The mark of a Christian is love. In our gospel passage this morning Jesus parting words are: “I am going away, but listen to my final words to you”. His message is kind of like a graduation message to the disciples as they are sent out into the world, and he leaves them this commission: “Remember this above all other things. The new commandment I leave with you is that you love one another. Love one another just as I have loved you. People will know that you are Christians by your love that you have for one another.” (John 13:31-35)
I am reminded of that wonderful song that was written in 1966 by Peter Scholte that we often sing at our Welcome Church services in the park. The first verse and chorus starts with these words:
We are One in The Spirit,
We are One in The Lord.
We are One in The Spirit,
We are One in The Lord.
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love,
By our Love,
Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
In our first reading this morning in Acts, (Acts 11:1-18) Peter was shaken from top to bottom by a vision, and it was revealed to him that what he had always considered what was clean and what was unclean, what was righteous and what was unrighteous, was not right. He was holding people up to a standard that was not God’s standard at all. God loves all people just the way they are. People shouldn’t be stigmatized because they don’t drive the right car, or they don’t live in the right area of town, or they don’t hang out with the right people. Their mannerisms and culture may make us feel uncomfortable. Their language is different than ours, and maybe their education isn’t up to our satisfaction. Peter’s eyes were opened to the fact that some of the things he esteemed as values were nothing other than learned traditions that had nothing to do with the values of God.
The greatest commandment that Jesus gives us is to love God with all or our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. (Matthew 22:36-40) This is the bedrock of the premise of our faith. Love keeps the balance in the scale that determines “wrong” and “right”. If the scale tips on the side of injustice, then it’s out of kilter with love. If it tips on the side of greed, love gets slighted. If the weight of the scale tips on the side of selfishness, love is left behind. I love that exhortation from Philippian’s: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others”. (Philippians 2:3-4, NRSV)
From the letter to the Colossians we are encouraged to follow this “new worldview “, a continual renewing of our mind and heart. This is another one of those interactive verses in the Bible. You cannot understand what is being said unless you experience it first-hand in your life interacting and participating with Scripture. “If you then be risen with Christ set your affections on the things above and not on the things of this world”. (Col. 3:1-2) Because if you set your affections on the things above your desire will be to please God, and you will want to center your will with God’s will. You will want to center your thoughts and actions with the principles that Jesus talked about, the beatitudes, to love one another, and to treat others fairly. As one of my favorite verses in the Bible says: “Will you know oh man or woman what is good, and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God”. (Micah 6:8)
Don’t think of yourself as more important than you are, but on the flipside, don’t think of yourself as less important than you are. You are a child of God, and in the Scriptures we are referred to as children of God. That’s our message at St. Alban’s Church. That’s our message to the newcomers that come into our community, and to those that come into our food distribution on Tuesday, and our Eucharist on Tuesday morning. And, that’s our message we take with us to the Welcome Church that will be meeting this afternoon in Wells Park. And what is that message? I’m so glad you asked.
“God loves you just the way you are, not for what you have done in the past, or what you will do in the future, but right now in this present moment. God loves you, and I’m going to do my best to love you too, because loving others is not just a recommendation from Jesus. It’s not just a good idea. It is a command. I leave you this command that you love one another. That’s the mark of a Christian, and that is how people we come into contact with us will know we are Christians. “They will know we are Christians by our love”.
Our message on point is to love one another. This is our mission and our command from our leader, from above, who is right here with us and is saying: Go out into our community and love others. It starts here. Now go out into the community and share that love in magnificent and creative ways.
We do not own the guide-book about how things should always be done. I’m the first one to tell you that I know I could be doing ministry a lot better than I’m doing, but I am trying to do the best I can, and I know I could do a better job. It’s always going to be that way. We are all students, learning sometimes through books, but often times in the school of hard-knocks. It’s a difficult curriculum, this school of hard-knocks. I do believe that people are not so concerned about critiquing our methodology as they are at recognizing our motives, recognizing whether we care or are concerned about the welfare of others, not just our own interests.
I grew up in a Christian home, but, I really never got excited about Jesus or the church, but I made a turn in my life. I had been in college for a year, but through some life-changing events, I decided to do my undergrad work at a Bible College. That summer I traveled to Denver, Colorado from Dodge City, Kansas, where my father was pastoring a church, and I begin working with an inner-city mission. The director had gone to school with my father, and he kind of let me decide where and how I would work for the mission the summer before school started. I chose to do a ministry that was out of the ordinary, and I know he let me do it because he was a good friend of my father’s. I chose to walk the city streets of Denver from 10 AM to 4 AM and share the ‘good news”. I have no idea why an 18-year-old was allowed to roam the streets alone at night, especially one that came from a small agricultural town.
So, I went out, and kind of like a paper-boy with a route, I got to know people, the people that worked the night shifts in the corner grocery stores, small restaurants and coffee-shops, and I began to establish relationships with people that were out and about, folks that were homeless, men, women and young people walking the streets. One story is burned into my mind like it happened yesterday. I met a young boy about 14 or 15 years old, living on the street, a “runaway”.
I asked him if he was hungry, and he was. We went into a small diner, and he ordered a cheese-burger and a glass of milk. When the hot meal was brought to the table, he started weeping. I didn’t have any method of tracking people back then. I confess that I did not know any better. I just shared the love of Christ, and in this particular instance it happened to be a meal. Afterwards we walked outside. I encouraged him to go back to his family and to get off the street. We prayed together. He went on his way, and I never saw him again.
Did I have a textbook to know what to do in that situation? Could I or should have I done things differently? I would positively say yes. I confess to doing it all wrong. But I could tell that my actions spoke louder than my words. I often think of this young man, (not so young anymore) wondering what happened. Is he still alive? Does he have a family? Did he go back to his home?
Many of us here will be joining others at the Welcome Church at Wells Park. We will have a Eucharist service, pray together, and afterword’s eat lunch together. It’s meaningful to the people that make up that congregation. They look forward to it, the regular attenders plus new people that show up. Then they go their way and we go ours. We do our best to share the love of God. Could we do better? Yes, we can, and we are working to improve our ministry all the time. But, this thing I do know. People can sense whether or not we care for them.
Jesus says “my command is that you love one another”. “And they will know we are Christians by our love”. It’s the mark of a Christian.
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen