5th Sunday of Easter Proper C5            
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
John 13:31-35 Sermon
May 2, 2010

Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
397 "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling"
587 "Jerusalem My Happy Home"
515 "O Jesus I Have Promised"
----- "Lift High The Cross"


 TEXT (vs. 34-35):  "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." 

            It's only been a couple of weeks ago that our Gospel reading dealt with the topic of love.  It was the account of a conversation Jesus was having with Simon Peter.  Jesus asks the question, "Peter, do you love me?"  And Peter answers, "Yes Lord, I love you."  Three times this question is asked and answered.  The problem that was going on, was that Jesus and Simon Peter were using two different definitions of love.  Jesus was asking in terms of a sacrificial, unqualified type of love, and Peter kept responding with a "good buddy, old pal" type of love. 

            I must admit that I sort of cringed a bit when I saw our Gospel lesson for today.  As I studied this, I asked myself, "Now what more can I say on this topic that I didn't address a fortnight ago?"  I had already addressed the different types of love described in the Greek language, words that in English all get translated as "love."  What more is there?

            The answer lies in the way the topic is presented.  When Jesus is asking questions of Simon Peter, he is trying to get him to understand the various ramifications of what love is.  Peter needed to have a level of commitment that was focused upon God's ideas concerning love.  That love had to be deep and committed, and it had to come from the heart.  Peter needed to have that level of commitment in order for him to carry on the work of bringing the Gospel of Christ to the world.

            Our Gospel lesson for today is a very small section of John's 13th chapter.  The setting is the upper room on Maundy Thursday, the day that Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper.  Jesus had sent Judas Iscariot away just prior to this.  And God saw to it that John had spent quite a bit of time recording the details of the various events and the words that were spoken there.

            It's here where we see the difference:  Jesus is now giving instructions to the point of being a mandate:  love one another.  We don't need to examine the various types and forms of love at this point.  Our focus is on the "agape" type of love, the self-sacrificing, self-giving love, and how we as Christians are to put that into practice in our lives.    

            A few minutes ago I read verses 34 and 35 of our Gospel reading from John chapter 13.  Listen again: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

            Considering this directive Jesus gives us, how do you think the world regards Christians and Christianity in general?  I remember reading a couple of quotes from Mahatma Gandhi that I found rather striking--and of course you must remember that Gandhi was not a Christian; he was a Hindu.  Gandhi said:  "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."  And in a similar sense, he also said:  "I consider western Christianity in its practical working a negation of Christ's Christianity."

            Now what do you suppose he was talking about?  It would be my guess that he is at least in a sense referring to the words of our Gospel lesson for today.  And when he compares that to the way Christians actually are, he has determined that Christians do not take the words and directives of Jesus seriously.  He has not witnessed Christians practicing what they preach.

            I think that Gandhi is using a very unfair stereotype.  I believe that he looked at the darker pages of Christian history, and the hateful actions of some who profess to be Christian, and he has drawn his conclusions from that.  And being Hindu, he has no concept of salvation by grace through faith, forgiveness of sins, or any of the other key doctrines of Christianity.  He is basing righteousness on the world's standard, and making conclusions by what he has personally witnessed.

            Even so, this should be some cause for concern.  There's something out there that people don't like about us, and I don't necessarily mean our congregation in particular.  People have their reasons for sitting at home rather than sitting in church.  The fact that we feel their reasons and excuses are flimsy doesn't matter; they feel their reasons are sound and legitimate.

            Here's something to think about:  I don't know how many city blocks there are in Seward, but there's more than I could reasonably estimate.  If we were to take all of the people living on just one of those city blocks, just one of them mind you, do you realize that we couldn't fit everybody into this building of ours?  If just one city block's worth of people were to suddenly show up here, they'd be standing around the room lined up along the wall.  That's a startling thought!

            Image has a lot to do with it; and when you boil it all down, it's how people see love put into practice.  If you divide Christians into various groups, the love issue is one of the key factors.  Some Christian groups seem to have a rather watered-down, superficial definition of love that loves sin as much as anything.  Others flip-flop around so much, people don't know quite what to make of them.  Still others dwell so much on commands and laws, that any form of love seems to have gotten lost.

            The type of love a Christian is supposed to exhibit is the same type of love that God has for us.  Let's just kind of fast-forward through history to see how all of this happened.

