Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, August 24, 2019
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Loving Like Jesus

John 13:31-35

 In Hebrew culture of the first century, it was common for a rabbi to call his disciples “children,” and for the disciples to call the rabbi “father.”  It was also customary for a father to give a “last testament” to his children, when he knew death was near.  This testament would be important words of blessing or instruction.  So this might be best understood as Jesus’ last testament.  He knows his time with his disciples is short.  So he reminds them of the most important thing in his teaching:  “Love one another, as I have loved you.”

 The command to love one another was not new.  That was part of the Old Testament.  But Jesus qualified it by saying, “as I have loved you.”  The chapter begins with a demonstration of Jesus’ love.  Even though he was the teacher and master, he washed the feet of his disciples, when it should have been the other way around.  And the chapter ends with Jesus telling the disciples and us to emulate his ways of loving others.  

 Such love is attractive to those outside the Church and it also helps to strengthen and hold the Church together in the face of a hostile world.  By this kind of love, the world will know that we truly follow Jesus.  

 Well, then, how did Jesus love?  I’m sure that others could add to this list, but these are the things that stand out to me in the Gospels.

 First, Jesus excluded no one from his love.  He did not exclude tax collectors, even though they were seen as “traitors to the nation.”  He did not exclude prostitutes and other “notorious sinners.”  He did not exclude Samaritans, even though they were an unpopular religious and ethnic minority.  He did not exclude Romans, even though they were foreign oppressors.  He did not exclude Pharisees, even though they were a group that was frequently at odds with him.  Jesus welcomed all who came to him and he associated with all.  He associated with rich and poor, fellow Jews and foreigners, the strictly religious and the outright sinners.  

 Likewise, we should exclude no one from our love.  Not unpopular minority groups, not notorious sinners, no one.  God so loved the world and Jesus died for the sins of the world.  No one is excluded from God’s love.  

 But I think it’s important to remember that while Jesus welcomed all, he also spoke the truth to all people, even when the truth was difficult or uncomfortable.  It’s no act of love to hide the truth.  Jesus met sinners where they were, but he didn’t leave them where they were.

 In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus did not lower the bar of God’s expectations of our behavior.  If anything, he raised it.  Jesus said plainly that sin separates a person from God, whether that sin was greed, slander, pride, sexual immorality, theft, murder, or deceit.  When Jesus confronted the woman caught in adultery, he did not cast the first stone, but he also told her to go and sin no more.  When Jesus spoke with the rich young man, he told him that his righteousness was lacking.  Jesus loved him enough to tell him that his riches were his idol and that he should sell them and give to the poor.  When asked about sin and suffering, Jesus affirmed that all people must repent of their sin.  

 Jesus loved people enough to meet them where they were, even if where they were was a life mired in sin.  But Jesus also loved people too much to leave them where they were.  We do a disservice to the love of Jesus if we do not meet people where they are.  But we also do a disservice to his love if we fail to proclaim the truth:  “Repent of your sin and believe the gospel.”  

 Jesus could do this because he understood people.  He lived with them.  He knew their faults and their failures.  Jesus didn’t stay up in heaven and love us from a distance.  He came down and made his dwelling among us.  He knew what people were like and he loved them nonetheless.  

 We have a saying, “Love is blind.”  No, real love has wide open eyes.  Real love sees people just as they are and loves them in spite of all their failures.  Peter was rash and impetuous.  Judas was a traitor.  All of them deserted Jesus to save their own necks.  None of them understood his teachings as well as they should have.  And Jesus still loved them.  In the same way, we can’t love people from a distance.  We have to love people up close, “warts and all.”  

 And along with that, Jesus forgave people.  When people made mistakes, Jesus forgave them.  All the disciples abandoned him when he was arrested.  Jesus didn’t throw up his arms and say, “The heck with that crowd.  I’m going to find me some new

followers.”  He restored them.  We looked last Sunda at Jesus restoring Peter after Peter had denied that he even knew Jesus.  

 We can never love like Jesus unless we are willing to forgive others.  We cannot have a community of love in the Church without forgiveness.  Without the willingness to overlook each other’s faults and forgive each other’s failings, we can never be the Body of Christ.  

 Fifth, Jesus loved people selflessly.  Sometimes we love others with the thought of what we can receive in return.  Even if we won’t admit it.  How will loving this person make me happy?  I don’t think we see that with Jesus.  Jesus fed a crowd because they were hungry.  Even if most of them didn’t follow him the next day.  Jesus healed ten lepers, even though only one came back to say thank you.  Jesus healed people that he would never see again.  On at least one occasion, he healed someone he never saw at all.  

 Closely related to this, Jesus helped people in need. His love was not just a warm, fuzzy feeling.  It wasn’t just encouraging words.  Jesus helped people.  He acted.  He fed them, he healed them, he welcomed them.  

 The world will not believe that we really love people unless we act. It’s always easier and less risky not to act.  Acting will cost us something.  Acting will expose us to risk.  But we must love with actions because that’s what Jesus did.  And there’s always one thing we can do for others, even if we lack the ability or resources to help in any other way:  We can always pray.  We can always seek God’s power to be at work in another person’s life.  

 Finally, Jesus loved sacrificially.  He laid down his life for others.  There was no limit to his love.  It was not this far and no farther.  He loved “to the uttermost.”  

 Often, we’re okay with loving others, but only to a point.  A sensible amount of love.  But we can’t love like we’re supposed to, we can’t love like Jesus, unless we’re willing to love without limits.  

 None of us should find these words of Jesus to be easy or comfortable.  They are most definitely not.  None of us measure up to this command.  But Jesus never called us to ease or comfort.  Jesus called us to love as he did, even if it costs us dearly. 

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