T ODAY WE’RE LOOKING at Jesus’s final time with his disciples. He gathered together for that last meal. He spent some time washing their feet, telling them that they are to be servants if they are to be leaders. And he has identified Judas as the one who will betray him. Judas goes to do what he has to do. And that’s where we pick up; it’s right after Judas leaves.
And Jesus tells his disciples, the ones who are left — the ones who are not going to betray him — what’s about to happen. He’s been telling them and they still just don’t get it. Why would they? This is something totally foreign to them, this whole idea of the man that they know has come to save them is now acknowledging that he is going off to die? How can that be? And yet it is to be.
So when Judas leaves, that’s when Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him.” And he says, “I’m only going to be with you just a little bit longer.”
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IF YOU KNEW that you were about to die, if you knew you only had a matter of hours or days left … what would you tell the people that you love? What cherished hope? Or dream? What last urgent piece of advice would you offer? We know what Jesus’s last piece of advice is, only it’s not a piece of advice. It’s a command. It’s not optional.
“A new command I give you,” he says.
“Love one another.”
He doesn’t tell another parable. He doesn’t start dictating doctrine. He doesn’t take out the Presbyterian book of order and ask them to jot down a few rules. He just says, “Love.”
He doesn’t even tell them that they have to go to church or that they have to read the Bible, or that they have to pray every day. He just says love one another. And it’s out of that love that all of these other things fall into place. Because why do we come to church? Because we love God. We come to church to worship God, right?
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I LOVE WORSHIP. I love God. And it’s amazing. It’s like we have a party for God every single week, where we all get to come and gather and sing joyful songs, and pray and confess, we get to hear those words every week that we are forgiven people, so that we can go out and do more and do again and do better.
We get to lift up our voices in prayer. We get to come here and sit in these pews and just love God.
Because we love God, we want to read his word, not just during the service every Sunday morning, but every day, we should want to read his word. Everything flows out of that love. And everything should flow out of the “love one another” commandment. Again, commandment, not a suggestion — a commandment to love one another.
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WHY, THEN, IS IT SO HARD to fulfill that one commandment? Why do we spend so much time trying to measure that love? How much of it should we give out? And to whom should we give it? Who deserves my love? And who doesn’t deserve it?
I hate when we try to measure it out that way. Because oftentimes the people that we think don’t deserve our love our whole groups of people, and a lot of the time the people we think don’t deserve our love are people we’ve never even met. We don’t know them.
So how do we fix that? How do we stop measuring and start pouring out love? What does this commandment look like when we put it on and we wear it and we live it out in the real world?
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YOU KNOW, it’s funny. I had emailed Lisa several weeks back because I was planning worship for today and I couldn’t remember if I was supposed to pick the hymns, or if she would pick the hymns. So we’re emailing back and forth, and she let me know it was preschool graduation today.
I thought I should probably look and see what the scripture is before I go too much further in the planning, so I look back in the lectionary to see what the assignment for today was. And I opened up the Bible, and the first thing that jumps out at me is this line: “My children, I will be with you only a little longer.”
And I thought, God is perfect again. Scripture for the preschool graduation: “My children, I will be with you only a little bit longer.”
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THESE CHILDREN have been dropped off three, four, five days a week at a church. They’ve been dressed and packed up and deliberately brought to a place where they can learn about God, where they can learn the Bible, learn how to pray, where they can be in the presence of Christian teachers.
They’re only going to be here a little while longer, and then they’ll go off to big school, to kindergarten. I don’t know where they’re going; maybe some of them go to private school, a Christian school, but probably some of them are going to a public school. That’s kind of exciting, because now they get to be the pray-ers.
Children are the ones who pray in school. The teachers don’t pray — the kids do. So they’ve gotten their foundation here. And now they’re about to go out and put it to good use. They’re about to go out and be Christian leaders for their friends. It’s a little bit scary for us parents when we send our little kids out to do that big work.
