Saturday, April 27, 2013

Loving as Jesus loves

Acts 11:1-18; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35

This short passage from John’s Gospel comes during the last supper; it’s a part of the sermon Jesus gives to prepare the disciples for life after he dies. The last part is so familiar, we know it by heart: love one another as I have loved you. We know it in our minds, but it’s so hard to live it in our lives.
How do we love like Jesus? To answer that question, we must first know how Jesus loves. He heals the sick, casts out demons, raises from the dead, eats with sinners, calls tax collectors and fishermen to follow him, talks about God and God’s purposes with women and Gentiles.
Jesus does lots of things the people of his time believed were against the will of God. Jesus loves those who in his time were unlovable and untouchable.
… How Jesus loves was very much on the minds of the first Christians. In the story from Acts, Peter is telling the Jewish Christians about his encounter with the Holy Spirit and some Gentiles. He faces the same kinds of criticisms that Jesus faced – “Why were you eating with unclean people!?”
Peter explains the vision he had, which sent him to a Gentile family. In this vision, he suddenly understands that in God’s eyes there is no difference between Jew and Gentile. The Jewish believers were dismayed, then amazed, and then agreed that this is the way it should be. To love the way Jesus loves means to accept all people into Jesus’ family.
… By the time Revelation is written at the end of the first century, the believers have had more time to consider what it means that Jesus loves us. His life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension mean that our God is in control, even though crummy things happen in the day-to-day reality of living. Ultimately, those who oppose God and God’s purposes will be conquered. When God’s purposes win, there is new life.
We think of this new life as an already-not-yet condition. Instead of heaven being located somewhere above and beyond us, the revelation to John of Patmos insists that heaven is here on earth. God dwells with us in God’s new dwelling place – on earth. The old way of thinking about where God lives has passed away, and the new way of thinking of God is now a reality. God’s dwelling place is not somewhere far away, but right here with us.
Since God is so close to us, God is able to tenderly care for us when crummy stuff happens. God is able to wipe away tears, end hunger and pain. Recently, the slogan or motto of the ELCA was “God’s work, our hands.” God accomplishes divine purposes through us, sending us to wipe away tears, feed the hungry, heal the sick. When we care for one another, we are doing God’s work, loving as Jesus loves.
… In real life, this happens in many ways. Here are two stories I heard this week. You may have heard them too.
I heard an interview Terry Gross did a few years ago with George Jones, who died this past week. In the interview, Terry asked George about his early battle with an addiction to alcohol. George laughed a little as he shared that yes, he drank some as he performed and he thought the alcohol made his performance better. However, after he entered a recovery program, he found out that his assumption was definitely not true. Once he completed his program, he discovered a new life free of his addiction. His relationships were better, his performances were better, and it was a new life for him.
… Two little boys tell their very touching story. Jonah has a liver condition which not so many years ago was fatal. Jonah’s parents help him manage his disease and he’s doing OK as long as they manage his condition exactly as required.
One day, Jonah’s best friend Dylan decided he wanted to help his friend. His mother suggested a lemonade stand or a bake sale, but Dylan decided to write a book. By the next day the book was written and illustrated as only six-year-olds can do. Family and friends raised funds to publish the book. The money raised goes to find a cure for the disease. In the meantime, Jonah and Dylan are hitting the road to publicize the disease and the book.
The book is called Chocolate Bar, because chocolate bar means awesome to Dylan. He says, “Helping my friend is the biggest chocolate bar.”  Whether these families believe in Jesus or not, Dylan is teaching his friends and family and the world what it means to love like Jesus loves.
As a congregation, we try to love like Jesus loves. We make quilts, fill shoeboxes, give offerings to the congregational budget and to ministries beyond the budget. We bring in food and pack backpacks and buy Christmas gifts.
As individuals, we try to love like Jesus loves. We are kind to strangers; we offer a helping hand and a car ride; we bake casseroles and give cards; we show up; we invite our friends so they, too, may know about Jesus’ love.
What do you do to love like Jesus loves? This week, I invite you to think about the big and little things you do for others as loving the way Jesus loves. We are not perfect at it, but we make a good effort at being loving most of the time. The more we connect what we do with how Jesus asks us to be,
the more we will love as Jesus loves,
and the more we will fulfill God’s purposes on earth,
and the more we will discover that the world we live in is being made new by Jesus every day.
Please pray with me. God of love, you promise to make all things new, but we don’t always see much that is new or good. Help us to be your hands and feet bringing about the new life of a loving relationship with you. Help us to love as you love, so that there will be places and times when your presence among us is impossible to ignore.  Amen