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For The Love Of It All
John 15: 9-17
Rev. Draughon

What a Friend We Have in Jesus. Said Jesus, You are my friends if you do what I command you: Love one another. Sometimes that's difficult, isn't it?

Could each of us, at given times, be accused of doing for Jesus only what we like to do? Yes, sometimes our religion takes the form of a strange hybrid, a weird combination of Bible and human ambition. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each preach their version of God's Good News. To those four Gospels, we sometimes add our own Fifth Gospel.

Shall we read from it?

Fifth Gospel, Book of Ego, Chapter One

1 If any one would come after me, let him adjust himself, take up his cross on weekends, and follow me, as long as it's convenient. . . .

2 Seek ye eventually the Kingdom of God and his modified righteousness, and he will be obligated to add all the things you demand. . . .

3 Store up carefully your treasures on earth, lest moth and rust corrupt and thieves break in and steal. And be certain that you have adequate insurance in case of economic crisis. . . .

4 Do not judge too harshly. But since somebody has to judge folks, it may as well be you. So whenever you judge, make your case look as good as possible. . . .

5 Feel to show yourself approved unto God, a spectator unconcerned about anything save avoiding emotional stress and pain. . . .

6 Do not commit adultery, . . . but should the occasion present itself, and both of you are Christians, God will understand. . . .

7 Tolerate your enemies. Do not retaliate, but gossip all you can, and count on the grapevine to inform them of your thoughts. . . .

8 And this is how you should pray: Father, I appreciate you. Your kingdom come, . . . eventually. My will be done, . . . immediately. Give me this day what I want. Get even with those who have sinned against me, even as I have sought to get even with them. Allow me a little enjoyment in temptation, but deliver me from any problematic consequences. . . .

9 Let your light so shine before everyone that they may be intimidated and act like you want them to act.

Sometimes we write our own gospel of accommodation, a gospel fit to our desires. But over against our ludicrous attempts to manufacture good news, Jesus proffers a real gospel:

Abide in my love. . . .

How? Keep my commandments.

What commandments? They are reduced to one: Love one another.

With what result? That Jesus' joy may be our joy.

At times, Jesus' words can be difficult to understand, demanding explanation. But not here. Here, he is crystal clear: Love one another.

Yes, life can be complicated; knowing the Christian thing to do in some situations can be tough. We may be faced with any number of possible courses of action and attitude, each of which can be based on the Bible. But whatever our Spirit-driven response to other people, Jesus is clear about what is to be our governing emotion, attitude, and act: Jesus says--simply, clearly, and without options, Love one another.

To be a follower of Jesus means that there are some things for us that just aren't optional. A member of the Sierra Club isn't a person who sets forest fires. A member of the Boy Scouts can't be one who refuses to build a campfire. Likewise, a disciple of Jesus is someone who, in every situation, tries to respond to other people with and in the love given to him/her by Jesus himself.

Truth is, Christians are those who, through baptism, have publicly committed themselves, to do one thing--to obey Jesus. And Jesus has commanded us to love. Whether our obedient loving will make the world a better place, or lead to deeper human understanding, or help to win friends and influence people we don't know, and of none of these do we have a guarantee. We only know that loving others is clearly what Jesus commands us to do.

Not that it's easy to know what love looks like in every situation. Sometimes our love needs to be a type of tough love. Sometimes we have to choose actions which, while momentarily painful, are in the best interest of everyone. But love we must. And at no points are we to practice hate, violence, revenge, or any other means deemed advisable by the world, to get what we want. These simply are not options for Jesus' people. Jesus' people are commanded . . . to love.

Into our loving, even when it's difficult, comes even more good news, though: These things [about love] I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. To his love for us and our love for him and others, Jesus adds completed, filled up, joy, . . . and his own joy at that. And if we don't accept and appropriate what he offers, we're defrauding ourselves of a major part of the gift that he intends for us, and we aren't adequately Christian.

Yes, the New Testament is a pretty serious book. It always faces the hard truths of life with honesty and frankness. But could we read it as if for the first time--unfamiliar with its stories, unacquainted with its characters--if we could read it for the first time, what would strike us most would surely be that it is the happiest book in all the world. It thrills with joy; its message is a gospel; it shouts good news; it's like the breaking through of sunshine on a morning that has heretofore been bleak and drab and humid.

The New Testament is a happy book. Jesus certainly meant it to be. When he returned to his hometown, Nazareth, they asked him to lead in the service of the synagogue. Luke 4:16 . . . He stood up to read, 17 and . . . found the place where it was written: 18 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." 20 And he rolled up the scroll . . . and sat down, and said, In this the prophet speaks of me. And today all this has come to pass.

When John the Baptizer, Jesus' cousin--brooding in his prison, his faith wavering--sent a messenger asking if Jesus was really who he claimed to be, Jesus replied: Matthew 11:4 Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. The New Testament is a Joyful book!

So, have we been misrepresenting Christ? We must ask ourselves: Would a newcomer sense that in this place there are people who have made a glorious discovery and are downright thrilled about it? Would someone just walking in sense that s/he was in the midst of a people who are absolutely, irrevocably possessed by joy? Do we give the impression to others that we have found something so worth having--indeed, that something so worth having has found us--and brings us such happiness, that they too would want our joy, and that from Jesus himself?

Jesus said, Abide in my love.

How? Keep my commandments.

What commandments? They are reduced to one: Love one another.

With what result? You'll fly . . . . That's what you do in church: For the Love of it all, Fly . . . with the joy of God himself in your soul.

Amen. So be it.