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They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love
Exodus 12:1-14 Romans 13:8-14 Matthew 18:15-20
Brad Hall

In our reading from Exodus, God commands Moses and his people to kill their finest livestock and smear the blood on the doorposts and lintels of their houses. All this killing and blood-smearing is so that that God will PASS OVER them on that terrible mission to kill every first-born man and beast in Egypt.

So now, we are to believe that THIS GOD, who kills the enemies of Israel, their children, and even their animals, is speaking through an apostle who says, Anyone who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. Paul is not making this up; he is quoting Jesus, who said, "A NEW COMMANDMENT I give to you, that you shall love your neighbor as yourself." And compared to plagues brought down on Egypt, that sounds like pretty timid stuff, sort of limp and lackluster, doesn t it?

And yet here we have Paul, writing to the people of Rome, reminding them of Christ s words, and yes every time you read it, it still comes out the same as, Thou shalt not murder, and Thou shalt not commit adultery. You shall love your neighbor as yourself, is a commandment.

We touched on this a little bit last week. Remember last week I wondered if our behavior was any different in a traffic jam than other peoples ? Do we treat a slow cashier or an incompetent waiter any different that anybody else?Or to put it another way, is there any truth at all in the song we sang at camp, They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love ?

I never have claimed to have lived a particulalry difficult life or anything, but I'm closing in on forty now, and I can look back on at least twenty-five years or so of life as a Christian. I suppose I've commited my share of sins, horrendous and otherwise. Sins of commission and omission. And I probably would have committed a LOT MORE sins if I had had the opportunity. Anyway, as I look back over that whole landscape, the one thing that continues to bother me about my behavior is how often I simply treated people badly.

I gave people a hard time when they were already having a hard time. I was mean to them and made their lives miserable because I simply didn t like them, because the were wimps, or geeks, or know-it-alls, or goofy.

And all that time, of course, I always really resented and hated the people who were mean to me and making MY life miserable because they thought I was a wimp, or a geek, or a know-it-all, or goofy. I guess I just never made that connection. Asnd now that I HAVE made that connection, it STILL doesn t make as big a difference in my life as it ought to.

Anyway, if I have learned anything from those experiences, it's that to love as Christ would have us love is probably harder than keeping from murdering somebody. It is probably harder than avoiding committing adultery. It involves AVOIDING TREATING PEOPLE BADLY. But Jesus has given us a way to AVOID treating people badly. It is one of the very few times that Jesus shows us a clear blueprint for that work -- a ste-by-step plan of action, a flowchart for the work of God. Here it is:

Step one: If somebody sins against you, You don t curse them, you don't say a prayer against them, you don't send plagues against them. You go and you TALK to the people who sinned against you. And as the Muppets sometimes say, It sounds so crazy it just might work.

And it does work. You may have heard of a famous boycott that took place a few years ago. The Nestl‚ company -- yes, the ones who bring you Quik and the Nestle Crunch bar -- incurred the wrath of the World Council of Churches and a lot of other people because of some unscrupulous techniques they employed to sell their infant formula Infamil.

This boycott went on for a long time, and I participated in it. I preferred Ovaltine to Quik and Hershey s Krackle to Nestle's Crunch, so it was no real hardship. If Nestle had made Snickers or Atomic Fireballs, I probably wouldn't have gotten involved.

Anyway, the boycott came to an end because an official from the World Council of Churches happened to be seated next to the President of Nestl‚ on a plane one day, and by the end of the trip, they had settled their differences with each other, just by talking.

But, we have to admit to ourselves, it is not very often the Grace of God is so obvious among us. Usually we fail at our first, quiet attempts to reform our brothers and sisters (If we make those attempts at all), and we have to take up sterner measures. What are those sterner measures? Do you call in the media and go screaming about how you are being oppressed? Do you try to re-write the Confession of Faith? Do you go hiring a bunch of lawyers? No.

STEP TWO: You take two or three more people with you, and you talk to that lousy sinner again. That s it. No lawsuits, no letters to the editor, just you and two or three others, talking to the bad guy.

Well, what if THAT doesn't work? Surely by now we can bring out the big guns and form a political action group and call your congressman and get some restraining orders slapped around somewhere. By now Clint Eastwood would have beaten up six or seven people, easy.

But no. What is the last resort? The FBI? The Marines? Cruise missiles? Nope.

STEP THREE: You tell it to the church, and if he won t listen to the CHURCH! -- if this lousy, horrible, heathen criminal has not mended his ways by THEN YOU MOVE ON TO STEP FOUR!

STEP FOUR: You let him go on his merry way.

You heard right friends, you just let that scoundrel walk right out of your life and you leave him alone. You have done your bit, and NOW, Christ is present in the act of leaving that person alone. Christ is witnessing to the person you failed to reform, and, just as importantly, witnessing to YOU as well. One more time: Christ is present in the act of leaving that person alone.

There is plenty for us to condemn in the world -- political corruption, lust, adultery, promiscuity, profanity, blasphemy and lewdness. You name it, we got it. But when we put on the gleaming armor of the Lord Jesus Christ, we have to be certain that we are not putting on the smothering, blinding garb that comes from believing in our own goodness and our own righteousness.

If we run around trying to fix things without the love of God and the humility of the crucified Jesus, we will do more harm to the Church than ever dreamed of by any thief, drug dealer, prostitute, child molester or blasphemer. We Treat People Badly. It s a common sin, and among the easiest to commit, but it adds up, and it costs us big. Turst me on this one.

So, when we try to correct the sins and sinners of the world, first let s fill ourselves with the love of the one who DIED for the sins and sinners of the world. For wherever two or three are gathered together in his name, he is here, in our midst. Thanks be to God.