April 29, 2010 Leave a comment
5 Easter Yr C, 2/05/2010
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“By this everyone will know”
A young Jew and an old Jew are riding on a bus in Jerusalem.
The young Jew asks, “Excuse me, sir, what time is it?” The old Jew doesn’t answer.
“Excuse me, sir,” the young Jew asks again, “what time is it?” The old Jew still doesn’t answer.
The old Jew says, “Son, the next stop is the last on this route. I don’t know you, so you must be a stranger. If I answer you now, according to Jewish tradition, I must invite you to my home. You’re handsome and I have a beautiful daughter. You will both fall in love and you’ll want to get married. And tell me, why would I want a son-in-law who can’t even afford a watch?”1
Speaking of love, or falling in love, we are all familiar with the old adage, “Love makes the world go round.” And, many of us, perhaps all of us do believe that to be true, because we are the recipients of love. The best books, poems, movies, and songs extol the virtues of love. Human beings who have influenced us the most in life have likely been loving people. As one of my favourite bands that I grew up with, the Beatles used to sing, “All you need is love,” and that really is true. We know that people who have been loved are most likely going to love others. We also know of folks who have been deprived of love and, tragically, many of them turn out to suffer from various kinds of addictions or become criminals.
In today’s gospel, Jesus is in the upper room, Judas has just left to betray him and Peter is shortly going to deny him three times. Yet, Jesus speaks with his disciples in a most intimate way. He is preparing them for his impending death. In John’s Gospel this time of preparation becomes a farewell conversation with his disciples. Now he gives them a new commandment that they are to love one another as he has loved them. Then he goes on to say: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Did you hear that? Jesus says not just a select few; not a tiny elite; no, rather, everyone will know that the disciples follow Jesus if they love one another. I think, over the centuries, a lot of Christians have not taken these words of Jesus seriously enough—for, sad to say, Christians have been rather poor at loving one another, let alone everyone else. Far too much time, energy and resources have been wasted by Christians fighting with, rather than loving one another. And that is tragic, because it has likely turned a lot of folks away from Christianity. Instead of seeing Christ’s presence and love shining through his followers; folks have seen hurtful prejudices, inner fighting and divisions, and worse yet, hatred and wars in the name of Christ and Christianity. Christians, it is true, are not perfect, they are sinners, just like non-Christians. Followers of Jesus have failed to love as Jesus loved and therefore not everyone knows that they are Jesus’ disciples.
Yet, by the sheer grace of God; along with the workings of the Holy Spirit through God’s Word and the Sacraments; Christians have been able to love one another; they have, in fact, and still do, love as Jesus has loved. Yes, Christians have loved one another as Jesus loves because that is why the Christian faith has survived for over two-thousand years. The love of countless Christians has touched the hearts, minds and lives of millions of people, and continues to do so today. Listen to the following story, which illustrates how love made a difference to someone outside the Church:
Bill came around the church often. Whenever he saw a car parked in the lot, he would come tentatively through the door. Bill was homeless and as far as we could tell, had no family. We were all he had.
It was strange. At first congregation members were leery of this shabbily dressed man who showed up at painting bees, yard cleanup bees, and even the odd potluck. But over time, Bill came to be thought of as one of us.
When Bill was asked one day why he chose this particular church out of all the other churches in the downtown area, what he said shocked yet pleased the members: “Because you are the most loving bunch I have ever seen.”2
Yes, Jesus was right; everyone will know that we are his disciples if we are less shy about sharing his love with one another. Recently I attended a dinner at a favourite Chinese restaurant with members of my former congregation, Grace Lutheran, which now has disbanded. However, several members still wished to meet once a month by sharing a meal together at restaurants. The dinner was well attended, and it occurred to me that we were a rather lively group as we chatted and laughed with one another. If anyone was observing us, I would say that our love for one another was present and quite active. The friendly smiles and laughter; attentive listening; hospitable tone of voice; and enthusiastic conversations all communicated to everyone who was observing us our love for one another. Some members of our group are grandparents, and they were joyfully speaking of their time together with grandchildren over Easter. A retired chemistry teacher told us about his move into a new residence, where he is quite content. A couple of other retired chaps spoke of their woodworking projects; one is planning to build a boat. Concerns were shared about the health of others and prayers for them promised. And we even engaged in an interesting theological conversation on the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Now and then, someone would humour us, and joyous laughter would fill the room. Our love and sharing together with each other was real and contagious for those who had the eyes to see. I know I departed from that dinner meeting encouraged and loved; having communed with Jesus himself through the communion/community of sinner-saints.
If Jesus wants everyone to know that we his followers are his disciples by everyone observing how we love one another; then why are we more like spies monopolizing the greatest secret known to humankind than we are advertising experts communicating with every means possible the Best Message Of All Time so that everyone knows? So go ahead and share the love with everyone! Christ’s love for you has set you free to do precisely that!
We cannot know from the outside how much water is in a big tank or boiler. However, somewhere on the tank there is usually a tiny glass gauge, and by the amount of water in that gauge we can tell how full the boiler is. If the boiler is empty, the gauge is empty too.
Love for other people is a kind of gauge of our spiritual life. We cannot tell how much a person loves God, nor should we attempt to judge others. But if a person says, “How do I know how much I love God?” the gauge that may give the answer is, “How much do you love your neighbour?”3 “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Amen.
1 Cited from: Harry Leichter’s Jewish Humor website: < http://www.haruth.com/jhumor/>.
2 Cited from: Emphasis Online.
3 Cited from: Albert P. Stauderman, Let Me Illustrate: Stories and Quotations for Christian Communicators (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1983), p. 172.