But it’s exciting. Because if you’ve ever heard a child pray, it’s so sweet. Because it’s so pure, it’s so fresh, and it’s so wonderful. We know that they have been prepared for this, they’ve been prepared to go out and do this.
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AND THAT’S WHAT Jesus has done with his disciples. He has prepared his disciples to go out and do his work for his kingdom. Because it’s not going to look like the kingdom that they expect. It’s going to be something brand-new and totally different. It’s a whole new world out there.
Just like for these preschool kids, it’s going to be a whole different kind of school, a whole new world. But it’s exciting, and it’s scary. And it’s sad because they’re growing up. And that’s what these disciples are looking at.
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THAT’S WHAT we’re looking at, too, because we go through this every week, don’t we? We come to church on Sunday. And then we go out. There’s six more days that we have to deal with. Jimmy Buffett has a line in one of his songs, a song called “Fruitcakes.” I contemplated playing it but it has a curse word in it and I’m pretty sure it isn’t covered by the CCLI license. But he talks about religion and he says “religion. Religion.” He says it’s in the hands of some crazy people.
And then he says this line that I love:
“There’s a fine line between Saturday night and Sunday morning.”
The debauchery of a Saturday night. You’re going out with your friends, you’re partying, you’re hanging out, you’re this way, you’re over here, you’re doing this. And then in the blink of an eye it’s Sunday morning, and here we are in church. And it’s a thin line from one to the next.
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IT’S A THIN LINE between Sunday morning and Monday morning, too, isn’t it? I don’t know that your Sundays look like mine. Typically, if I don’t have afternoon worship, my Sunday afternoon typically looks like a nap. Probably a pretty big meal. We go to the Roadkill Cafe in Elberta every Sunday for lunch. Get a nice big plate of fried chicken, go home, sleep a few hours.
Sunday night, you’re getting ready for the week — gotta do some laundry, gotta get your stuff laid out for Monday morning. You wake up. It’s a whole new day, and that Sunday feeling of church is sort of … back here. If you’re if you’re trying to find it, you’ve got to reach for it; you’ve got to pull it up with you.
So my question is: Sunday, when it’s so easy to love, because we’re all here in church together, do you love the same way on a Monday morning? When you get to the office? When you get to school?
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IT’S SO EASY TO LOVE on a Sunday morning. I’ve told you I love worship. I do. I think we probably all enjoy it to some level or we wouldn’t be here. But when you’re all together and worshiping. It’s an amazing thing. Strangers walk through the door, and they’re greeted warmly and authentically. We’re happy to see new people anytime somebody new comes in. It’s great. Another new friend, somebody else to worship with. We’re happy to see you, we have the passing of the peace and you wish the peace of Christ upon somebody you’ve never even met before. And you mean it! Because we’re here we’re in God’s house.
We feel close to God when we’re gathered together. We sing out loud. Those of us who like to sing, we can belt it out and continue singing those hymns.
But do we take that out? Is that feeling there on Monday? What about Tuesday? Tuesday you run to Walmart and you’re standing in that long line. Do you greet people warmly? Do you wish them the peace of Christ, even if it’s only in your mind? Do you come around the corner and side-eye this woman with her buggy blocking your way? “Why is she trying to decide on 24 kinds of tuna fish when I just want to grab a can and get out of here?”
How about on Friday afternoon when you’re heading south on 59 and trying to get home after a long week of work? And every tourist in the country is going south on 59? Do you wish them the peace of Christ? When somebody cuts you off in traffic, do you respond the same way as if you were walking up the aisle and somebody cut you off to sit where you wanted to sit in that field? Do you yell at somebody who cuts you off? Give him an obscene gesture? Honk your horn and get angry?
Because I know you wouldn’t do that in here, on a Sunday morning. So why would we do that out there?
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THIS IS WHAT God is preparing us for; this is what Jesus is telling us: “I’m not going to be standing right here with you. So you’ve got to do the work. You’ve got to do the right thing. You’ve got to go out and show love. You be my face in the world so that others see me and my love. You introduce God to the world with your love, and your actions and your words.”
