Sermon: January 8, 2017 – “As I Have Loved You”

“As I Have Loved You”

Text: John 13: 34

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

There is a ladder in my garage that has been with me for quite some time. I don’t exactly remember where we were living when I bought this ladder, but it has seen quite a few projects over the years. The other day I was using this ladder and it occurred to me that if this ladder could talk, it could tell quite a few stories. I wondered to myself if my ladder had noticed that the primary occupant and gotten a little heavier over the years, or did the ladder notice that it took a few seconds longer for me to climb the steps of the ladder.

As I was amusing myself with these fantasy thoughts about my ladder, it dawned on me that my ladder can tell a few stories and it isn’t exactly fantasy. I started to look at my ladder and there are all these bits of paint and stain, there are scuff marks and a dent or two. My ladder does tell stories because it carries with it certain evidence of where it has been and what projects we have worked on together. As I looked at my ladder I could see paint from a house we lived in over 15 years ago, I remember because the color was a bit unique. There were lots of paint drips and smears that I couldn’t identify because I had forgotten.

The interesting thing about my ladder is that it does carry the reminders of almost any project I have been involved in since it was new; and I can’t even remember when that was. That is also an interesting thing about projects, it is almost impossible to do anything without getting some on it on your ladder. There are some of you out there who know exactly what I’m talking about; for you others, you will just have to take our word for it. But there really is evidence of almost every project for the last 15 or 20 years on my ladder. Projects are like that. Especially painting projects; they just get on everything.

Just keep that in mind, because I will want to return to my ladder in a few minutes, but for now I wanted to explore a much more significant topic. This is a personal story and it is intended as a personal story. I’m not wanting anyone to misinterpret anything that I am about to say. I own all of this; but I feel it is so important that I needed to share it with you.

For the past six weeks or so I have been struggling with how to be in relationship with a few of my family members and others that I have grown to know and care for that did not support the same candidate for president that I did. Like I said, this is a personal story; but it may also be your story.

This is a new experience for me. I have had this happen before where some of the family goes one way and I go another; it has never been a big deal. There was one time growing up when I found out that my mother voted one way and my dad voted another and they essentially cancelled each other out! We had some good laughs over that one. But this election is different and I don’t hear anyone laughing. The divisions run deep and it seems everyone has retreated to their own private worlds and surround themselves with only the people who agree with them.

I will tell you that I found the tenor of this campaign troubling on all sides. There were things said and recordings of things said that should never be a part of a dialogue at any time. From my perspective, most of this dialogue was coming from the candidate that I didn’t support. Like I said, this is a personal story. But I have to get through this part for the rest of it to make sense, so please don’t shut down or stop listening. Bear with me.

My personal frustration was that I felt like there were no longer consequences to what anyone said, truth or fiction, racist or bigoted, appropriate or not appropriate, it just didn’t seem to matter. I wanted the rhetoric to stop and I wanted consequences because I was offended.

Ah, there it is. I was offended. I was better than that. I could see clearly where everyone else was obviously in a fog. What is the matter with all these people? Am I the only sane one on the planet?

You know what they call that? They call that being judgmental. There really is a very short list of what Jesus told us to do or not to do and being judgmental is on that list.

Back to my question about how I can be in relationship with these family members and others that are on the other side of the tracks. My answer, like so many others can be found in the words of Jesus that I read a few minutes ago. We need to love each other and we need to love each other as Jesus loved us. That is an important distinction, we need to love as Jesus loved.

You may ask the question; “how did Jesus love?” That is an important question and one worth exploring. Remember when I said that I wanted consequences? When someone said something untrue or simply awful during this campaign, I wanted consequences; I wanted it to matter in a way that made me right and the others wrong. I wanted my position to be validated.

I think the scribes and the priests and the Pharisees felt the same way. Take a look at a few places in scripture where Jesus demonstrates for us how he loves us; he gives us the example.

The first text is John 8: 2-11:

Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

We have another example in Luke 7: 36-50

36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” 41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

There are a lot of other examples. Jesus healed a paralytic on the Sabbath. Jesus healed the Gersaene Demoniac and the locals begged him to leave their town. Jesus spoke with the woman at the well.

When you ask the question of how Jesus loved us, the answer is that Jesus loved without condition and without judgment. Jesus gave us an example to follow rather than an opinion of how we should think or behave. That is what we are called to do as well. The commandment from Jesus is that we are to love as he loved us.

  1. Remember the ladder? As I was talking about my ladder, one of the things I said is that it is hard to have a project, particularly a painting project, and not get some of it on the ladder. The drips of paint stay on long after the project is completed and they tell a story.

Judgment and being self-righteous are the same way. You cannot paint with the brush of judgment without getting some of it on yourself. You cannot paint with a brush of self-righteousness and not get it on yourself. Judgment and being self-righteous is a messy business and it gets all over you and all over your ladder.

But here is what we really need to think about. For the most part a little bit of paint is harmless. It doesn’t hurt anybody. Remember when I said that my ladder carries the reminders of every project I have done since it was new? My ladder is just a ladder and the paint on my ladder is just paint. When we judge or are self-righteous or we feel hate or contempt or we ostracize others or make fun of them, when we fail to show respect for other human beings we inflict wounds that are far more damaging than a drip of paint.

There are some lyrics to a song written by Paul Simon that I think are far more descriptive of what we do to each other when we judge and when we become self-righteous. The name of the song is “The Boxer” and the lyrics go like this:

In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of ev’ry glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
“I am leaving, I am leaving”
But the fighter still remains…

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

Go in peace.

Amen.

 

 

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