Why are you here today? Some People come to worship for a variety of reasons: habit, to see their friends, to worship God, or to be fed spiritually. I hope one of the reasons you are here today is because you want to grow as a follower of Jesus. You want to draw closer to God and be more in tune with God’s desires for your life. You see, you’ve all probably made a decision to be a Christian and to follow Jesus, but that was not the end point. That was just the beginning of a life long journey of spiritual growth and learning. We grow deeper in our relationship with God every day.
So let me show you a story about two men who grew closer to God. It happened because they learned how to forgive and how to be forgiven. They learned how to love one another. We then watched a clip from CBS Evening News. In 2005, Benton Harbor Police Officer Andrew put Jamel in jail for drugs. The thing is, he was not a drug dealer or user. He spent four years in prison for it. Andrew, was eventually caught and Jamel cleared. Jamel was originally looking for revenge. But when both were out of jail, they ended up working through the same program at the same place. Jamel forgave Andrew. He said he forgave him not for himself and not for Andrew but for all of us. Because he’s a follower of Jesus and that’s what’s Jesus’ followers do. We love and we forgive.
Well let’s have a look at scripture and see where that comes from. I want to give you the context for the scripture that was read today (John 13:31-35 from The Message paraphrase). Jesus has just shared his last meal with his disciples and he has washed their feet. Then he says, “One of you will betray me.” He gives a sign that Judas is the one who will betray him. Then he says to Judas, “What you must do, do and get it over with.” So Judas leaves. He is one his way to get the chief priest who will come and carry Jesus away to be arrested. Judas is a lot like the police officer, Andrew, in the video. He causes Jesus to be falsely accused and arrested.
This is where we pick up our story for today. Jesus tells his disciples that he won’t be with them much longer and that they can’t go with him to where he is going. Then he tells them he will give them a new commandment. He says: “Love one another as I have loved you.” This is an interesting choice. Jesus could have commanded them to go and make disciples; or go and preach the good news, but he instead give them the simple, and not so simple, commandment to “love one another.” He says that by their love this is how people will know they are his disciples. Their love will draw people to God. This love Jesus is talking about is not just about being nice to one another, it’s more than that. It’s not a romantic love. This is not about only loving people who love you back, that’s easy. This is a deep kind of love. This is the kind of love that Jamel and Andrew formed for one another after years of hurt that culminates in forgiveness. Jesus’ followers dig deep in order to love.
One way we dig deep to love one another is to forgive. This is so hard. When someone does something to harm us it’s hard to forgive. But when a sincere apology is offered, followers of Jesus forgive. We give a second chance. I can’t imagine being Jamel and going to prison for 4 years and losing my whole life. That is a nightmare from which you cannot wake up. Andrew had no explanation for him. He did not try to make excuses. He simply said, “I’m sorry.” And because Jamel is a Christian he dug deep and forgave Andrew.
Who do you need to forgive? Maybe they have offered an apology and maybe they have not. Even if they have not, it will help give you peace in your own heart if you forgive them. Carrying around anger and resentment just cause us harm. All that negative energy weighs us down. Jesus wants us to do the loving thing. Jesus wants us to let go and forgive. We love one another when we forgive.
The apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians about loving one another. He says love is patient. Are you patient with those around you? I know this is a hard one for me. Do you try to put yourself in their shoes when they start to annoy the heck out of you? Perhaps you lose patience with children or with older people or with co-workers who just don’t get it.
When you find yourself losing patience, what coping strategies can you use? Can you take a deep cleansing breath and center yourself in God? Can you count to ten? Can you leave the room for a few minutes for your own “time out” and then come back to the situation? It’s easy to cop out and just say “I don’t have patience” but we can cultivate the virtue of patience if we want to. Just slow down. Ask God to help you. We love one another when we are patient.
Paul also writes that love is kind. Now, Kindness is deeper than just being nice and polite. Kindness is going out of your way to do something generous and loving for a person. Many years ago there was a saying “Do random act of kindness.” People would be creative about doing acts of kindness for strangers like paying for the meal of the next person in the drive through; or mowing the grass or shoveling the snow for a neighbor you don’t even know. Kindness is babysitting kids for free for a couple who is going through a rough time and needs a night out but does not have a lot of money. Kindness is helping your neighbor build a fence or a garage. Kindness is sitting at the hospital while someone is having surgery because they have no family in town. We can do these acts for our church family but we can do them for our neighbors too and for our co-workers and even for strangers. They will know we are followers of Jesus when they see how we love one another. We love one another when we are kind.
Paul writes that love does not insist on its own way. The word for this is compromise. Imagine how much better our world would be if people would compromise. Congress might get something done. Maybe we would finally have peace in the Middle East. Maybe we would not have so many fights at the dinner table or in the car. Compromise is the art of caring enough about the other person to give up some of what you want in order to let them have some of what they want. We love one another when we compromise.
The last thing I want to mention from Paul’s letter is truth. Love does not rejoice in wrong doing but rejoices in the truth. We can’t be in a loving relationship if we lie and cheat. There is no room in love for wrong doing. When we love our friends we treat them with respect and that means telling the truth. Imagine that you had a friend and after a while you learned that your friend had been lying to you about who she was. How would you feel? You would not feel respected. You would not feel loved in the relationship. We love one another when we tell the truth.
Well, on his last night with his disciples, Jesus had a chance to wrap up his teaching with them. He wanted to give them one thing to remember. And this is what he told them: “Love one another.” It seems like a simple commandment. But we can see in our world that it is not so simple. That’s because we are imperfect people trying to love other imperfect people. We make mistakes. We fail and need to be forgiven. We are unkind and we fail to be kind. We are selfish and want our own way. We don’t tell the truth. We are, quite frankly, a mess.
This is why Jesus came: to show us how to love, and to show us how much God loves us. Not long after he had this conversation with the disciples Jesus was crucified. In that act he showed us that God is love and that God loves us. Because God loves us God calls us to love one another, friend and stranger.
I’d like to close by asking you to think of a time this past week when you failed to do the loving thing toward your friend or neighbor. You had an opportunity to be loving and you either missed it, or you did something that was not loving. Ponder that situation for a moment. My friends, know that God forgives you for that missed opportunity. It is in the past now and you can let it go.
Now I’d like you to think of a time in the past week when you did the loving thing. When did you love your friend or neighbor? Just ponder that image for a moment. Friends, know that God blesses your act of love. God wants you to multiply that act through the weeks to come. Carry that image with you as a source of inspiration.
I started this sermon by asking you why you come to worship. I hope you came partly because you want to draw closer to God and be more in tune with God’s desire for your life. This is how to draw closer to God. Love one another. Love one another boldly. They will see that we are Christians when they see how we love one another. Amen.