Loving into the Second Fifty
Easter V; April 24, 2016
This is table-talk. You know how sometimes when you are with family and friends, you have dinner together, and then you clear away the dishes and sit and talk. Perhaps you are nursing a cup of coffee or tea, or a glass of brandy, and you talk over the events of the day. Perhaps Uncle Walter gets a bit introspective, remembering advice his mother gave him. Perhaps your best friend admits to her struggle over whom to vote for in the primary. Maybe the next-door-neighbor heard a good joke and shares it and, to your surprise, it really is a good joke. Dinner is over, you're not quite ready to get up from the table, and you talk.
The tension might be rather high if something dramatic has just happened. The conversation got heated, your brother has stormed out, and everyone looks at each other for a moment. "What just happened?" And then the conversation resumes, but the air crackles a bit.
On that Thursday evening, Jesus and his friends are at the table. They have had their dinner and the ritual that goes with it. Some strange things have happened. Jesus washed their feet and told them that it was an example of how they were to treat one another. "You should do as I have done to you" (13:15). While they were eating, he took the bread – part of the ritual meal – and called it his body. He took the wine – also part of the ritual meal – and called it his blood. And he said one of them would betray him, at which point Judas left. There was tension in the air. And Jesus began to speak.
"Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him." What? If you were at that table with Jesus and your friends and Judas had just been fingered as a betrayer and then slipped out into the night, what would you expect Jesus to say? What is this glory he is talking about? It's important that we get this, people of God, otherwise the line that comes a little later and which we like a whole lot more – "Love one another" – will not make any sense. What does he mean about being glorified?
Some of our songs talk about glorifying God: they usually mean wave your hands in the air and sing louder. Some people talk about glorifying God by getting the legislature to make the Bible the state book or by putting up a big neon cross. But if you read the Gospel and pay attention to what it says, you will see what Jesus means by glorifying God. Jesus consistently talks about glorifying God by being raised high on the Cross. In the mind of Jesus, he glorifies God by giving his life away for the sake of the people God is struggling to save. And the wheels are turning, now that Judas has slipped away into the night. Now the Son of Man has been glorified; now the Cross looms near.
The glory of God is the Lord Jesus on the Cross, giving away his life for the sake of those God is struggling to save. The glory of God is the self-giving love of Jesus, suffering and dying and rising again for your sake and for mine, and for the sake of the world that God is struggling to save. The love of Jesus is the love that saves the world, the love that gives his life for the sake of the world, the love that sees the greatest act of glory to be not to get his face on the cover of Rolling Stone or to be have the largest number of followers on Twitter, but the greatest act of glory is to be raised on a cross, to give his life away for those God is struggling to save.
After dropping that gem on them, while they're trying to process it, he goes on to tell them that where he's going they cannot follow. I would like to go into this, but it isn't central to the idea for today, so I'll let it go. Get in touch if you want to hear what I was going to say.
Then he concludes this train of thought with what he calls a "new commandment:" "Love one another as I have loved you." We already have ten commandments; why do we need a new one? Perhaps you remember that during the season of Lent Sara and I preached our way through the two Great Commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, might, and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself. We have those two commandments, too. That makes twelve. And those two are both commands to love: Love God and love your neighbor. What makes this one new?
You're way ahead of me: of course, what's new is the part to love one another "as I have loved you." Love God with all your being: we've already talked about how hard that is. Love your neighbor as yourself: that doesn't sound hard until you think about that neighbor who is so crabby or the neighbor who keeps a car on blocks by his house. But this? Love one another as I have loved you. Just as Jesus has loved his way to the glory of the Cross, so Jesus commands us to love one another. And that is hard, too. How in the world are you supposed to love that idiot over there who never pulls his own weight, or that self-centered woman you find so annoying? You don't even like them very much, and yet you're supposed to love them to the glory of the Cross? Love them so that you give your life away for them? How do you do that?
Lots of folks have weighed in on this question and I've found a lot of really good advice. The one that resonates with me most strongly, though, comes from St. Augustine. You see, Augustine paid attention to the mission of Jesus, what Jesus was doing, and who he was talking to. Augustine paid attention to Jesus' words about glorifying God by going to the Cross. Augustine remembered that Jesus was committed to making each of us the dwelling place of God, committed to bringing God to each of us and opening our hearts and minds to the spirit of God. And so, Augustine said that you and I love one another as Christ has loved us by making each other the dwelling place of God.
Remember what we are about here: we are the people of God. We are here to be the body of Christ, the presence of God in our city. We are here to be the presence of God for each other. And Augustine tells us that we love one another as Christ has loved us when we do all we can to bring God to each other.
We are together as a congregation not because we like each other, not because we have the same interests, not because we have the same political commitments, and not even because we see God in the same way. We are together because God has called us to make each other the dwelling place of God, to do all we can to bring God to each other. If your primary concern as church members is to look around you and ask, "How can I help make those folks the dwelling place of God?" then you are on the road to glory, to loving one another as Christ has loved you.
What does that have to do with launching a capital campaign today? Plenty, because we are inviting you to love one another as Christ has loved you. It isn't sexy, I know, to make necessary building repairs and to connect to the city sewer system. Now it's easy to see how part of the project is, at least, an act of hospitality: creating our new Commons as a welcome center and creating a new child-care facility for the sake of those who will come later at least look to the future. But I see this capital campaign as an act of self-giving love in at least two ways.
Obviously, all of us are being asked to give sacrificially. Kathleen and I have made a point of increasing our regular monthly pledge to the Church this year, and on top of that we have made a sizeable commitment to this capital campaign. We do so because of our commitment to Jesus Christ, who has loved us sacrificially. Kathleen and I feel called to express our love for you in a meaningful and sacrificial way by our pledge to this Campaign. You also will be asked to give in a way that is both sacrificial and meaningful. It is to be an act of love, love not only for the folks around you now, but also love for folks that we hope will come around in ten, twenty, or more years, after many of us are gone. We are loving people we do not even know, but who will be the dwelling place of God in the future.
And secondly, we are all being pushed a little outside our comfort zone. I'm always puzzled when people talk about being comfortable in church. I can't find anywhere in the Bible that we are called to be comfortable: we are called to love, to rejoice, to be saved, but I don't see that we are called to be comfortable. Our society tells us we aren't supposed to talk about sex (actually, we talk about sex all the time; maybe Christians can talk about it honestly, though), politics, God, money, or death. Followers of Jesus Christ need to learn to talk to each other about all of these things. In this campaign, individual Christians will be talking to other individual Christians about that taboo subject – money – and that will be good for us. It will help us to grow spiritually. If we do not hide from one another but in confidence talk with one another about what we can do for our Church then we will get beyond simply being comfortable and take a step on the road to glory.
Well, there's a whole lot more that can be said, especially on the subject of loving one another. But I think these two points go well beyond simply a capital campaign: sacrifice and openness with one another. Don't you see both of those embodied in the ways and glory of Jesus? His desire to make us the dwelling place of God led him to speak to us bluntly and honestly about himself and about us and about God; and it led him to the glory of the Cross. If we love one another as Christ has loved us, then the first fifty years of our life as a congregation will be just the beginning of the road of glory, carried into the second fifty.
Love one another as Christ has loved you. Make one another the dwelling place of God. Jesus walked the road of glory, the road to the Cross, in love for you and me and to make us the dwelling place of God.
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master
Benson Presbyterian Church