Gracious God, open our ears that we may hear your truth, open our eyes that we may see your kingdom, and open our hearts and minds that we might know the cries of our brothers and sisters who are hungry, and hurting, and sometimes even dying without the knowledge of your love for them. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts together be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Growing up as a child of the late 60’s and 70’s, I can remember a lot of the things that defined our generation. My first memory, or at least the first memory that I can date is the funeral of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. I had just turned 4 years old and I remember watching the procession, the rider-less horse…but more importantly, I remember the tears being shed by my mother and grandmother as they still couldn’t believe that such a thing had happened. They couldn’t believe that an assassin had taken the life of our president.
I have even clearer memories of 1968 as assassins cut down first Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and then Robert Kennedy as well. It was a difficult time in the history of our country. The war in Vietnam was escalating and the country was becoming divided over the war…something similar to what we see happening today in our country over the war in Iraq. It was a divide that caused President Lyndon Johnson to decide to not run for a second full term of office.
There are other things that I remember. I remember watching in awe and pride as the Gemini and Apollo astronauts were leading the way to the moon in the space race with the Russians. I remember the despair when Apollo 1 was destroyed by fire during launchpad tests, taking the lives of astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. And I remember the pride we felt in December of 1968 as Apollo 8 sent back the first pictures of Earth taken from Moon orbit. I will never forget the whole family sitting around the black and white TV in the living room on July 20, 1969 as we watched a very grainy picture of astronaut Neil Armstrong as he descended the ladder of the lunar module and became the first human to set foot on the moon.
On the cultural front, I can remember the music…and as a musician, I can never forget the phenomena known as the Beatles. Nothing that they sang was anything less than a hit. One of their songs, although it isn’t one of my favorites is “All You Need is Love,” a title that seems to fit right in with our scripture lesson this morning.
“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 For 13:1-2, NRSV).
This passage from a letter written by the Apostle Paul to the church that he had founded in Corinth deals directly with the issue of spiritual gifts, and the abuse of those gifts, in the church. It fits right in with the discussion of Spiritual Gifts that we’ve been talking about for the past three weeks. In Chapter 12 of this epistle, Paul outlines various types of spiritual gifts that are given to the body of Christ by God to build up the body, the church. But the reason for Paul’s letter in the first place was to deal with mis-use of those gifts by some who thought that their gifts commanded a higher status than the gifts of another. This attitude of “my gifts are better than yours” was tearing the church apart… and Paul was having none of this.
Paul was reminding them that without love as the basis, those gifts were worthless… useless… to be pitied. Because without love, they weren’t gifts that increased discipleship. Without love, they were turning the people away from the very Christ that they said that they were following.
If you remember, Jesus cared a lot about the love that his disciples showed to others. In fact, it was the way that we loved one another, that seemed to concern him more than anything.
On Jesus’ last night with his Disciples, just hours before his arrest, they are in the Upper Room preparing to share a meal together. Before anything else, Jesus humbles himself before them and performs the servant act of washing the disciples feet. It is an act that the Disciples are not expecting. It is an act that even causes Peter to protest that Jesus, the master, would not perform this act of humble service to him. All of the Disciples were there. All 12 of them. Jesus washed all of their feet as an act of caring and devotion. In the process, Jesus washed the feet of Judas. Let that sink in. Jesus washed the feet of the one who would betray him in just a few hours. The Master became the Servant of the one whose action would lead to his death by the most horrible method of execution practiced by the Romans. What wondrous love is this? Once this act was complete, they proceeded then to have table fellowship as the practice of the Lord’s Supper was instituted. The sharing of the bread and the wine and then the command “as often as you do this, do this in remembrance of me.”
The point of the entire evening was driven home by Jesus after Judas had been sent on his way and Jesus told the disciples “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
It is hard enough to take to live out the command to love others as we love ourselves. But now, Jesus has kicked the whole concept up a notch by commanding us to love others as HE loves us…to love others as GOD loves us.
How does God love? God loves fully and unconditionally. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’
The Apostle Paul describes the depth and breadth of God’s love in this way in Romans 8: 38-39: For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Hear that last sentence again: Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. That’s pretty major stuff. If we are to love others as Jesus loves us then where does that leave us when we tend to rush to judgment over others. Or what about the discomfort that we feel around folks who are different than us? Let’s face it, it’s not easy to love other folks, especially when there are gulfs that divide us like poverty and homelessness, race, religion and socio-economic status. Why did Jesus have to give us a command like this to love others as Jesus has loved us? Didn’t he know that that kind of love is asking too much of us? Why does he have to ask so much of us?
These are questions that believers have struggled with since the beginning of the Christian church. These are questions that were faced very early on by the church in Jerusalem when they find that the message of Christ was not meant to be theirs and theirs alone.
All of the church that we find described in the earliest parts of the book of Acts were made up of good, practicing Jews who followed Christ, Now, to a good, practicing Jew, the Gentiles were unclean. The Gentiles ignored the dietary laws and the cleanliness codes and this was totally unacceptable to the earliest Christians. Even Peter himself had trouble with the concept of Gentile followers of Christ until he was convinced in the vision that is described in Acts 10 that those who had been considered unclean were now to be welcomed as children of God who were just as eligible to receive the Holy Spirit as were the Jews. After this vision, he went into the home of a Gentile and shared the Good News of Christ with them and he watched as the Holy Spirit came upon them just like it had come upon the disciples in the Upper Room.
Christ himself shared his table with sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes and many others that respectable society would have nothing to do with. Christ himself called us to throw off the chains that the culture places upon us. Chains that prevent us from loving as he loved, unconditionally and without favor.
How does this love manifest itself? It manifests itself in the service of others. We are called to love as Jesus loved and we are to serve others as an expression of that love toward us. Jesus saw no distinctions among people. He loved them where they were and how they were. The power of his love is what changed them. The power that we are given through the Holy Spirit to love one another as Jesus loved us is a power that can transform the world.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’
And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’
Christ calls us to follow him, to share his love to all people in all places and at all times. In doing so, Christ calls us to become part of this new Jerusalem, the kingdom of God here on this earth. It’s not a question of going to heaven when we die. It is an invitation to be part of what God is doing in the here and now.
Jesus calls us to be agents of love. When we are agents of love, we are agents of change… we are agents of transformation… transformation for us and transformation for the world around us.
In this time of noisy gongs and clanging cymbals, let us be the voice for harmony and the peace and joy that comes from knowing Christ. A voice that is rooted in the love of God flowing through us to all people.
Thanks be to God. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.