The Challenge of Loving One Another During Times of Conflict Psalm 148; John 13:31-35

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1 The Challenge of Loving One Another During Times of Conflict Psalm 148; John 13:31-35 April 24, 2016 By Dr. David B. Freeman, Pastor Weatherly Heights Baptist Church At one time it was prohibition, a nationwide constitutional ban on the sale, production, importation, and transportation of alcoholic beverages. People took sides. You were either for or against. There was no middle ground on prohibition. At another time it was slavery. African Americans didn t have a soul, some in the church argued, therefore slavery, owning a human being, was perfectly acceptable. Others vehemently disagreed, claiming that all men and women are God s children and equal before God. When I started my ministry 32 years ago, the issue was the role of women in the church. Still is in some churches. Some argued that a woman s role in the church was to tend the nursery, prepare fellowship meals, and teach children. They were to keep silent in the sanctuary and avoid the pulpit. I knew a man who believed it was wrong for a woman to stand behind the pulpit for any reason, even to make an announcement. When some Baptist churches, troublemakers like Weatherly, started ordaining women as deacons and clergy, it brought about what is known today as The Controversy, the sharpest conflict Baptists in the South have ever known. Every generation has had to face challenging issues, issues that make the church ripe for conflict and threaten the unity of the church. Today churches across the country are navigating a plethora of issues related to sexuality, chief among them same-sex marriage and how to relate to people who are transgendered. The generation after us will face another set of issues altogether. They will be just as urgent and just as threatening. I wonder if Jesus had that in mind on Thursday night when he gave the New Commandment: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By

2 this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. It is a challenge, isn t it, especially when we navigate these issues that have the potential conflict? It is a challenge to disagree and still love one another. Our culture, our fight or flight instinct, virtually everything around us prepares us to disregard this teaching of Jesus and instead fight for our position in his name. The Crusaders filled rivers with the blood of their opponents, all in the name of Jesus. Religious wars have turned a blind eye to collateral damage, all in the name of Jesus. Reputations have been vilified, careers ruined, and health destroyed, all in the name of Jesus. And here s an often unseen consequence: people have been driven away from the church because Christians gave in to their natural impulse rather than honor this New Commandment. Today let s take a close look at this New Commandment. Jesus waited until the Thursday night of the last week of his life, the eve of his crucifixion, to give the disciples this teaching. His hour had come, John says. He washed his disciples feet. Then he gave them this teaching about love. There are three things about the New Commandment that I want to lift for your consideration this morning. Notice first the significance Jesus placed on love within the Body of Christ. He called it a new commandment. Not a request. Not a suggestion. Not a helpful hint. A commandment. It was something Jesus expected from his followers, not something he just hoped might happen. Now, here s the question that comes to me immediately. Can love be commanded? Doesn t love have to be freely chosen? Is it real if it is commanded? We have to be clear about what Jesus is commanding here. He is not talking about feelings or emotions. There are several Greek words that are translated into English as love. The word that Jesus uses here is agape, the same word that is used in John 3:16 For God so loved the world. It is not about feelings or having warm fuzzies. It is about action that is intended for the good of another. Paul used the same word in Romans 5:8: God proves his love (agape) for us in that 2

3 while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Do you see how action oriented it is? God s actions were evidence of God s love. Jesus wasn t commanding us to feel positive emotion about another person. That can t be forced. He was commanding us to demonstrate actions that are intended for the good of that person, even if we don t feel positive emotion. He s talking about behavior, our actions towards others. Even if we can t feel warm fuzzies about someone, we can nevertheless treat them in a loving manner. Here s why I think Jesus gave this New Commandment. He believed that all human life is worth loving. Our tendency is to see our differences and magnify those differences to an exaggerated proportion. In the extreme, our opponent ceases to be a person. He or she becomes a thing. That s what happened during slavery. Jesus didn t die for things; he died for people. All human life is worth loving. There s a classic scene in the novel All Quiet on the Western Front. Some of you will remember it. A soldier is left behind in a foxhole. Suddenly a body stumbles into the hole and lands beside him. It is the enemy. They look each other in the eyes. The soldier takes his bayonet and prepares to kill his unfortunate victim. He says this: Comrade, I did not want to kill you, but you were only an idea to me before, an abstraction that lived in my mind. It was the abstraction that I stabbed, but now for the first time I see that you are a man like me, now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade; we always see it too late. It is a commandment. Not a request. Not a suggestion. Even when we don t feel warm fuzzies. We are commanded to love one another, to demonstrate actions that are intended for the good of the other. Jesus placed great significance on love within the Body of Christ. Second, notice the standard: as I have loved you. The standard by which our love for one another is measured is the love Jesus had for his disciples. Just as I have loved you, he told them, you also should love one another. 3

4 Look at a few ways Jesus loved his disciples. He served them. He took a towel and basin of water and washed their feet. Their Lord became their servant and thereby modeled the way they were to relate to one another. He prayed for them. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one, he prayed later that night. Protect them from the evil one. Sanctify them in the truth. Jesus prayed for his disciples. And he forgave them. Peter declared that night that he would lay down his life for Jesus. Not only did he not do so when given the chance, he denied knowing Jesus three times. Jesus forgave him, saying, Feed my lambs. That s the standard. He served them. He prayed for them. And he forgave them. That is how we are to love one another. Yes, it s a tall order. It might be tempting to say that it is too tall, too hard. But it s not. Jesus would not have commanded it if we could not do it. Finally, there s one more thing about this New Commandment that we must not miss: our love for one another is a witness to the world. By this, he said, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. The writer Keith Miller wrote a wonderful little book once titled The Scent of Love. He writes about how the early church flourished. It grew by leaps and bounds. Outsiders wanted in because they observed the love that the Christians had for one another. There was, he said, the scent of love that radiated from the Church. It was their witness to the world. Sometimes this is easy. You are an easy group to love. But then something like prohibition comes along. Or slavery. Or the role of women. Or same sex marriage. The anxiety level of the system rises. And in a state of heightened anxiety, we sometimes say and do things that are not a reflection of our better selves, that are not a reflection of this New Commandment to love one another. Our generation is not unique. We have our issues to address, like our forefathers and mothers did and like our children and grandchildren will. Is it possible to disagree and still love one another? Yes, but we must remember Thursday night and this great teaching of our Lord. 4

5 Closing Prayer Lord, you were a good teacher and model. Help us to be good followers. Amen. 5

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