Some of you know that this is an unscheduled appearance. Brother Jim is alive and well, at least, I think he is. He’s in the cabin with our Youth church. When we realized that I couldn’t play bass here and have church there, I graciously volunteered to let him take the youth group. I think he knows as well as I do that I got the better part of that deal.
Whenever I get to speak on Memorial Day weekend, I use at least part of today’s scripture. It’s John’s account of Christ teaching at the last supper, and it is essential reading for every Christian. Let us hear the word of the Lord:
On Memorial Day weekend, we remember those who gave their lives for us in defense of our freedom. Sadly, we have far more fallen heroes today than we had even last Memorial Day.
Those we have lost, soldiers and pilots, police and rescue workers, shared one trait with our very Lord and Savior Himself: They gave their lives for both friends and strangers. Greater love has no one than this.
It is interesting to look at the original language on John 15:12 — Greater Love has no one than this, and we read it, that he give his life for his friends. But another way to read the Greek, and maybe a more literal reading, says that anyone should put his living spirit over his friends. That’s spirit the sense of an animal spirit, i.e., his LIFE.
You know, we don’t have to worry about what this or that version of the Bible says. The original Greek New Testament is what it is and anyone can look back over it. But notice the nuance of that. To GIVE one’s life implies death. Certainly, we aren’t surprised to think Jesus said that at the Last Supper. But what does it mean to cover your friends with your life spirit? It might mean giving your life FOR your friends, or it might mean giving your life TO your friends, in love and service. Jesus certainly did that too, didn’t he?
I think it’s very western of us to always be looking for the big play, that Hail Mary pass that will make our lives count. Sometimes we’re hot dogs going for the home run when we should be team players bunting for a base hit.
You might have heard of Legion, the gaggle of demons that possessed a gentile in the new testament. The man lived in the graveyard and could not be chained, until Jesus cured him. The man wanted to give up everything and follow Jesus, but Jesus told him to stay back and tell his friends what God had done for him. His assignment was to give his life to his family and friends, to be a living testimony to God.
It can be difficult to know what God wants us to do. Jesus tells this one to sell everything and follow Him, but He tells that one to go on with their lives. Is there some overriding principle that can reconcile those seemingly different instructions?
Yes, there is. One translation calls it, “The Core Commandment.” In our scripture, Christ says of it, “This is My Commandment.” And what is it? “That you love one another.” He says that over and over. I hammer that same point time after time. I don’t dare ignore it.
Let me tell you a sad story of two churches. Now these churches have nothing to do with other, but they are both Disciples of Christ churches, just like us. I think we can learn from these churches.
Now one church was doing okay until the pastor went to the National Assembly. Now as a denomination looks for direction, it test flies all kinds of ideas, and at the National Assembly, committees read their reports to see how they fly with the churches.
Well, as you can imagine, one committee raised certain lifestyle and racial issues in connection with a move for church unity among several denominations. As pastors sometimes do, this pastor disagreed with the conclusions of this committee, and could not endorse their activities with the home church.
Now that should have been the end of it. As Disciples of Christ, we are free to disagree with the home office, and with each other. But when this pastor reported back to his congregation, his over-sized staff split into camps of “accept the national assembly’s recommendations” vs. “fight this thing at any cost.”
In the end, some three associate pastors left the church. With their families, they made up half the congregation. Now they were all good people, and they all had strong Christian convictions, but they just couldn’t agree to disagree. Instead, they splintered into half a church.
This is my commandment: love one another, just as I love you. Will I cover my friends with my life spirit? Can I accept them as less than perfect? Do I have to win everyone over to my specific point of view? Maybe I must give up my life for my friends. Or, I may be called to give up my pride for my friends.
This doesn’t say, Win one for the Messiah. It doesn’t say, Be all YOU can be. This is my commandment: love one another.
Now, let me tell you about another church. This one was Disciples of Christ, too. It was a lot like us, nice people and lots of retirees. The neighborhood started changing around it, but the church was content to stay just like it was. They didn’t reach out to the people around them. They were just a bubble of people in a neighborhood of people from somewhere else.
That church hasn’t fared so well, either. As you might imagine, that church is shrinking fast. They love one another, all right, but in a way, they haven’t lived their testimony. Jesus came to save the lost, and told the saved to seek the lost. Jesus said love your neighbor as yourself. So whether you’re saved or lost, you’re supposed to be in the life of this church.
This is my commandment: That you love one another.
It has been said that church, like family, is just common ground for mutual greed. A church doesn’t exist just to serve itself. The love of Christians for one another is a testimony, but a testimony to no one is no testimony at all. We must love one another, and we must also love our neighbors.
Jesus said the we are the branches, and that when God loves us, he prunes us to bear more fruit. Search the scriptures for yourselves, please, but from all I read, it’s always God who does the pruning. We do not prune ourselves, and we certainly do not prune each other.
This is my commandment : Love one another. This is the greatest commandment : Love the Lord God with all your heart, mind and soul, and your neighbor as yourself.
Are we trying to prune others to fit our standards for Christianity? Are we trying to prune ourselves to serve some isolated part of our community? Thank God, we are not, but churches do these things. We are the branches, and our job is to bear fruit, not to be pruning the branches. Let God prune the branches.
I was in a church one time that was big on pruning. Church leaders tried to whip everyone into shape, and they tried to encourage this kind of people and discourage that kind of people to make it a certain kind of church. Those church leaders were desperate to bear fruit, but they wanted to be gardeners and not branches.
At that church, we prayed loud and long, but I felt like my prayers were bouncing off the ceiling. We really believed what our scripture says, that whatever you ask of the Father in Jesus’ name is yours. But we forgot something else that Jesus said : I chose you and appointed you. You did not choose me. Jesus decides who’s in the church. God does the pruning.
I have prayed some very lofty prayers since joining this church. And you know what? God gives me whatever I ask for in Jesus’ name. He lets me preach! He heals and inspires my friends! He brings me new friends! I’m starting to believe what Jesus said, that if we obey his commandments, we will bear fruit. God does the pruning. Jesus is the vine. All we have to do is love one another.
Let our goal not be to be a young church, or a rich church, or a big church, or a musical church, or a modern church, or a primitive church. Rather, let our goal be to be a loving church. This is my commandment : Love one another.
I have a lot of lofty goals still on my prayer list. I think that God responds to people who sincerely try to follow his Son. So I invite you to add these goals to your prayer list as well.
I pray that when our neighbors visit, they may continue to feel right at home and just keep coming back.
I pray that each of us might feel uplifted and encouraged at church.
I pray that the greatest among us will be a servant to all.
I pray that we will be empowered to love our friends, our enemies, and our neighbors as ourselves.
I pray that we will continue to bear much fruit — in friendly visits, courtesy calls, kind words, generous giving, and encouragement.
This is my commandment : Love One Another.
Our scripture says that Jesus gives his commandments that our joy may be complete, and that we may bear much fruit. His will is for our good, and for our good pleasure.
You want to be a leader? Then follow the leader : Love One Another. You want to get organized? Then let’s focus on priorities : Love One Another. You want to be legalistic? Then follow the greatest commandment : Love One Another. You want to serve Christ? Then serve the least of these : Love One Another.
Jesus called us friends, and covered us with his life. Can we do as much for our friends, and for this friend Jesus? Yes we can, if we abide in Him.
This, then, He said, is what I command you : Love One Another. Greater love has no one than this.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Tropical Sands Christian Church – May 26, 2002