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“Please Come to My Church So You Can be Loved!” (May 19, 2019)

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. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 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.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

I’m amazed at this text in John. The author depicts this as happening during the Last Supper and Judas has just left to betray Jesus to the authorities. Jesus will be dead in less than 24 hours. And right after this text, Jesus informs Peter that he, Peter, will deny he even knows Jesus. This text is bookended by denial and betrayal.

So here’s what Jesus has to say to his disciples in the midst of all this: “Love one another. People will know whether or not you’re my disciples by this one thing—your love for each other.”

That’s it. That’s everything. Nothing about avenging his death, nothing about condemning Judas, nothing about watching out for the likes of Peter. No. Just that the sign of being a disciple of Christ is loving each other.

When it comes to this sign of being a disciple, I gotta tell you, I think LCM is starting to rock that house. For quite a while now, as I’ve heard anyone in this congregation talking, it’s been overwhelmingly expressions of care, love, support, and concern.

I experience more of you sharing parts of your personal stories and trusting the people around you to love you with some intimate aspects of who you are.

I hear you checking in with each other, remembering details about some painful situation mentioned a long time ago just to see how that’s going. Out of love.

I see you reaching out to those who are lonely or sick or grieving, just so they don’t have to endure those things alone. That’s what love looks like.

I watch as you take an authentic interest in people here that you don’t know—listening to their life stories, and welcoming them without any judgment or condition. We love you just as you are.

There haven’t even been whispers about people who go to the other worship service for a good while now. Quite the opposite—I hear people defending, speaking well of, and sometime even participating in the worship service they don’t usually go to! Rather than being a competition, our worship has become an expression of love for each other.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.” And I think we’re owning this identity: that we are a church that loves one another. And it is making a difference. At least it is for me.

I want to tell you one way this has been affecting me.

It’s no secret that I have a significant problem with the far-right wing of Christianity. I’ve been quite outspoken about my disagreement with the self-righteous, hypocritical, judgmental, anti-Jesus fringe of the church that hates, divides, and condemns. And that I do so because of the Bible, not in spite of it; because I follow Jesus, not in addition to him; because I’ve experienced God’s unconditional love, not because I deserve it.

When I meet someone and, in the course of the conversation they ask me what I do for a living, I’m so concerned about being judged as “one of those Christians” that I often dodge the question. I do this because I’ve experienced, over and over, especially as a straight, white, middle-aged, Protestant preacher, the assumptions that I’m automatically “one of them.” And conversations close off. And potential relationships die on the vine. And walls of defensiveness go up as the other person assumes I’m condemning them for some self-righteous reason.

I’ve become so focused on trying to reframe to the whole world what I believe a Christian is, that actually being a Christian has taken a back seat. I’ve spent so much energy proving what I’m not that I don’t always live what I am.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you prove to them that you’re not a judgmental hypocrite.” No, Jesus says, “if you have love for one another.” It’s less what you don’t do, and more what you do.

All this came to a head when I was watching TV one night. I was watching a show that included a small group of people being shown around a small town, which included a little church building. And one person who was on the tour stopped and couldn’t go inside. He physically couldn’t go in. It came out later that as a gay man he had endured such pain and hate and condemnation at the hands of the church that he actually couldn’t go through the doors. You could see on his face and in his posture all that pain resurfacing.

As I watched this, my heart just ripped open for him. And through the tears that were dripping down my face I heard myself say—out loud, to him, as if he could hear me on this show that had been recorded two years ago—I groaned from the depths of my soul, “Oh! Please come to my church so you can be loved.”

And as I heard myself say it, I knew those words were true. In my church you’d be loved.

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

What the love of this congregation is doing for me is helping me be what I am instead of trying to prove what I’m not. Rather than being clear that I’m not one of those judgmental, self-righteous, hypocritical, condemning, right-wing fundamentalists, instead I’m being clear that I am a disciple of Jesus Christ which means that I will do my best to love you as Christ loves you: without condition, without judgment, just as you are.

