Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | April 28, 2013

2013.04.28 “Love One Another” – John 13: 31 – 35

Central United Methodist Church

Love One Another

John 13: 31 – 35

Pastor David L. Haley

The 5th Sunday of Easter

April 28th, 2013

When Judas had left, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is seen for who he is, and God seen for who he is in him. The moment God is seen in him, God’s glory will be on display. In glorifying him, he himself is glorified – glory all around!

        “Children, I am with you for only a short time longer. You are going to look high and low for me. But just as I told the Jews, I’m telling you: “Where I go, you are not able to come.’

        “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another.  This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples — when they see the love you have for each other.” – John 13: 31 – 35, The Message

Is there anything more inspiring, than to see people caring for those in need? Except perhaps to be one doing the caring. Except perhaps, to be the one cared for; which, at one time or another, we all have been.

We have two examples of such caring before us today; one national and one local.

When we were together last, we were still catching our breath in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. As a congregation we turned to an old friend we often turn to when in need of comfort and encouragement, Psalm 23: “I will fear no evil; for you are with me.”

This week – as that act of terror has begun to move toward closure, with the confession of the surviving bomber, the long-term consequences have also become clearer. Four people died (five, if you count the bomber); 16 people ranging in age from 7 to 71 had limbs blown off or amputated afterwards, in all 260 were injured. But after the media’s gaze and national attention shifts away, it’s clear that the consequences for many will last a lifetime. There will be follow up surgeries, rehabilitation and physical therapy, adaptation of living arrangements, and for many, counseling, as many of the victims suffer from varying degrees of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  In addition, some of the victims did not have health insurance; facing the medical bills they will face, a real problem.

In light of the long-term consequences, what has been especially gratifying has been the outpouring of money raised for the victims. Massachusetts Mayor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Tom Menino set up the One Fund Boston to aid victims, which is now up to $26 million. In addition, the two victims I mentioned last Sunday, Jeff Bauman Jr., who lost both legs, and newlyweds Patrick & Jessica Downes, who each lost a leg, have each been given over $700,000, towards goals of $1 million. Isn’t that wonderful?

Much more locally, here at church, today we show our appreciation for Helen Bextel. After 64 years as a “regular worshiper” at Central, Helen is moving to Palatine to be closer to her children. Helen, a little later in the service we want to acknowledge and thank you for your friendship and many years of service to our congregation, even as the congregation has cared for you. As just one example, will we ever forget that day you fell at the last Rummage Sale, and Pam Castaneda and I showed up in the St. Francis Emergency Room, out of concern for you? Or how thankful we are for Bernice Herwald, who has so generously brought you (and many others who no longer drive) to church each Sunday.

Loving and caring for each other; that is the heart of Christian ethics.  It is the new commandment Jesus gave to his first disciples, and to all those who would be his disciples, and is our text this morning: “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples — when they see the love you have for each other.”

To more fully appreciate Jesus’ words, it is useful to note the context, in our lives, and in this story. As we move through the Christian year, we retell and relive Jesus’ story. Here we are, on the 5th Sunday of Easter, still celebrating the Great 50 days of Easter.  Christ was crucified and died, is risen, and for a time, was present again to his disciples, despite their initial skepticism and doubt. But there would come a time, when Christ’s bodily presence could no longer be experienced, which we celebrate two Sundays from now, at Jesus’ Ascension. After that, Christ’s presence in the world would no longer be then and there, as it was for them, but always and everywhere, as we experience him.

In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus is preparing them for that time, and with them, us.  Like a departing parent talking to his children, he tells them he is going away, and that, where he is going, they cannot come.  Now Judas, the Betrayer, has gone out into the night, and things are likely to progress quickly.

It’s time for last words. You know how it is; you’re leaving your son or daughter at college, or worse, as a member of the military, they are being deployed to a war zone. Or your spouse or your mom or dad or grandma is dying; or maybe it’s you who are dying, what do you say?  You say, “I love you,” because – through your tears – you can’t say much else.  “Where I am going, you cannot come.”

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus has repeatedly shown his disciples how much he loved them; in fact, that’s exactly how John chapter 13 begins: “Having loved his dear companions, he continued to love them right to the end.” He demonstrated his love by giving them a holy meal, by washing their feet as a servant, and ultimately, by dying for them.

So what he says now is this:  “Love one another, as I have loved you.”  He didn’t say think alike, or believe certain things, dress a certain way or put a bumper sticker on your car; what he said was: “Love one another.” This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples — when they see the love you have for each other.”

