the one about love (and a seat)...
April 23, 2018, 12:00 AM

Sermon from April 22, 2018

Text: John 10:11-18 & 1 John 3:16-24

Grace and peace to each of you from God our Creator and our Lord and savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, one of the things that we as people of faith and followers of the Lord Jesus hear very often from these very first believers (and our Lord as well) whom we read from today is this – love. Love one another.

In our reading this morning from First John, we get this two-fold commandment passed down from Jesus’ lips, written by John, and shared with billions of followers of Christ throughout history and around the world. Believe in Jesus’ name and love one another.

Though, sometimes – and I’m guilty of this from time to time as well – that the first part of that commandment overshadows the second part. Where ‘loving’ one another becomes contingent to believing in Jesus’ name. When we practice this incorrect interpretation of this commandment, we only show love to those who are in ‘agreement’ with us.

Yet, they are two equal parts of the same commandment. They build and feed off of one another. You believe in Jesus’ name so that you can love one another. You love one another showing that you believe in Jesus’ name.

Of course, living that sort of love at times is not easy. It isn’t easy to love the one who treats others harshly, who speaks ill of those who are different. It isn’t easy to love the one who takes advantages of others. It isn’t easy to love when you don’t feel very loved by others. It isn’t easy to love when you think you’re ‘better’ in some way than another person or group of individuals.

Sometimes, it isn’t easy to love.

Yet, we are still called to love and to follow in the footsteps of our Lord who compares himself to a good shepherd.

Now, if you haven’t thought about it before, this is a rather odd comparison for Jesus to make of himself. At this point, the ‘image’ of a good shepherd isn’t one that brings warm fuzzies and quaint visions of cuddly sheep and charming caretakers.

In fact, shepherds themselves weren’t looked at very well during this time and still not very well in more under-developed parts of the world (at least compared to places we typically call developed). Shepherds were seen as shifty vagrants who let their flock graze on lands that didn’t belong to them. They were considered unclean by the community at that time because of the work they did. It was hard, smelly, nasty work. If you were a shepherd, it was because you weren’t good enough for anything else.

Yet, this is who our Lord compares himself to; for he is the good shepherd.

Our God has a habit of showing us what love is by giving us examples of that love through non-traditional means. Where God is made known in the least likely expected places – being born to a couple out in the far reaches of life, in the care of a Samaritan – those who were not to be interacted with, calling by his side those that others looked down upon like tax collectors and others who are deemed ‘sinful and sin-filled.’

And even comparing himself to those unclean good-for-nothings who just walk around messing with dirty animals, covered with dirt, sweat, manure, and followed by flies.

That’s our Jesus!

Yet, I think as we look back on that, there is something pretty profound in Jesus saying that he is the good shepherd. The one who does the work that others would care not to be involved in. The one who isn’t as educated as you might like. The one who doesn’t wear the finest clothes. The one whose aroma may not be pleasant to others.

Yet, this is the one who cares for those who cannot care for themselves. This is the one who protects that which belongs to another. This is the one who so deeply loves and cares for those around him that they know his voice so well that they come running along at the mere utterance of his words.

As our Lord calls himself the Good Shepherd, he invites us into that kind of love.

First, in that love God reminds us again and again that God is the one that dives deep into the places that others would rather not go so that we might know how fully loved we are. Our God is the one that has come down to be with us, to mire in the muck, chaos, and stench of life to be with each and every one of us. God doesn’t stand off waiting for us to ‘get somewhere’ before God interacts with us. God dives deep into the unpleasant and murky part of our lives to show how deep and full God’s love is for us and for the world.

Our God has come down to live life with us. To sit with us, to celebrate with us, to cry with us, to laugh with us. To live with us. To die with us. To rise in new life with and for us.

Our God embodies that love that knowns no bounds.

Then, Jesus – our God and Lord – invites us into that love as well. To be that sort of loving for others. That love that puts others first. That love that values another more than ourselves.

And it’s hard. We get caught up in ourselves – and we’re really good at it – that it makes it difficult to love others and be loved by others.

Yet, our God continues to reach out to us in ways we wouldn’t expect so that we might notice that love and then, again, live into that love for others.

I heard a story this week that I believe showcases that sort of love pretty well.

There is this guy, his name is Thomas, who is currently in college somewhere out in the United States – where exactly doesn’t matter. As with lots of places in life, when you go to class (or a meeting) you don’t really have assigned seats, but there are those seats that you prefer to sit in. Kind of like showing up at church each week. We don’t have assigned seating, but because we are creatures of habit, there are those places we prefer to sit in over others.

So, this guy has a seat that just happens to be next to a man – a little bit older than him – who doesn’t speak English very well. He appears that he is from the middle east. Now, Thomas has decided that his ‘seat’ in class is next to this guy. It’s one of the closest to the door. He can get in and out pretty quickly. So, he sits there every class.

Now, for Thomas, he doesn’t mind this man too much and is always greeted warmly by him and the man even asks for a ‘high-5’ before every class.

Yet, the thing that bugs Thomas – frustrates him to no end – is that every day when he comes to class he sees this man in the seat next to his, and this man’s stuff is always in Thomas’ seat and desk. Every day before class, the man sees Thomas and makes a hurried attempt to clear his stuff – his books, papers, cell phone, and everything else from Thomas’ seat so that he might have a place to sit.

It annoys Thomas. The man knows he sits there every day – why can’t he just keep his stuff out of ‘Thomas’’ seat.

This of course goes on for most of the semester, yet one day recently Thomas was running a bit late to class and when he arrived he had to take care of a call and a few texts. As he is finishing up a text, another student walks in even later and goes to sit by this man.

The man stops him and says, “I’m sorry – this is my good friend Thomas’ seat. I’m saving it for him.”

Thomas noticed that, and he was floored. The whole semester, he had assumed that this man just had a different (and annoying) concept of personal space, but in fact he had been saving Thomas’ seat for him the entire time.

That day Thomas took him out for lunch and learned so much more about his new friend.

As Thomas shared this story on the internet, he invited and asked people not to be so self-absorbed that they miss out on those trying to love and care for them in ways that they wouldn’t and don’t expect.

I have a different take. Our God – our Lord Jesus – calls us into a life of love that looks different from the world. Our God invites us to love others over ourselves. This love that we are called into will put us in places and moments that might seem weird, perhaps even annoying to others.

Yet, we are called to love like Thomas’ new friend. The one who – in spite of the other not knowing or even understanding what that love looks like – continues to love. Continues to care. Continues to reach out.

Love like Thomas’ friend. Even and perhaps especially when that love isn’t quiet understood.

Remember that God’s love to us is like Thomas’ friend. Reaching out to us and extending to us even when we don’t notice. The one who greets us each day with a ‘high-5’ and asks if we’re ready.

Love one another. Be active in that love. Be reminded of God’s love for you and for the world. Amen.


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