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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

By Our Love - 04/24/2016

Most of the time, when I begin reading the the texts that are coming up for worship each week, I am drawn to one in particular. It's kind of a miraculous process, I often think – how the Holy Spirit will call attention to one of the readings or even one line in one reading and then a sermon will begin to form around that.

This week it wasn't like that. This week we have a reading from Acts in which God shows Peter that as followers of Jesus we welcome and share this life in communion with all the people of God's incredibly diverse world.

Our Psalm is a ancient hymn that washes over us with a creation full of reasons to be thankful for all God provides and encourages us to sing our praises to God.

Our reading from Revelation is drawn from the hopeful and powerful verses on which that entire book is centered.

And then we have this Gospel reading from John that is at the heart of so much of what we do and strive for as followers of Jesus – this new commandment to love one another as Jesus loved us.

Besides these Spirit-filled readings we have on this Fifth Sunday of Easter in 2016, I have also had a song running through my head all week. Perhaps this song came into your mind as you heard the Gospel reading for today too.

“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.” (13.34-35)

They will know we are followers of Jesus by our love … they will know we are Christians by our love.

And so the sermon this week ended up being formed around that song. I'm going go back and forth singing a little bit of the song and and then preaching a little bit about these texts and how they inform and inspire us as we respond to our new commandment from Jesus.

(Join me in singing if you wish … or read along …)

- Hymn - Verse One

One question our Gospel text draws out is how it is exactly that people see us in this world and know that we are followers of Jesus by the way we move through it. How is our love for one another a telltale sign of our faith in Jesus as the resurrected redeemer of the world?

I think this is a really interesting and relevant question for us. I mean let's face it, you don't have to be a follower of Jesus to be in love, to show love, to do loving things for others. I think we probably all know plenty of people who do not profess – as we do here –  a faith in God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit, but who still are powerfully and beautifully capable of loving others.

So what makes these acts of love as followers of Jesus and believers in the Risen Christ distinct then?

Well, Jesus informs and inspires us as we think about this question. This excerpt from John's gospel we have today may sound familiar if you were here on Maundy Thursday during Holy Week. It is the end of the story in which Jesus washes his disciples' feet and foretells his betrayal. As we might expect from our good teacher, Jesus gives us this new commandment in word and action.

In washing the disciples' feet Jesus demonstrates what it means to love one another as he loved us. It is an act of love that is is caring, intimate and maybe even uncomfortable. And that is what we do for those we love at times.

But there's more to it – Jesus shows us – because in the next moment his tone changes completely and he reveals that there is one among the beloved disciples who will betray him. “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish,” (13.26)  Jesus said as he handed it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot – he handed it to Judas as he communed with him and just after he had washed his feet.

And there is our telltale sign of someone who goes out to love and serve neighbor as Jesus loved us – we love not only those who are easy or natural for us to love, but we strive to love all those who fall out of the categories as well … those who are different than us in the way they look, different in their abilities, different in the beliefs and values and opinions they hold, different in where or how they live, or in how they sin. 

The very person who would stand in the street and shout out against everything we believe in our hearts to be true – that is the one Jesus also commands us to love. And it is through love like that that the world sees us and says – that one there – that one is a follower of Jesus.

- Hymn - Verse 2

“Together we'll spread the news that God is in our land.”  This verse of the song brought me straight back to our reading from Revelation today and the glorious image of  the New Jerusalem coming into our world … God coming among us. Our Wednesday evening bible study group just finished up our study of the Book of Revelation. These are the verses that started and ended our nine or so weeks together.

As we wrapped up this study on Wednesday, we talked a lot about what this vision of the New Jerusalem means to our lives as people of God and followers of Jesus. It is yet another way that this love we have for one another sets us apart in this world because this new commandment also calls us to  live in the confidence that God has already come to this world, is in this world now and is here to stay. We are set apart in our love and care for one another because it is centered in our faith that God came to us in the person of Jesus Christ to heal us and teach us and in his death and resurrection save us and deliver us into a sure reality of eternal life with God.

- Hymn - Verse 3

There is this news story out of Baylor University in Texas, that has been floating around the Internet for awhile and I saw it again this week. It's the kind of human interest story that news programs sometimes end with – a feel good story. It tells about a woman who is a full-time mom pursuing a degree at Baylor. One day her babysitter wasn't able to make it and she was forced to take her four-month-old daughter with her to class.

Now I've been in that boat before, and it can be uncomfortable and as you might expect, as soon as this mom got into the classroom, the baby got fussy. But without missing a beat, her professor – this big, ripped guy who is the director of all the programs in health, exercise and nutrition at Baylor – scooped up the baby and proceeded to do his entire 50-minute lecture with her cradled in his arms. In the interview he said “I didn't want her to be uncomfortable about the situation because there's nothing to feel uncomfortable about. Taking care of others in a time of need and even not in a time of need … just loving and caring about others ... that's God's purpose.”

We can recognize Jesus' teaching to love and care for one another in this man's actions and words.

The story might also draw us back to our reading from Acts because this professor is an example of someone who doesn't let expected boundaries or apparent differences get in the way of helping someone out. Not every professor would handle this situation like this. So in a way he is like Peter in our story from Acts who is trying to explain to his colleagues in faith and ministry that the Good News of the Risen Christ is for anyone with ears to listen … that the ones we are called to love as as we strive to live in obedience to Jesus' new commandment might be pretty surprising to us and others sometimes. But that is indeed where God calls us to carry this love.

It reminds us that around the Lord's Table we are all on equal ground – Jews and Gentiles alike, men and women, teachers and students, friends and enemies.

- Hymn - Verse 4

Here in the final verse of this song we have a reflection of Psalm today too. These Psalms of Praise were written to be used in community worship. They were first sung by congregations that looked and loved much like us – minus our modern amenities. “Let them praise the name of the Lord, who commanded and they were created, who made them stand fast forever and ever giving them a law that shall not pass away.” (Ps 148: 5-6)

As we lifted these words together today we joined our ancestors in sharing this praise among each other and passing it on to the generations to come. This too is a telltale sign of the Jesus-centered love that we bring to the world. Our very lives are acts of praise to God for all the goodness God has showered on us. And particularly our praise for Jesus, the Redeemer of the world, whose example we follow as we love one another as he loved us and proclaim in this Easter season: Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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