So, I've decided that I'm going to post my sermons. I have to actually talk about something that is applicable to the "pastor" part of my title. For me there is nothing better and nothing worse than preaching. I long to be the one who proclaims God's gracious love in such a way that people actually get it...actually respond to it. I think maybe once or twice that's actually happened; more often than not, I end with a weak 'amen' and an eyeroll to go with it. So, here is where the rest of the world comes in. "Critique me," she says..."but do it lovingly and patiently." Because, although I'm supposedly a grown up, I have yet to figure out how to keep one negative critique from overshadowing ten positive ones. Oh well...
The following sermon was preached May 02; what's that the Fifth Sunday of Easter. I owe a big debt to Professor David Lose for his comments at workingpreacher.org. His "32 words" were the jumping off point for my musings...
I don't normally title my sermons, but if I did, this one would be Jesus' Last Lecture: Love One Another.
“The brick walls are there for a reason,” he said, “They are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something….they’re there to stop the other people.” That’s just one of the things that Randy Pausch wanted to pass onto his children. Another “apologize when you screw up and focus on other people, not on yourself.” I’m sure most of you have heard of Randy’s Last Lecture. I saw him on Oprah, there’s a book, and the lecture has received millions of hits on YouTube. Randy Pausch was a professor at Carnegie Melon when he discovered he had pancreatic cancer and was given just months to live. And so, he decided to give what most professors give after decades of teaching, his Last Lecture. A lecture that millions have heard, but one that he wrote simply for his children—so they would know who their father was, what he wanted out of life, what he longed for for them, how he imagined the world to be. He lived for more than a year, well past what was expected of him, presenting over and over again the people of the world this amazing gift.
Although maybe not to this extent, I would imagine that most people, when faced with their own mortality, when knowing their physical body will no longer be present, they want to leave the world, their family, their children …a piece of themselves—words of wisdom, letters of love and hope, gifts of a life faithfully and gracefully lived.
Today, we hear Jesus’ last lecture. But instead of a 30 minute monologue, or a sermon peppered with all the things we’re told we should do, Jesus’ last lecture is short, to the point and narrowly focused. Knowing he has just hours before he’s arrested and just days before he dies, he distills his years of preaching and teaching into a mere 32 words—words meant to humbly challenge and guide us. “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." Love one another, not invite one another, not don’t sin so much, not give more money to the church, not make sure you worship correctly or sing the right songs or say the right things…but love one another.
Love one another. At first I have to admit I wish Jesus would have made his lecture a little bit longer. A few more details couldn’t have hurt, a few questions answered. Does he really think I’m supposed to love those people? Does loving someone mean helping them no matter who they are, or what they’ve done? Will loving get me loved, or am I going to end up hurt in the process? Can I show love by giving money or taking out the trash or challenging someone’s behavior? 50 or 60 words at least might have given us slow-on-the-uptake followers a little more insight.
But, then, I realize that I’m probably being a little overdramatic…because if Jesus said love one another, he probably simply meant love one another. Don’t ask questions or try and analyze it. Because , I’m pretty sure for most of us, deep in our hearts we know what love means…we know what it looks like….we know when it’s given to us.
And honestly, you are a group of Jesus followers who knows how to love—it’s what brings me back here Sunday after Sunday—the love you show each other inside these walls is amazing-- you give your gifts of time and money and talents, you gather together around the table sharing a meal that strengthens and nourishes, you hear of each other’s needs and you lift them up in prayer. You forgive when mistakes are made and encourage when times are more than tough. And you even get yourselves outside these four walls as well--you invite, you open your doors to your neighbors, your serve pancakes and share your resources with the community.
That’s what love looks like…it is not just loving your children when they behave or your pastor when she preaches well. It’s not just loving your congregation when they work in the community or your parents when they give you what you want. You are loving, not because you’re great and wonderful, but because Jesus first loved and loves you. Jesus loves you…no matter what you’ve done or who you are. And so you in turn love others as Christ loves you—you love the others that Christ loves, you open yourselves up to the love that Christ has for all creation.
Loving as Christ loves, means living in ever-widening kingdom that has broken deeply into this world, a life-giving, loving kingdom that embraces not just First Lutheran in Lee…a kingdom that embraces not just those who look like you, or talk like you, or act like you…a kingdom that embraces not just Lutherans, not just Christians, but a kingdom that embraces…a Christ who loves the entire world. So, yes we do a pretty good job of loving…but, I know…God knows… there’s more left in us.
And so just like Peter who was given this vision to love even those nasty, awful, God-denying Gentiles…we are given a vision to love, to welcome, to serve, to live with all those people we think are more than a little suspect…it means we’re called to love even those people who refuse to learn English, to love and serve even those who drink too much and work too little, even those who have stolen your family or your job or your reputation; we are called to love even those who won’t or don’t love you. We have been given a vision to do that most terrifying, awe-inspiring, difficult, empowering command to Love one another.
This next week, I invite you to be more acutely aware of those painful, beautiful acts of love—of those places where you love the difficult, and where others love the difficult you. Be aware of those times when Jesus stands between you and another…begging you, commanding you, longing for you to live confidently in the promise that he first loves you, and as a loved one, calls you to love all those others you meet.