Not that it would be easy; not for them, not for us. As one modern New Testament scholar has observed: “This new command is simple enough for a toddler to memorize and appreciate, and it is profound enough that the most mature believers are repeatedly embarrassed at how poorly they comprehend it and put it into practice.” (D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 484.)

In the long history of the church, there were times when Jesus’ love ethic would predominate, as Christians cared not only for their own, but for the poor, for widows and orphans, for those who were sick and dying, for the victims of plague, disaster and war. At such times, they demonstrated in an exemplary way the selfless love Jesus both modeled and commanded.

But there were other times – too many times – when Jesus’ love ethic was lost among doctrinal disputes and controversies, under the old corrosives of power, wealth, and glory. Even today, in many churches, “what you believe,” is more important than “what you practice.”

It’s so easy to get distracted, diverted, even with good intentions.  Each week in preparation for my sermon, I listen to an online discussion of the texts for the week. It is done by seminary professors, a profession – shall we say – easily distracted by issues more theological than practical.  Two of them were getting deep into a theological discussion of Jesus’ words about “glory,” when the third seemed like he couldn’t take it any longer and said, “At the risk of offending you, if you preach that sermon it will be a really bad sermon.” “Because what people are really asking, is, “Why belong to a community of faith?” “And here’s the answer.”

Because when you belong to a community of faith that practices Jesus’ ethic of loving one another, you will be cared for in a way that will be life-changing, both for those who practice it and those who receive it.

Sure, you can stay home and watch a service on TV, you can worship online, you can worship privately, in your own way? If you can’t make to church, you can do that – it’s better than nothing.

But here’s the thing: when you do that, nobody will call to check on you when you’re missing, no one will come to see you in the hospital, no one will deliver meals when there is a new baby in the house, no one will be knocking on your door with a casserole when someone is sick or someone dies, there aren’t any virtual arms to embrace you when you are lost or lonely.

You only get this in community; and best of all in a faith community that takes seriously Jesus’ command to love one another. In itself, it can be an idealistic, nebulous concept; this is how we make it real.

This is why we have cared for you, Helen, and so many others like you through the years, even as you have cared for others.

This is why we are always taking special offerings for students, for those in need, and to support food pantries and soup kitchens.

This is why we do Promise of the Rainbow, and pay our United Methodist apportionments in full, all real and tangible ways of loving one another.

No, we don’t always practice it perfectly, but when we do, it makes a difference in our lives, in other people’s lives, and – as Jesus predicted – will be noted by others.

It has been my privilege as a pastor to be in a position to observe such love in action through the years, in all five congregations I have served.

As one example of this, I keep in my files a 27-year-old note written to me by a geriatric nurse practitioner in Chicago.

In my congregation at Berry Memorial, just a few miles south of here in Lincoln Square, we had an older woman who began to manifest symptoms eventually diagnosed as Huntingdon’s Disease. Huntingdon’s Disease is a progressive neuromuscular disease, which eventually leads to complete physical and mental deterioration. A German immigrant, this woman had no relatives, and as her symptoms grew worse, it fell to members of the congregation to help her, in ways no one could have imagined.

One day, I got a call; she couldn’t awaken her mother. I went over and found her mother dead, in a bed in the corner.  A few days later I did the funeral.

Her house, by the way, was filled waist deep with clutter, with paths from one room to the other, perhaps a side effect of her disease.  Sadly, part of that clutter consisted of letters from every TV evangelist and church there was, because she contributed to them.  But they weren’t there to help her now.

On a 5 degree day in winter, I got a call. The heat in her house had gone out, and she needed help. I went there and found pots and pans frozen in the kitchen sink. When the temperature rose above freezing, the pipes burst and flooded the house. I remember lifting up the back of the bathtub to get at a pipe, and watching cockroaches scurry in every direction. After visiting, those of us who worked there would take off as many clothes as we could and search ourselves over before going into our own homes.

Eventually, as her disease progressed, we helped her sell her house and move into the Methodist Home on Foster Avenue, where she could get the care she needed. Parishioners faithfully visited her, even though we could barely converse with her since she spoke more German than English, made even more difficult by her disease.

Sometime after that, I received this note from a geriatric nurse practitioner at the Methodist Home:

“Dear Pastor Haley: Your parishioners’ kindness and charity re this lady far surpass any efforts I’ve seen anywhere.  They are a credit to you and your church.”

“Love one another,” said Jesus. “In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples — when they see the love you have for each other.”

May our eyes and our ears, may our hearts be open for ways to love one another.  Amen.

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