Because that’s how this congregation seems to be loving people. With God’s absolute love. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” For Jesus, and for us, that’s the bottom line.

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Posted by on May 28, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Here, We Love One Another (September 24, 2017)

Matthew 20:1-16

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4 and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5 When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6 And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.’ 8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t just bless where we are, but blesses a whole new way of being. I’m going to be saying that a few more times today, and hopefully it will be clearer in 10 or 12 minutes. The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t just bless where we are, but blesses a whole new way of being.

I’ve come to have a bit of a love/hate relationship with this parable. On the one hand, Jesus says that the Kingdom of Heaven brings justice to those who are at the bottom. Justice and generosity. The ones who could only get one hour of work are still paid a full day’s wage. Those with nothing—the most vulnerable and the most powerless—are lifted up. The last shall be first! Yes! The kingdom of heaven is like this! Isn’t it?

However, there is no real justice here. Nothing is changed. All of these workers will be vulnerable again tomorrow—not just those hired last. They will all be in exactly the same situation tomorrow, hoping that someone will hire them so they can eat that day. The only difference the landowner made is that now there’s division among these laborers. Division and jealousy. Rather than celebrating the landowners generosity together, now those who were “first” are envious of those who were “last.” No! The kingdom of heaven is not like this! Is it?

What do we do with this parable? The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t just bless where we are, but blesses a whole new way of being.

If you remember from this whole year of Matthew’s gospel, for this author the “kingdom of heaven” is right here among us. It is any time and any place that God’s compassion and love are shown in the world. But that love and compassion aren’t always received well. God is generous, but we don’t always respond well to it. The kingdom of heaven isn’t just about being nice, its coming among us also signifies transformative change—and the conflict and self preservation that accompany that change. The proof is that Jesus came bringing the kingdom of heaven, and was killed for it. This parable isn’t just about how nice God is, but it is also about how our response to God’s goodness isn’t always as good.

The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t just bless where we are, but blesses a whole new way of being.

So here’s where we are. We are kingdom of heaven people, and therefore we recognize that we are recipients of God’s ongoing generosity. But when that ongoing generosity begins to change us, we can exhibit some bad behaviors and some envy. The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t just bless where we are, but blesses a whole new way of being.

As the church, we no longer have to respond to God’s new way with envy because God is generous. We no longer have to live divided, suspicious of one another, watching to make sure no one else gets more than they deserve. As kingdom of heaven people, we are committed to loving one another. The church is the community where God’s love is practiced. As we talked about last week, we know that God loves each person here completely, and in the church, we are capable of treating each other that way too. The church community can be a safe place to practice the new ways of the kingdom of heaven. The church community can be the place where mistakes are forgiven, where truth is told, where all are welcomed, and valued, and respected for who they are.

God’s generosity is more than just me. It is about us. The kingdom of heaven shows us that each of us are a precious gift. And in the church community, we can show one another what a gift they really are. The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t just bless where we are, but blesses a whole new way of being. And we do that together, with one another.

The kingdom of heaven blesses our new way of being community. We strive to live that out. Which is why our congregational budget includes so many ways we show love to one another. Over 40% of our annual budget is invested in various ways in expressing love that is part of this community.

$15,700 invested in making sure our kids are loved. For every $100 you give, more than $6.00 goes to our children. We do this because we love one another.

$10,500 invested in people who share time and energy to make sure others here are appreciated and encouraged. For every $100 you give, over $4.00 goes to fellowship and encouragement. We do this because we love one another.

$49,000 invested in our own discipleship growth through worship and education. For every $100 you give, almost $20 goes to worship supplies, salaries, music, copyrights, and education. We do this because we love one another.

$7000 invested in caring for one another when we’re sick or hurting. For every $100 you give, $2.70 goes to pastoral care. We do this because we love one another.