            God created the world; and then he created man to live in this paradise he created.  He did this out of love.  And then he created woman, so there could be mutual companionship.  Again, this is an act of love.  And when the man and woman fell into sin and brought God's perfection to ruin, God's love came into play again when the first thing he did was to make a way for sinful humanity to be saved by promising a Saviour who would redeem the world.

            Throughout Old Testament history, God showed his love time and again to the sinful and fickle Israelites by giving them food and water and affording them his divine protection and care.  King David was keenly aware of this love when he committed adultery and then committed murder to cover up for it.  David came to God with a repentant and a contrite heart, and he found forgiveness and hope.  God even refers to David as being a man after his own heart.  Only a loving heavenly Father could do that!

            Then along comes Jesus.  John writes:  "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son..."  The degree of love Jesus has for his people brought him to this earth and led him to the cross where he paid for the sins of the entire world.  His love wasn't just for a select few, but it was for all of humanity who ever lived or whoever will live.  The love of Jesus covers everybody. 

            That's the love that you and I as Christians have experienced.  We know that we can come to our Saviour just as we are, confessing our sin and desiring forgiveness.  We know we will find love.  And we know that through faith alone, everything Christ did on our behalf becomes ours. John chapter 15 verse 13 says: "Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."  That certainly describes the love Jesus has for us.

            When we go through the Bible, the one conclusion at which we can arrive, is that everything God does is according to his grace, which is his undeserved love he gives to us.  That is the theme that continues throughout the body of the Scriptures. 

            Some people emphasize God's sovereignty, or his ultimate power and control over everything.  This of course is true.  God is indeed all powerful, and he works things according to his will.  But we need to remember that God's love is the key.  God doesn't do things simply because he can, but because he loves us and wants what's best for us.

            When Mahatma Gandhi criticized Christians, he was in part using a flawed standard.  Gandhi was a Hindu, and as such he had absolutely no concept of God's grace and the love of Jesus.  Gandhi's concept of Christianity was that Jesus was no more than a great teacher who provided the perfect example of the life people were supposed to lead.  Gandhi believed that Jesus existed, and that he even was a prophet.  But he rejected Jesus' divinity.  He did not believe Jesus was true God any more than any other human being on the earth. 

            In Gandhi's world, an outward form of earthly righteousness was the way a person got on God's good side, with the hope of meriting some sort of divine reward.  God's love and grace had nothing to do with it.  And the concept of any sort of Saviour was completely foreign.  The fact that God himself would come down from heaven in order to save sinful humanity was a ridiculous notion to him.  Just do the right thing, and hope that God will reward you--that was the way Gandhi saw things.

            This isn't just the thinking of the Hindus; it is also true of the Buddhists, Muslims, and all other heathen religions down through history right to this very day.

            The Apostle Paul found himself having to deal with some of the sharpest minds when it comes to heathen religions.  If we look at Acts chapter 17, we can read about Paul being amongst the Greek philosophers who were congregated on Mars hill.  Reading verses 18-20 and 22-23: "18A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with [Paul]. Some of them asked, 'What is this babbler trying to say?' Others remarked, 'He seems to be advocating foreign gods.' They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, 'May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.'  22Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: 'Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.'"

            Heathen religions can only go so far before they run head-long into a roadblock.  Even the best philosophers in the world could not conceive of a God who loves sinful humanity so much that he would save them.  They couldn't grasp the love of a Saviour who would give up his life for their salvation.  All they could do was come up with "an unknown god."  Everything else was a huge question mark in their minds.

            There's an old hymn with a verse that goes like this:  "But what to those who find?  Ah, this: nor tongue nor pen can show; the love of Jesus, what it is, none but his loved ones know."  (SBH 481:4)

            We know about God's love toward us.  And now it is our turn to love others in the same way that we have been loved.  Of course we know we can't do this perfectly.  We will stumble and fall along the way.  But when we do, we know that we can keep coming back to Jesus time and again and find full and free forgiveness for all of our sins.  And this is the message of love we are to share with the world through our words and actions.

            Verses 34-35 of our text for today says: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

            How do people know us?  As Christians, we have a reputation to uphold, a reputation put in place by Jesus himself.  We are to love others, even our enemies.  We are to love even those that others might find unlovable.  We are to love God.  We are to love our neighbors as ourselves.

            And most importantly, the forgiving love of Jesus we know is something that the unbelieving world needs to know as well.  And so we pray that everybody will know that we are indeed Christ's disciples by the way we put our love into practice.