What Jesus Wants for His Churches

Pastor Joe Skogmo
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Lowry, MN
Easter 5 | 05.19.2019 | John 13

P: The Holy Gospel according to John the Thirteenth Chapter…
C: Glory to you, O Lord.

Before we enter into the gospel, I want bookend all this with a question we don’t always think to ask: if we are a church that belongs to Christ as he so promises, what does Jesus want for his churches? Carry that question into our gospel reading.

31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
36 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward.” 37 Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.
14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.”
5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life…

P: The Gospel of the Lord.
C: Praise to you, O Christ.

I read all of that to remind us all of the poignancy and emotion of the moment in which our text resides.

Jesus knows what’s next. With hours left to spare he gets right down to what the disciples need to know. He names the most important mark of their community if the disciples are going to continue following him after he departs, and that mark is this: to operate with the certainty that we are loved, and framed by that love, that we love one another, and that is how Christ and his church will be recognized. Repeat.

34…Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Here, Jesus “makes love the distinguishing mark of the church” – know that we are loved, love one another. This is the mark of Christ’s followers. In other words, think about the distinguishing marks of other groups and organizations, think—‘For what are they known?’

Student Council—they are a student led governing body in school.

DNR—they enforce rules and regulations with the goal to sustain wildlife, game, and environment.

Rotary International—they are a leadership networking organization.

AARP—they seek to connect, advocate, and empower seniors.

Vikings fans—they recklessly hope in a team to bring them superficial glory and inevitably console one another in over-reactive, brutal, and repetitive suffering.

Chess Club—they play chess.

Followers of Jesus—according to Jesus himself, their mark should be that they remember they are loved and they share that love with one another and the world. ‘By this everyone will know…’ (v. 35).

My friends, Jesus calls us to this mark. So, this means, the most important mark of the church is not our worship, not our building, not our brand, not our political persuasion, not our income, not our purity, not our outward signs of belief – no, the “characteristic…by which even outsiders can discern…authenticity” …is LOVE.

This means as people drive by on 114 they are not saying merely, “Oh they have the best meatball supper”, “Or oh their addition is beautiful”, or “Oh they have the best music—although, of course, these things can and are a part of our identity, but it is if they are driving by and they are saying, “Those people are loving.” Then, then we are living faithfully into the call Christ is setting for us.

If the call of any congregation is to bear witness to and shine out the glory of God, it is not going to be best done by building the greatest cathedrals, having the coolest website, having the best music, having the smartest people, or by having the most belief (although, these things can and do help)—according to Jesus, to bear witness to and shine out the glory of God is done most importantly by being loving!

Being kind, encouraging, sincerely gracious, committed to unity despite disagreement, being authentically merciful, caring for the poor, the sick, the dying, the unwelcomed, the newcomer, the bereaved, the oppressed—Jesus implies here, with moments left to spare, that “In such love is the glory of God.” This is his commandment.

Now, this is an enormous challenge as broken, busy, imperfect people. This is a “heavy challenge before the contemporary church to evidence in the world” the love of Christ!—but, remember!—you yourselves are “the object of unconditional love” already! (‘Just as I have loved you…).

That is our strength. That is our sustenance as we try to live out Christ’s radical love. His love is our foundation, and this is a critical reminder because God knows we have an enormously difficult time loving one another.

This ultimate command is a weighty one, and a tall order—one at which we will time and time again fail. We will fail to be perfectly gracious to one another: we will withhold forgiveness. We will give our judgement freely. We will withhold our time, our talent, our money. We will not show up. We will hurt others. We will not welcome as we should.

And God knows, Jesus knows this! Remember who he is talking to, here! He is talking to a group that has and will betray him, deny him, and desert him, but that is why he is pleading with them in the form of a promise of HIS love! That is why he gives this command bracketed by promise and assurance—that he loves and that he prepares a place. He knows this will be the most difficult of tasks for us so he proclaims for us a foundation of his established love. “What holds” us together in this difficult, rigorous, ambitious pursuit to love one another is the “persistent love” Jesus already has for us.

Sisters in brothers, the Jesus who commands a great love from us for one another, has given and promised the greatest love for us already.

So…What does Jesus want for his churches?

34…Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

Amen.

     [1] Charles B. Cousar, Beverly R. Gaventa, J. Clinton McCann, Jr., James D. Newsome, Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV—Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), 312.

     [2] Sundays and Seasons Preaching: Year C 2019 (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2018), 157.

     [3] Cousar, Gaventa, McCann, Jr., Newsome, Texts for Preaching, 312.

     [4] Ibid., 311.

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