$24,000 invested in making sure we have a warm and safe place to gather for worship, for learning, for planning. For every $100 you give, $9.30 goes to using, cleaning, and maintaining our building. We do this because we love one another.

(Magnets connecting one to another)The kingdom of heaven doesn’t just bless where we are, but blesses a whole new way of being. A way of loving each other. A way of taking care of each other. A way where envy and division have no place. A way that proclaims to the world, “We do things differently here. Here in this place, we love one another.”

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2017 in Sermon

 

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“What Love Looks Like” Easter 5 (C)

John 13:31-35

31When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.33Little 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.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

OK, here’s what Jesus did not say:

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have really good theology…

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you believe the same way your really devout neighbor says you should…

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you never question the doctrines of orthodox Christianity…

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you are have better morals than others…

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have at least 25 biblical passages memorized…

Jesus is at his last supper with his disciples in John’s gospel, Judas has just left to betray him, and Jesus will be arrested and put on trial before too long. It’s time to get right down to it and say what needs to be said.

“Love one another,” he tells them. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

He’s already shown them what loving one another looks like during this meal. He has washed their feet and told them that serving others as he serves them is showing love.

He, after announcing that Judas will betray him later this evening, proceeds, out of love, to offer food to the one who will betray him.

And even after Judas has left to turn him in, Jesus focuses on preparing his disciples to show that kind of love to the world.

He feels so strongly about this, that ultimately, Jesus chooses the way of love even in the face of torture and death. He will not stop loving others. Even those who betray him, who deny him, who condemn him, who put him to death. Love is the be-all-end-all. Love matters, and it’s really the only thing that matters.

Jesus isn’t talking about a gooey Hallmark kind of love, but a love that makes you willing to humble yourself, willing to wash other’s feet, willing to turn away from power and violence, willing even to face death. A love that Jesus is more committed to than anything else.

That’s the love by which people will know we are his disciples.

Philip Yancey writes about a definition of love that Mother Teresa gave at a National Prayer Breakfast years ago.

Rolled out in a wheelchair, the frail, eighty-three-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate needed help to stand up. A special platform had been positioned to allow her to see over the podium. Even so, hunched over, four-feet-six-inches tall, she could barely reach the microphone. She spoke clearly and slowly with a thick accent in a voice that nonetheless managed to fill the auditorium. Mother Teresa said that America has become a selfish nation, in danger of losing the proper meaning of love: “giving until it hurts.”[1]

Mother Teresa said that love is giving – giving until it hurts. That’s what Jesus does. In fact, he not only gives until it hurts; he continues giving until he dies. Regardless of the pain he will suffer. This way of life centered on love is so desperately important that he will not abandon it. Even in the face of death.

That’s the kind of love he commands us to show to one another. That’s the kind of love that reveals discipleship to the world.

The Cogswell family is mourning the loss of their mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, and great-grandmother Esther Renaud, who passed away Wednesday. They moved her into their house and took care of her as she weakened. They provided special memory events and went out of their way to bring some joy to Esther in her last weeks and months. Love one another like that, Jesus says.

We will be electing people into some council positions in a few weeks. Those who submit to being on the ballot know that they will face difficult decisions that may not be liked by everyone. But when you see the ballot, you’ll know that these are some of the people who love this church and are willing to face that. Love one another like that, Jesus says.

I was talking to someone this week whose job had been extremely demanding for an extended period of time. Against his better judgment, he was being required to work up to 80 hours a week for months. He told me that those extra hours cannot come out of his time with his kids, as this isn’t his kids’ fault. It will come out of my own time, not theirs. Love one another like that, Jesus says.

Be willing to serve. Be willing to sacrifice. Be willing to risk. Do it out of the love we have for one another. Love one another like that, because, Jesus says, that’s how I love you.

[1] Yancey, Philip. What’s So Amazing About Grace? 2003, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI. p.244.

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2016 in Sermon

 

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