It’s not always easy.
One thing that helps keep me straight is something I did when I first started my call down in Orange Beach. The community didn’t really know that we had a new pastor and I wanted them to know. And it felt really awkward to just sort of walk up to somebody and introduce myself as the pastor like I’m some sort of all that. So I had a name tag made and it has my name on it and says I’m the pastor of that church. So that way, when I meet people, I can just have a genuine conversation with them. And if they see my name tag, they’ll know I’m the pastor of this particular church, and then the community will get to know who I am.
Well, it really keeps me honest. Because now when people see the name tag, if I’m short-tempered, if I’m rude, if I mean, if I’m honking my horn and hollering out my window. They know who I am. Worse — if they know which church I belong to. Even worse than that — they know that I claim to be a Christian because I clip on that tag on purpose. And then I act like that. So it kind of forces me to be extra nice and extra kind. And to be the face that I want the church to be in the world.
Again, some days that’s easier than others. But the most remarkable thing happened. I found that even without the name tag, when when I took it off, and I drove home and I went somewhere, I still found that I had some genuine love for people that I’ve never met before. That I was interested in hearing people talk. That when I would look at somebody in the eyes and say “How’s your day going,” I really wanted to know the answer.
And it wasn’t just because I was sporting a name tag. It was because my habits changed my heart a little bit. And I found that I was better able to be patient because I was practicing patience. And I was able to be a better listener because I was practicing listening. And I was able to look at more people in the face and the eyes and give them a genuine smile because I was practicing smiling.
And that’s a great thing. That’s a wonderful thing.
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ALL OF THIS LOVE that we feel in this room, in this building, when we come to worship or Bible study or choir practice or any of the events that happen in this church. I know it feels different when you’re on the church grounds. The trick is to harness that, to bring that, to drag it with you out there. Because there’s so much love to be found in this building. The trick is getting it out there. The trick is getting people to realize what Christians are called to do. And that is to love one another, not argue with one another, fight over doctrine, or have political discussions that turn ugly. We’re called to love one another with genuineness, with authenticity. We’re called to put that into practice. because Jesus commanded it.
It’s one of those things that we just have to do. And the more we do it, the easier it gets.
And the more we do it, the better it feels. Because there’s a lot of people hurting out in that world. And I’m telling you, that driveway, it’s not a magic driveway, you don’t drive down and sort of magically find love growing. And then as soon as you leave, it’s nothing but hostility out there. What’s in here is what you make of it. And what is out there is what you need to deal with.
So we come in and we gather, and we worship and we sing and we pray and we hear scripture, and we shake hands and we hug and we love one another. And then we try to circle it up and harness that. And we drag it with us. And then we go out so that Monday morning, Tuesday afternoon, Saturday night, there it is.
We’ve still got the love that we felt here. Only we’re spreading it around. Liberally pouring it out. Extravagantly, generously, pouring out this love that God calls us to pour out in the face of hardship or disagreement.
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IN THE FACE OF A BAD DAY and in the face of a good day, we can be out there just shoveling it out throwing it out, spreading it out. Without measuring it, without worrying about who deserves it because that’s another thing that Jesus doesn’t say.
He doesn’t say love one another and only this one, only the people in this room. Only love the people who look like you, or think like you or do like you or live like you. That’s not what he says.
He just says to love. And so that’s the simplicity of it. That’s the joy of it. That’s the wonder of it — that we can take it. We can give out as much as we want. Because God always replenishes. We can pour out and pour out and pour out. And we can spend some quiet time, we can come to church, we can come to worship to fill back up. Whatever it takes to refuel, you do that and then you’ve got more to pour out.
It’s amazing when you think about it. It’s huge, this responsibility, but it’s joyful, this honor of sharing the glory of God with the world. Because, believe me, if we can leave here if we can turn this church inside out and fling it as far as the eye can see. We can change the world.
Because love abounds in here. And it’s really, really needed out there.