Saturday, May 5, 2018

Year B, Easter 6, John 15.9-17, Nastiness and Love

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
Jesus words.  Simple.  Straight Forward. 
In the Old Testament, the Prophet Micah has similar words:
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Could God have been clearer?
Is it really so hard to understand?
Love one another as he has first loved us.
How do we do that?
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Do Justice.
Love kindness.
And walk humbly with your God.
This is what God commands us to do.
Here at Peace we put it this way:
God’s purpose for our congregation is to welcome, love and serve all in our local and global community.
To welcome.
To Love.
To Serve.
All ways that we love as God first loved us.
One of the most important words of our purpose statement is one that is quite easy simply to pass over without thinking about it:
In John 3:16 Jesus says, "For God so loved the world. . .”
It would be easier to welcome, love, and serve, if we said “some”, not all.
You know the old adage:  “You can please some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you cannot please all of the people all of the time.”
We could rephrase that to read:  “You can love some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you cannot love all of the people all of the time.”
Unless, of course, you are God.
And the command is that we love as Jesus loved, which means to love all the people, all of the time.
This is difficult for us.
Too often what we practice, and what we have experienced in the church is nastiness, not love.
Mean and spiteful.
Unpleasant, disagreeable, and offensive behavior.
I have experienced both in the Church.  Love and Nastiness.
And if I’m honest, there have been times when I’ve been loving, and other times when perhaps I was guilty of being “nasty”.
And when I think of those times when I have been “nasty” to others, one thing stands out.
There have been times that I have felt so convinced in my own heart that I was right, and others were wrong, that I felt entirely justified in being “nasty”, in pushing hard for my point of view, and in short, simply not being very loving or kind.
It’s why the prophet Micah links humility with loving kindness. 
I’d suggest to you that it is most difficult to love when we are not humble.  And perhaps the only way to love is through humility.
I’m going to spare you a long confession of all the ways I’ve been “nasty”.
I mean, you’re going to vote later on whether I should be your pastor.  Today’s not the day to confess my ‘nastiness’.  But just bear in mind that I am human, and I can be as nasty as the next person.
Often nastiness is combined with pettiness in the church. 
One of my favorite examples was shared by a friend, Connie, long before I went to seminary.
Connie was a pastor’s wife, and at the time they were in St. Louis serving a parish.  She attended the monthly meeting of the womens’ group and two of the women got into a long dragged out fight.  They went back and forth after each other, and neither would back down.
The issue?
The women wanted to buy a new measuring cup for the church kitchen, and the women were debating whether it should be one of those Pyrex ones, or a plastic one.
I remember another member, now gone, who confessed to me that her greatest gift was also her biggest weakness.
“Witty sarcasm” is what she considered to be one of her traits, her gifts, but she acknowledged that too often her sarcastic humor had hurt people, even though she had not intended to.
Another example:  There was a woman in my last parish that was so concerned that the Church was being properly cleaned by the custodian, that she constantly watched over his shoulder.
One time she decided to hide post it notes, with nasty messages, throughout the church just to test whether the custodian was actually cleaning everything.  The result was that the custodian and his wife spent an entire evening searching for each and every note.  Oh, and by the way, it was behavior like this that resulted in their leaving our congregation.
Love as I have first loved you. 
One is Godly and Divine.  The other isn’t.
By contrast, I could go on and on about the loving things people have devoted themselves to over the course of my ministry.
For example, that woman who confessed to hurting people with her ‘witty sarcasm’ was also one of the most generous people I have met.  She was the largest contributor to our congregation on a month to month basis, but it went beyond that.
One of the most joyful things she ever asked me to do, was to take a thousand dollars that she gave, and give it to someone who needed it. 
A gracious loving act.
Or I’m reminded of Elsie.
She was the matriarch of our first congregation, one of the founding members.  She went out of her way to love us and care for me as her pastor and for my family.
She became the adopted grandmother for our children.
She’d have us over for dinner.
Her husband would take me fishing.
And she made sure the congregation took care of us during years that were particularly difficult financially.
Loving kindness.
I think of Francis Crabtree.
Francis was nearing a hundred years old, but she still loved.
She spent her days sewing quilt tops for the ladies to tie for Lutheran World Relief, as our own sewing group does.  It was almost comical; the effort it took to put her quilts together, because toward the end she simply couldn’t sew a straight line.
But the people who received her quilts, people around the world who were victims of natural disasters, or refugees, or simply impoverished, didn’t care.  They were warm.  And that’s all Francis cared about.
And then there was George.
George was a retired, full bird, colonel, a pilot in the Air Force.
He was also one of the most conservative people I have ever met, and used to joke that he was a “Little to the right of Attila the Hun”.  There were times when George’s nastiness came out, and he was accused more than once of being an outright bigot, which perhaps he was.
But he was also compassionate.
Even though George, as a conservative, opposed government programs like welfare, he was the first to support the homeless shelter, or to offer me money to distribute to the needy.
And though he would rant about the sinfulness in our world, he would also absolutely maintain “that if anyone asks our forgiveness, we must forgive them, we have no other choice, because Jesus requires that of us.”
Loving kindness.
Many people.  Faithful servants of God.
Bishops and pastors.  Lay people.  Family members.
Gentle souls.
If we’re lucky, we’ve all experienced the love and grace of such people.  Likely, that’s why we are part of the Church. 
And yes, love is much more powerful than the petty nastiness that too often creeps in.
Love as you have first been loved.
Sometimes I would like to shout to the mountain tops “Jesus wasn’t nasty”, because based on the behavior of many Christian you might think he was.
Thankfully, though, in the end it has been the love people have offered in the name of Christ that has endured.
Over the years, what I have found is that when people have been their nastiest, God has sent others who have shown the most loving kindness imaginable.  God is like that.
That is the challenge for us in the Church.
Can we respond to the nastiness in this world by being a force of love?
There is no greater witness to the love of God, than the love we share with one another.
Sometimes we think that being a faithful Christian mean obeying the law, and requiring others to do likewise.  And that’s where some of our nastiness comes in.
But faithfulness to Jesus Christ is about loving. 
As Paul writes in Romans, chapter 13:
“Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”
God’s purpose for our congregation is to welcome, love and serve all in our local and global community.
That’s why we are here, folks, that’s why we are here.

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