll want to always pass it on.