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By Our Love - Sermon on John 13:31-35

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On our own we are lost and bewildered and can wander off track far too easily. Is it not great that we have this wonderful good shepherd to guide us along the way? 

lease listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The delivered sermon is often considerably different than the sermon notes which are included for convenience below.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

April 24, 2016 - Fifth Sunday in Easter

"By Our Love".  Text is from John 13:31-35

Click here for sermon audio

Good morning to you my sisters and brothers, saints and sinners, disciples of Christ and children of God.

In just a few short verses, Jesus is providing us with a wealth of information about his nature and his future. Given the context of this statement, he speaks of the Father being glorified in him and him being glorified in the father. He foretells his departure and he gives the disciples one more, important command, that they love each other as he has loved them. 

So even as we are proceeding forward from the cross and the great resurrection, we are, at this point late in the Easter season, being drawn toward the Ascension and finally the Pentecost. This saying of Jesus, drawn as it is from Chapter 13, takes place after the Last Supper. Jesus has washed the feet of his disciples. He has given Judas the piece of bread, pointing him out to the beloved disciple as the one who would betray him. And we begin with "After he had left", meaning Judas. 

But as with much in John, everything takes place not only in sequence but also for the benefit of those who are in John's audience. The late first century Christians who were already somewhat familiar with the names and event that took place, maybe even having personally known Mary Magdalene or the disciple who Jesus loved. And it is written for the people who would come to believe down through the ages. 

So it does make sense to read the words of Jesus separated from the specific context. Because Jesus knew what would become of him, and so when we read it knowing what became of him, he speaks to us, because he knows we ourselves will be reading it.

So having been glorified, the time having come to fulfill the wondrous gift of love that God had provided to us, the people whom God loved, Jesus reminds us that the time he spent as a man on earth was for a limited, short time. And that his work had not been completed, but must be done from heaven rather than earth. That we have work of our own to complete, that although God is almighty and all-powerful, the human race is nevertheless destined to be the beloved children of God that we have been meant to be.  


Jesus has only just demonstrated to the disciples what God's work is, washing their feet and revealing his glory in service and love. He has shown us what love is, and he has shown us what it is to love one another. And make no mistake, the gospel of John is very particular about this, the greatest commandment. Because while the other gospels speak of a twofold commandment, to love God with all one's heart, mind, soul and strength, and love one's neighbor as one's self, John's writer, in a beautiful design, and deliberate intent, tells us to love one another as Jesus loved us. This is not supposed to detract from the love of one's neighbor, no, but because of the power that we are given, as the children of God and the beloved successors to the disciples, in having that gift of grace that gives us this boundless faith, we are indeed capable of loving one another as Jesus has loved us. And there is a very good reason for living in that love for one another, as Christians and it has nothing to do with alienating those people who are in the outside. 

I'm reminded of a song we used to sing way back in the 80s in Lutheran summer camp that I never hear any more, for whatever reason. 

It goes, "......    And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, and they'll know we are Christians by our love." 

Jesus says, "Everyone will know you are my disciples if you have love for one another" after showing them what that love entailed. And this song, which so clearly reflects the Johannine commandment to love one another, seems to have disappeared from summer camp for whatever reason. Maybe as so often happened with the songs I heard from my childhood, there were problematic verses that elicted the wrong reaction from different communities or probably some strange and particularly non-Lutheran theological turns of the type that used to come up sometimes with my childhood camp songs. But when I think about the words today, "they'll know we are Christians by our love," I have to think, if we are out there in the secular world, among the people who have been hurt most by the church or the behavior of some of the people who represent themselves as the spokespersons for Christianity, the last thing on these people's minds when they see us acting respectful and decent to one another is that they will know we are Christians.

Let me put this into some context at least from my own experience. As some of you know, after the age of 19 or so, after I was firmly out of the closet with my sexual orientation and had decided that the limited understanding of the faith that I had been taught, the only churches I felt I was welcome in were the ones that either had a very loose and diverse understanding of God, such as the Unitarian Universalists or the Society of Friends, or were almost exclusively people from the LGBTQ community as in Metropolitan Community Church, who were themselves frequently shunned by other mainline Christian denominations as being "not true Christians."

And then my other experiences, particularly being from the bible belt and the unique brands of Christianity that we found there, all too often when one of the first things someone I did not know would tell me that they were Christian, the next thing out of their mouth was whether or not I accepted Lord Jesus as my personal Lord and savior and if I was willing to be baptized (because apparently my infant baptism was pointless) and no amount of my limited understanding could dissuade them. And then there were those who immediately condemned me or who I watched condemn others. 

So knowing someone was Christian by their love? Even though I always considered myself Christian, I was highly dubious of anyone who identified that way first. Usually, they were of a certain variety of Christian, the kind that condemned other people and detracted the good works and deeds of anyone who didn't follow the exact playbook of what they believed Christianity was all about. And my problem was that I just didn't want to stick around and find out what they were all about, because I was too busy running my own life. 

It is what kept me away from the church for quite a few years, this misinterpretation between what my heart felt was a calling to a Christian life and what the media was depicting based on the actions and behavior by a vocal but relatively small percentage of people of Christian bent. Fifteen years ago if you'd have told me I was going to be a pastor I would have laughed in your face and asked you what drugs you were on. 

But today I am privileged enough to see the behaviors of people who follow Christ, as Jesus calls us to. Those who the spirit drives to reach out not only to each other but to those underserved and underprivileged to demonstrate that our love not only extends to each other, that we uplift and cherish the gifts in one another but that we follow through by acting out that love by demonstrating it in the world. 

We see Jesus not simply rolling his eyes as a parent telling the disciples and the church, "Don't you think you ought to love each other?" This comes out of something that is grounded in Christ's own love to the world, that comes out of the gift that God has offered us in his wondrous act, that the spirit guides us to do. The love that we have for one another proceeds from us and is less of a command as it is a promise of that wondrous life that is to come. 

The good news could not be any clearer. Does our clear expression of theological uprightness, that we can express accurate doctrine and stringent understanding of Trinitarian canon show that we are Christians? Does our moral righteousness, our following of the laws as they are set out, and our ability to point out that others are not adequately morally pure show that we are Christians? Does our ability to recite scripture by book and verse, and pull out quotes for any, and I mean absolutely any situation show that we are Christians? 

It is in the very loving acts that the Holy Spirit drives us to do, service and sacrifice, for each other and for the world at large, that point to the love that God has for God's beautiful creation, the world, through our savior, Jesus Christ.


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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on April 24, 2016 8:50 PM.

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