Some sermons just preach themselves. I mean, there are times that a pastor will look at a text for Sunday – maybe one of the “dark sayings” of Jesus – and ask himself, “How am I ever going to preach on this.” But then there are gospels like todays which are all about love. Pastors love to preach on love. This one’s got love all over it. Jesus uses the word nine times. This morning’s gospel contains the second-most memorized words of the New Testament – right behind “For God so loved the world.” The familiar verse which we could all probably recite together is, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
So we have this lovely love gospel on this gorgeous May morning with the sun shining and the birds chirping. I could almost not preach and just play the Beatle’s, “All You Need Is Love” where the refrain is “All you need is love, all you need is love, all you need is love. Love is all you need.” Then we can eat bread, drink wine, and go home.
But there’s more to it than that. (There always is, isn’t there!) When the camera pulls away from this intimate scene we begin to see that the larger picture isn’t so lovey, dovey. This command to “Love one another as I have loved you” is part of Jesus’ final testimony to his disciples. This is the last sermon he will deliver to them. When he is finished speaking they will retreat across the Kidron valley to the garden where Judas will betray him, he will be arrested and begin the last days of his life – his trial, suffering, and death.
Maybe, when Jesus’ disciples heard, “Love one another as I have loved you,” they thought. “OK. I’ll have that same warm spot in my heart as Jesus has toward me.” God wants us to have “warm spots” in our hearts. That’s how it might have looked on the other side of the cross. But once Jesus had been hauled through a kangaroo court, mocked, tortured, and hung out to die – and got to this side of the cross -- those words took on a new meaning. Suddenly “love” didn’t have so much to do with sweetness and light as it had to do with suffering and death. “Love one another as I have loved you.” How did he love them? He gave his life for them. (He gave his life for us.)
Here’s a hidden lesson for us. Last week, as we contemplated what 1st John had to say about love, we considered that love is a decision we make, not an emotion we have. Jesus’ command to love one another carries that one step further. Not only is love a decision, but it is an action. We love someone else not by having a warm spot in our hearts for them, but by doing loving things for them. Jesus loved us, not by having some cozy warm spot in his heart for us, but by laying down his very life for us. This is how we are to love other people. As a matter of fact, Jesus comes right out and says that: “No one has grater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
I had a bishop in Ohio who was fond of saying, “We don’t so much think our way into doing as we do our way into thinking.” The action will bring about the thought or the emotion. Having trouble loving someone? Having trouble deciding to love that person? Try doing a loving thing for that person. That will really mess with your head. Better yet, it will mess with your heart!
Our council president and vice president – Wendy Hahn and Peter Bouwma – and I attended a conference last week. It was entitled, “How to talk to someone about your faith without being a jerk.” It was an evangelism conference. All three of us didn’t like it – and the reason why has something to do with today’s gospel on love. In the conference we were given some very good communication techniques about how to engage other people in conversation … non-church people, specifically. We agreed that the methods were good, but the reasons? Not so much.
It sort of went like this: If you can get them to talk about the weather, then maybe you can get to talk about what kind of weather they like and don’t like. If you can get them there maybe you can get them to open up about other things they like and don’t like. Maybe church. Maybe hypocrites. Maybe religion in general. If you can keep them going down this path maybe you can get to key questions like, “Have you decided for Jesus?” “Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and savior.” These lines were actually in the handout we were given.
Well, Lutherans are never going to do that … and it’s not because we’re scared and don’t like the word evangelism. Maye it’s because we don’t want to be taught how to be used car salesmen to sweet-talk somebody into doing something we have decided would be good for them. But the main reason is the theology of the thing. It’s the old “Decide for Christ so you won’t go to hell when you die, but go to the pearly gates in the sky.” OK. Let’s begin with the 16th verse of today’s gospel from the book of John: “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” So, let’s start there. I don’t think it’s so much that Lutherans are afraid to talk about their faith as much as they are averse to spouting a theology which belongs more to Franklin Graham than it does to us.
God decided for us. God decided for us by dying for us. God decided for us at each of our baptisms. God decides for us each and every day that God shed’s God’s grace and forgiveness even when we are the ones who make bad choices.
Secondly, if we want to tell people about God’s love, and if we are shy about using words … maybe that’s ok. Maybe the best way (the right way?) to show God’s love is be doing God’s love. Love is an action. Love is living our lives for other people. Love is feeding others, clothing others, serving others.
Are we responsible for “saving” others? Two quick things: God does the saving and God has already decided … for us. Second, maybe serving others is saving others. Maybe the salvation is in the serving itself. We like to think of ourselves as Matthew 25 Christians who are the sheep and not the goats because we have fed, clothed, healed, and visited others. I like that. But maybe, when we apply the term “salvation” to that chapter, maybe we can come to see that the ones who are “saved” are the ones who are fed, clothed, healed, and visited. Maybe serving someone is saving someone. Just saying.
Today is Servant Sunday here at Christ the Servant. We are focusing on one particular area of service – those who help make worship happen on Sunday mornings. We realize that there are many other non-Sunday morning service opportunities here, but this is one area we need to beef up … to turn an extra crank for. Heather is always scrambling at the last minute to find ushers, greeters, lay assistants, and the like. And it is like pulling teeth to find people to do set up and clean up. The t-shirt thing may be a bit of a gimmick, but we hope that it creates some spirit and excitement about the whole thing.
In June we’ll recognize musicians and teachers and give them t-shirts also. At some point we will recognize Fellowship House volunteers, Tuesday Outreach Lunch volunteers, N Street Village volunteers, and anyone else who serves at Christ the Servant with a red t-shirt which says “I serve at Christ the Servant.” We hope that on days like Pentecost, Rally Day, and Reformation the entire congregation can be one big sea of red.
“All you need is love.” Last week I mentioned that I can remember singing, as a child, “Love him, love him all ye little children.” Well, the next verse was, “Serve him, serve him, all ye little children.” Maybe that verse should have come first. Serve God first. The love will follow. Serve others first. The love will follow. Moreover, the service is the love.
Text: John 15:9-17