John 13:31-35 • April 28, 2013
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and risen Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.
A teenager came home from choir practice early one evening. His dad asked, “Why are you home so soon?”
“We had to call off choir practice this week,” the young man replied. “The accompanist and choir director got into a terrible fight about how we should sing, ‘Let There be Peace on Earth,’ so we quit for the night.”
It was a long, long, time ago – and since I’m part of this story, I reserve the right to not share with you just how long ago it was. It was in a place far, far away – Wilton, ND. Well, OK, maybe not that far away, but when you make a daily trek to Wilton in the depths of a North Dakota winter as a college student, it sure feels a lot further than it really is.
I was in my final year of college, finishing a degree in music education. This is the semester that I had worked toward and waited three whole years to experience. I…was finally a student teacher.
One of the highlights and great joys of my semester student teaching in Wilton was the fifth and sixth grade beginner band. I loved those kids. I loved how hard they worked. I loved how much fun they had playing together. I loved how we walked through the ancient rituals of practice, how we encouraged one another along the way, and how we tried to make sure that everyone who wanted to play in the band had the opportunity to play in the band.
The day finally came after weeks of hard work.
The spring concert.
The gym was packed as I walked to the front of the band, lifted my conductor’s baton, and hoped that someone, someone, even if it was just one person would remember what we had been working on, would remember something about the music that we had prepared for this concert. That all of the study and rituals we had experienced together in the band room somehow had become part of who they now were. That somehow, even if it was just one person, they would follow the direction of my baton and play their instrument. And that it would sound something like what a band is supposed to sound like.
And you know what, they did.
And as I remember that night in the Wilton gym, they played pretty well too.
Each week, you and I are given opportunities to walk together through ancient Christian rituals in a gathering called worship. Each day, we are given opportunities to live out our life in Christ through disciplines like prayer and Bible study and at events that gather us together as a community of faith. And you know what brothers and sisters in Christ, each time I have the opportunity to stand before you as one of your pastors and raise my hands toward you to offer a blessing. A blessing that sends you and me into the world to share the beautiful music of God’s love for all people, my hope and prayer is always that somehow, someone, even if it’s just one person will play their instrument of faith and that it will sound something like what Jesus is calling us to sound like in today’s gospel reading. That just one child of God sitting in this worship space will take seriously the command “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
Jesus command to the eleven disciples, and to you and me today, is about love. And for Jesus, love is not simply a feeling that we have from time to time – like our love for chocolate or a large single-pump vanilla latte with an extra shot or that queasy kind of feeling we get when we first realize that we love someone.
I think Pastor Margaret Guenther was on to something when she wrote, “We have cheapened love by using the word carelessly. We have confused the sentimentality of the Hallmark card with the deep, dark mystery of love that is manifested for us in the incarnate Christ. Yes, love can be warm, enfolding and sheltering. Yes, love can feel good. But,” she writes, “love can also be strong and difficult. It can be an impossible challenge.” [Rev. Margaret Guenther, “No Exceptions Permitted,” article in The Christian Century, May 3, 1995]
“Love is hard because it is self-sacrificing. It means putting the good of the other first, even when it hurts.” is what Professor David Lose said this week.
So it’s important that we take time with the fine print in our gospel reading today. Jesus says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus wants these eleven disciples, the first community who follow Jesus to have love for each other. If we read the gospels, it’s pretty easy to see that this seems to be something the disciples really struggle with from time to time.
How are you and I doing with that? I don’t know about you, but if we look at much of Christian history, love is not always the first thing that we are known for. And I’m not just talking about the crusades or the protestant reformation or even the recent history of our own congregation.
What about what happened in your life just a few minutes before you came to worship today or what happened on Tuesday afternoon last week. As followers of the risen savior Jesus Christ, our track record on the love that Jesus is commanding us to live out today isn’t always very good.
That’s why I hope you also heard Jesus saying to the disciples, and to you and me still today, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” “Just as I have loved you,” Jesus says.
Did you catch that? Did you hear that good news of Jesus? God doesn’t love us because we’ve got this love thing all figured out and are always perfect at living with the kind of love that Jesus is talking about today and modeling for us throughout the gospels. The good news of Jesus Christ is that God loved us first.
And God continues to love you and me in spite of all the mistakes we make along the way. And God will never give up on sending us into the world to share the beautiful music of God’s love with others.
So our worship together today will conclude in the same way that Christian worship has concluded for centuries. A Pastor will stand before the followers of the risen Jesus Christ and offer a blessing as ancient words send us out with God’s love and a command for us to share that love with others. “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” we will hear. To which the children whom God loves will respond. “Thanks be to God.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let it be so.