By Our Love
Theres an old anecdote that makes its way around ministers circles from time
to time. A new preacher begins his stint at a new church. And he preaches a pretty good
first sermon. The next week, a few people notice that THIS weeks sermon sounds an
awful lot like LAST weeks sermon. The next week, SEVERAL people notice that this
sermon sounds a lot like the last couple of weeks, and by the NEXT week, everybody is
certain that, yes, the preacher has been preaching the same sermon for the last four
weeks. So finally somebody brings it up to the new preacher and he says, Well, I
figured I wouldnt get a new sermon until you did what I told you to do in the first
I dont have the nerve to pull a stunt like that. But I imagine you will hear
some things in this sermon that sound sort of familiar. Theres a good reason for
that. We are covering ground we have covered before, and for good reason. In our Gospel
today we hear Jesus speak, and no matter how many times you have heard it, one word still
jumps out and kicks us in the head like a steel-toed boot. It does me, anyway: This is My
commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. A COMMANDMENT.
It is something that we have a right to feel uncomfortable and puzzled about, I
think. In this world, in this life, LOVE is usually considered something expendable,
insubstantial, disposable, and recreational. Sure, we may take it seriously when somebody
is getting married, or where kids are involved, or something like that, but where life
with other adults is concerned, especially if were not under the same roof or in the
same family, it really doesnt matter to us.
But Jesus seems to be insisting that, if we are going to take Thou shalt not
murder, seriously, or Thou shalt not commit adultery. Then we MUST take
seriously, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Does that bother you as badly as it bothers me? Because, I have to tell you, I
know from bitter experience that to love as Christ would have us love is harder than
keeping from murdering somebody. It is harder than avoiding stealing. I have left most of
the Ten Commandments intact, but that commandment to love one another I shatter about
fifty times a week.
Keeping the commandment to love is so hard because the temptations not to love are
great, and the penalties for not loving are small. Be honest here: When you stop at a red
light and no one else is there, and you wait for it to turn green rather than driving on
through, do you do it because you are looking out for the common good of all motorists? Or
do you do it because there might be a cop hiding somewhere? And by the way, I can tell you
from more bitter experience, you would be surprised how well cops can hide.
Most of us do not practice the love of Christ, and it seems not to matter because
the world doesnt really care whether we love anybody or not. Love your neighbor,
Jesus says. Well fine. If you MURDER, your neighbor, you will probably get caught and have
to do time in jail. If you BEAR FALSE WITNESS against your neighbor, you may get hauled
before the grand jury for purjury. If you commit adultery with your neighbor or your
neighbors spouse, you might get taken for everything you have in divorce court.
But if you dont LOVE your neighbor? Who cares? The government doesnt
care. The courts dont care. The newsmedia dont care. Even the lawyers who
advertise on teevee dont care. Hows anybody even going to know? Heck, plenty
of marriages do just fine without love, why is Jesus getting so upset about us not loving
our NEIGHBORS, for crying out loud?
Because love is the one true unique power that God has given us in our struggles
to win the world to Christ. Heres where we say, Now wait a minute! Sure it
works for Jesus, but I mean after all, Jesus is Jesus! The Son of God and all! Its
easy for Jesus to say all this.
I bet nobody ever cut Jesus off when He was trying to merge onto Memorial
Parkway. I bet nobody ever charged Jesus a fifteen dollar late fee because the bank goofed
up his electronic payment to Huntsville Utilities, so now he has to photocopy the bill and
take it down to the Five Points branch and try to get them to pay the late fee instead of
him. See some of this business is fresh on my mind.
Well maybe not, but Jesus means it anyway, and he tells us, You are my
friends if you do what I command you.
So maybe we REALLY SHOULD take Jesus seriously on this one. Maybe Jesus really did
mean that love is not just for friends, and not just for the people we call our loved
ones, but for THE WHOLE WORLD. Its for the people who cut us off in traffic. Its
for the kid screaming in the next booth over at your favorite restaurant. Its for
the cop who catches you running a red light. Its even for the electric company and
the people who mess up the drafts at your bank.
The love that Christ gave to us is the love that we are to to give to EVERYBODY.
And he was not just making a suggestion. If we believe it is appropriate to confess the
sin of murder or adultery or lying or stealing before God, then we had better be
confessing our failure to love one another, as well.
Gods love worked for Peter. He and the other disciples were wanting to
baptize Gentiles, but since Jesus and all the other diciples were Jewish, the Jewish
authorities werent going to allow it. In the end though, even the most rock-ribbed
authorities could not deny that the holy spirit was on those scummy Gentiles as well as
all the good Jewish folk, and nobody could deny that they were just as worthy of baptism
There is plenty for us to condemn in the world, and plenty to make us angry --
political corruption, promiscuity, profanity, blasphemy, lewdness, failures, insults,
indignities and just plain problems. You name it, we got it.
But the record from Acts seems to show that Christians make their greatest strides
for the church when we overcome our willingness to condemn, and our desire to harm those
who have harmed us. It is only then that we can welcome sinful outsiders as brothers and
sisters in the love of Christ. And, as the hymn goes, they will know we are Christians,
not by our condemnation, not by our might, not by our savvy, they will know we are
Christians by our love.