“By Our Love”
(Bible-New Revised Standard Version)
Corinthians 13: 1-13
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
John 13: 31-35
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
I have a friend I will call Sally I know from a sister church back in my New York Conference. Sally is a lovely woman of color. Sally once shared that her family had outgrown their home, and moved to a new home in a white middle-class neighborhood across town. This new home met all of their requirements and needs, so Sally’s family decided they would venture out into this new living experience.
The new neighbors were not welcoming on moving day, and although Sally’s children managed to make some new friends in the neighborhood through school, Sally did not have any interaction with her new neighbors for many weeks. Finally, one day Sally was cooking dinner and called out the front door to tell her children it was time to come home. When they did not return, Sally began to walk down the block looking and calling for them. Suddenly, from a partially closed door, a woman’s head popped out and told Sally that her children were in her back yard just finishing up a game they were playing. Sally politely thanked the woman who had alerted her about her children, and she informed the woman that she needed to get back home to the spaghetti sauce she was cooking on the stove. In amazement, the woman stepped out onto her porch. “You make spaghetti sauce?” she exclaimed. “What do you put in it?”
Well, Sally began to share her sauce recipe with her neighbor, who quickly invited Sally onto her porch for some ice tea while she took down the list of ingredients. With that interaction, the ice was broken, and Sally became a welcome new member of the local neighborhood. It was a newfound friendship sealed with the glue of a spaghetti sauce recipe. But, as Sally reflected upon that event, she realized that it meant much more in the grand scheme of life. It was a real-life validation that we humans are all more alike than we often imagine, if only we can find our way to those commonalities we share. It gave Sally, a woman of strong faith, the hope for a brighter day; a day when all God’s people will walk together in love-not in tolerance, not in a state of resigned acceptance, but in a love that celebrates…yes celebrates, that we are all God’s beautiful and diverse people, both fearfully and wonderfully made.
Sadly, church, Sally shared this story over twenty years ago; and we are not nearly there yet. In fact, some recent events might even lead us to conclude that not only are we no further ahead, but we have actually gotten even further behind. As of October 25th of 2022, there have been forty incidents of school shootings involving student injury and death in our nation. A recent article I read shared the tragic story about a young gay couple who chose to make a joint death pact and to end their lives rather than suffer the agony of life in this world. I also just saw an exposé on TV about the acts of torture and destruction upon innocent people in the Ukraine leaving them refugees seeking a safe homeland. People of Asians and Jewish descent living in our country are suffering unspeakable acts of discrimination and ill-treatment, and the list of atrocities and injustices goes on and on. Even our own United Methodist Church is not beyond the grasp of divisions that threaten the very future of our Denomination as we currently know it. Our Bishop, Rev. Tracy Malone, recently sent a note to all pastors asking churches in our Conference to lay aside our differences and divisions over issues related to God’s gift of human sexuality, and any discussions regarding disaffiliating from our United Methodist Denomination during the Advent and Christmas season. Instead, she has called her churches to share a cohesive, united, and holy Advent and Christmas Season. This is a sacred time for all Christians to come together and remember how God’s love came to be revealed to us in the birth of our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus. Both as Christians and as United Methodists, we need to covenant to follow our Bishop’s advice, striving to look beyond our differences toward the common ground of our human weakness, and our need of God’s loving grace that brought us Jesus. Our Bishop is calling us to move ever closer to the same day that my friend Sally envisioned over twenty years ago-when mutual love that respects our differences without harsh judgement will reign in our hearts. No, we are not nearly there. Yet, as people of faith we have courage to believe that with God even these things are possible. We are not promised it will be easy, but that it is possible.
I chose the scripture lessons from John Chapter 13 and 1Corinthians Chapter 13 for this morning because they remind us just whose we are, and who we are commanded to be as we live in this world. We are Disciples of Christ Jesus, charged with making and equipping more Disciples of Christ to work together for the transformation of the world. So church, speaking the truth in love to you, as the Apostle Paul has admonished maturing Christians to do, I say to you today that we cannot hope to transform the world until we ourselves are transformed. We cannot hope for or expect this world to be different unless we, as members of Christ’s Holy Church, step up to be difference makers and keepers of peace with justice in our time. They’ll know we are Jesus’ Disciples when we show them-by our love.
Jesus said in today’s lesson from John Chapter 13, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. “Jesus said to us, “love as I have loved you.” Jesus’ love is steadfast and unconditional. It is love that is blind to color, race, ethnicity, gender identity, status, wealth, power, ability, or any other human-made barrier that we can invent to separate us from one another. As we read in today’s lesson from 1Corinthians, this love, like the love of our Lord, Jesus, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things; it is a faithful, intentional, and sacrificial love that never quits; and never ends.
There is cause today for us to have hope, church. People are standing in the gap to both pray and care for the needs of others in tangible ways. RAHAB Ministries in Akron that we supported with clothing and financial donations this summer meets the victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation right where they are in love, without making harsh judgements. Partnering with RAHAB through our gifts of clothing for clients and financial aid makes it possible for RAHAB to reach more of God’s neediest people right here in Akron as we become part of the solution to the need of hurting people. Our participation in the Open M lunch program brings needed food to some of the least in our community. These are acts of true love; the Jesus kind of love. But, perhaps our greatest act of the unconditional love and respect of Jesus is found in our being a Reconciling Congregation. All are welcome into our safe space, where we strive to live our motto of “Open hearts, open minds and open doors.”
We are not there yet, church, for there is more to be done for the kingdom here on earth. As his followers, we have a commandment to follow his example and love others as he loves us. We are called to become a part of the healing solution to the many others injured by the oppression, hatred, and acts of violence that are so prevalent in our world today. That is what it means to truly be Disciples of our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus, and that is how we will transform the world-by our ongoing loving actions that mirror Christ’s love for us. Yes, the hour has come to show that we are Christians, Disciples of Christ Jesus, by shining the light and love of Christ upon the world’s darkness. We must seek and find the places of common humanity we share with others, no matter how different they may seem to be. Jesus said, “By this they will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” If we want others to know we are Jesus’ disciples, he told us the way; they’ll know we are Christians… by our love! Amen.