Love One Another – March 20, 2016

“Love One Another”

Acts 11:1-18 John 13:31-35


In his autobiography…Mahatma Ghandi…the man whose non-violent protests led to India’s independence from Great Britain…wrote that in his student days in England he was deeply touched by reading the Gospels and seriously considered becoming a convert to Christianity. He felt it offered a real solution to the caste system that divided the people of India. One Sunday he attended church services and decided to ask the minister for enlightenment on salvation and other doctrines. But…when Ghandi entered the sanctuary the ushers refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go elsewhere to worship with his own people. He left and never came back. He said to himself, “If Christians have caste differences also I might as well remain a Hindu.” The American poet…Edwin Markham…gave the message another way. “Some draw a circle that shuts men out; Race and position are what they flout; But Christ in love seeks them all to win, He draws a circle that takes them in.” Where would we have Ghandi worship? Where would we draw the circle? As I listen to conversations and watch the news reports I fear too many would suggest Ghandi worship elsewhere and the circle would be drawn very small. Our attitude toward the world…including those who do not know God…is supremely important…especially in this world that seems to grow more divided and angry every day. That is the basis for the book of Jonah. It was the prophet’s bad attitude toward the world that landed him in the belly of the great fish. God was telling him…”Jonah, this is what I think of your self-will, your prejudice, your elitism. Take a good look.” In Christ there is no basis for discrimination of any kind. Prejudice or elitism on the lips of a believer is like an obscenity…whether it be racial, national, cultural or social. James says, “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.” (James 2:1) If only there had been more love and less bias in that usher’s heart when he met Ghandi. The future leader had read the New Testament and had even seriously considered Christianity, but his conclusion was, “I like the New Testament, I like your Christianity, but I do not like your Christians.” What a difference it makes when we look at others with attitudes that are inclusive…open-armed…optimistic…and lovingly and courteously aggressive. The story that Peter told the crowd in Judea reminds us that God wants to create in us his attitude toward the world. The gospel never changes. But we can become unchangeable…inflexible…and thus unusable. What are our attitudes toward others? Exclusive…pessimistic…passive? Or concerned…hopeful…actively loving? We need to regularly consider Peter’s vision and its meaning for us today. We should also consider Jesus’ command. He called it a new command….though the command to love was as old as the days of Moses. Jesus called it new because his radical love demanded a new object and a new measure. The object was “one another”. The Jews of Jesus’ day had so watered down the teaching of Moses that they could love whom they wanted and hate whom they wanted. But Christ changed the object from “neighbor” to “one another”. This was a radical new commandment. The world at that time was divided by prejudicial divisions that make some of our differences seem pale by comparison…master and slave…Jews and Gentiles…and so on. The Greeks regarded the Jews as barbarians. The Jews had the reputation of being haters of the world. There was also a vast chasm between men and women. The Scottish minister…Alexander MacLaren…described what happened because of Jesus’ command. “Barbarian, Scythian, bond and free, male and female, Jew and Greek, learned and ignorant…sat down at one table, and felt themselves all one in Christ Jesus. They were ready to break all other bonds, and to yield to the uniting forces that streamed out from his Cross. There never had been anything like it. No wonder that the world began to babble about sorcery, and conspiracies and complicity in unnamable vices. It was only that the disciples were obeying the new commandment, and a new thing had come into the world…a community held together by love and not by geographical accidents or linguistic affinities, or the iron fetters of the conqueror….The new commandment made a new thing, and the world wondered.” It was like a band of brothers and sisters that the church conquered the world. It was a glorious band of brothers and sisters that sailed the oceans and marched through the continents to both dungeon and throne with the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ! One of the reasons they succeeded is that mankind…severed from one another…longing to come together…witnessed real love among the followers of Christ…and especially among believing Jews…the narrowest…most bigoted…most intolerant nation on the face of the earth at the time. Left to ourselves…we seek our own. Movie stars marry movie stars. Doctors seek out doctors. Middle-classers seek out middle-classers. Bikers seek bikers. But when Christ comes that changes. In the church of Jesus Christ, we discover that the people we love and with whom we fellowship are different from us. The more there is the love Christ told us to have…a real love for one another…the greater will be the diversity within the body of Christ. The commandment was also new because of its measure. Christ thought…if we are making friends and loving those whom we never would have before we met Christ, praise God…the love of Christ is working in and through us! The measure of this love is, “as I have loved you.” Here is the command’s radical nature. While it is sometimes difficult to love your neighbor as yourself as the old command had it…it is far more difficult to love others as Christ loves them. That is sacrificial love. On this Palm Sunday let us reflect on this command. Jesus rode into town on a young donkey just as scripture prophesied…so that people would believe…would follow his command. Yet…he knew the way the week would end. If he had not loved as he wants us to love would he have done so. On this Sunday…when families, friends and our community mourn the deaths of two young men in senseless violence on Friday…let us ask if everyone following Jesus’ command would have prevented the violence and could prevent more. At the last supper that love was defined by Jesus’ dealing with Judas. When Jesus said, “Men, love one another as I have loved you,” the disciples naturally thought of Jesus’ love…his consistency… his washing their feet. But the disciples were at a disadvantage. They could not then know how Jesus was even loving Judas. Though Judas was his enemy, the Savior reached out to him. Within the church if we are to love one another as Jesus loved us, we must reach out in reconciliation…love and forgiveness…to those who are wronging us. And when that is done…it becomes a convincing argument for the gospel. Jesus said…”By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” It’s not about pinning labels on someone…or some group…then deciding to love or hate that person or group because of that label. However…that seems to be much in vogue these days. The greatest gift that we as the body of Christ can give the world is to love each other. If we do that, those on the outside will desire to learn more about the gift of gifts, the King of kings himself…the one who rode triumphant on the donkey colt to fulfill the Scripture that we might believe. The radicalness of Jesus’ love in the Upper Room came as he reached out to one with whom he was not in agreement. He expects us to reach out in love likewise.