Loving Sacrifice

John 14:15-31, Acts 17:22-31, 1 Peter 3:13-22 – May 17, 2020

Our internet and social media pages are filling with congratulations to the class of 2020.  This morning, we continue looking at Jesus’ Commencement Speech to his class of disciples about to graduate from their three years of on-the-job-training to on-the- job-leading.  He is preparing them for his making the ultimate sacrifice and yet promising that he will send another teacher, his Holy Spirit who will never leave them or forsake them. Class will continue. Hear the word of God from John 14:15-31

The Gospel of the Lord from John 14:15-31   Thanks be to God 

Let us pray. Lord, thank you for this your word.  Thank you for your concern for these that you loved and your command to them to love as they have been loved.  Help us to find the strength and courage to love one another and others that we do not know yet, and love those we do know but find hard to love. Send your Holy Spirit to do in us what we cannot do in our own power.  Amen

***

There once was a pee-wee baseball game. When the young boy got up to the plate he looked over to the coach, and he saw him give the signal to sacrifice bunt. He then promptly proceeded to take three big swings and strike out. The coach ran up to him and said: Didn’t you see me give you the signal to sacrifice? “Yes, but I didn’t really think that you meant it.”

Isn’t that what we so often say to God? Yes, lord, I heard that talk about sacrifice but I didn’t really think that you meant it. The cross says emphatically that he did mean it. 

In my Thursday meditation I talked about how Jesus stated his Golden rule positively as opposed to passively.  As opposed to other faiths that phrase it, “as you would like to be treated, treat others.”  Jesus said “Do unto others as you would have them to do you.” The context of that statement though was in a collection of sayings that implied we are to do unto others with no expectation of return.  Give to those who ask. Turn the other cheek.  Give an additional shirt.  Go an extra mile. Love your enemies even if and even when they won’t love you back.

His instructions to keep his commandments are similarly turned around. Our tendency is to say “I’ll love you if you keep my commandments—take out the trash, drive 65, pay your fair share.”  But Jesus puts the IF word up front.  “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” It’s not a prid pro quo.  It’s an observation of fact.  It’s not that we are to love others SO THAT Jesus will love us. It’s because we love Jesus we will love others.  Jesus says to his followers that the way he can tell if they love him is by the way they act.  Jesus will know they love him IF they love others whether they are loved in return.

Those are the Magic words. They’re not abracadabra, or open sesame, or shazam. They aren’t even the other magic words I learned growing up of “please and thank you,” although those words do work wonders. The magic words I’m thinking of are, “I love you.”  Those words are the three words more people want to hear more than any other. We want to be loved.  We want to have someone tell us that they love us, and we want to love others.      

As long as Jesus has been with them he has been the one who is teaching them, coaching them through the proper steps, teaching them to love the Lord and to love their neighbors, and even to love their enemies. Tony Campolo, another teacher I greatly admire who is a retired professor of Sociology, frequently used to ask his students what stood out to them about the teachings of Jesus.  Invariably they would answer, “Love your enemies.”

Now that Jesus is approaching his own death, now that he draws near to his time of departure, now that the disciples will be without him, the task of teaching and coaching his disciples is to be handed over to another teacher, the Holy Spirit: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments and I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth.”

One of the primary tasks of the Holy Spirit is reminding the faithful of the truth, jogging the memories of the followers of Jesus about all of his commandments so that they can keep them and show that they truly love him.  

A student named Steve Winger from Lubbock, TX was taking a challenging class in Logic.  The course and teacher were known for exacting and demanding exams.  The final exam was looming, and the professor mercifully told the class that each student would be permitted to bring in a single 8 x 11 ½ inch sheet with as much information as they could put on that one sheet for help during the test.  On exam day, each student came to class clutching their precious pieces of paper with as much information as possible.  Some students had crammed lines and lines of font so tiny and so numerous onto that single sheet that you had to wonder how they could read it.  But Steve walked in with a single blank sheet and a friend who was a senior student and who had gotten an ‘A’ in logic years before.  Steve bent down and placed that single, blank sheet of paper on the floor next to his desk.  His expert friend stood on the paper. 

The professor noticed the extra person in the room and asked what he was doing.  Steve piped up, “You said we could bring in whatever we could fit on a single piece of paper for help on this test, well, this is my help and he can fit on the paper!”  He had followed the instructions to the letter and was the only student in that class to score an ‘A’ since he had his expert friend standing alongside him.  That was only logical! 

There are 613 commandments in the Old Testament.  Since the time of their writing the Pharisees elaborated on those 613 to place even more restrictions and limitations on the behavior of the children of Israel.

What are Jesus’ commandments?  There are 2.  In John 15:12 Jesus is recorded as saying, “This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you.”  That’s at least a lot easier to remember than 613.  It’s easier to remember, but maybe not as easy to keep.  I would hazard to guess though that if we are able to keep Jesus’ one commandment we wind up keeping the others.

This coming Thursday is Ascension Day.  Ascension Day is when the church around the world celebrates the Ascension of Jesus.  Just before Jesus ascended he told the disciples to wait until the Holy Spirit came upon them.  When that happened they would be his witnesses throughout the earth.

In Acts 1:8 we find another of Jesus’ commandments. It is stated more as an expectation than a commandment per se.  Jesus says to his disciples as he prepares to ascend to heaven, “When the Holy Spirit comes you shall be my witnesses.”  If we love him we will love those who are not part of “our anothers.”

The boundaries Jesus gave his first disciples were in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  Our boundaries are the same.  It is not sufficient to bear witness in our homes or in our churches or even in our community. We must be willing to do what we can to see to it that the message of Jesus’ command to love one another goes to uttermost parts of the earth.

It is interesting to note that the Greek word for “witness” is the same as the Greek word for “martyr.” A witness for Christ must display a commitment that is willing to sacrifice his life, to sacrifice her life, in order to promote the message.

A witness is someone who is willing to step forward and speak from personal experience. In many cases in those early days of the faith it was to put one’s life on the line. Today in some countries it is still the case. These are modern day martyrs, modern day witnesses.  

Now I would like to ask you to think back. Think back with me to the first century. Think about those years after Jesus’ death and what it must been like for Jesus’ disciples. Before the last one died their efforts had brought 500,000 men, women, and children to be followers of Jesus.  But what they had to suffer in order to accomplish this task is seldom discussed. We like the outcome of their discipleship but we don’t want to hear the cost of their discipleship. So for the record here is the cost: History tells us…

1. John died of extreme old age exiled to the island of Patmos.
2. Judas Iscariot, after betraying his Lord, hanged himself.
3. Peter was crucified; head downward, during the persecution of Nero.
4. Andrew died on a cross at Patrae, a Grecian Colony.
5. James, the younger, son of Alphaeus, was thrown from a pinnacle of the        Temple, and then beaten to death with a club.
6.   Bartholomew was flayed alive in Albanapolis, Armenia.
7.  James, the elder son of Zebedee, was beheaded at Jerusalem.
8.  Thomas was run through the body with a lance at Coromandel, in the E.Indies
9.   Philip was hanged against a pillar at Heropolis.
10. Thaddeus was shot to death with arrows.
11. Simon died on a cross in Persia (what we now call Iran.)
12. Matthew was first stoned and then beheaded.

What sacrifices! And I ask you why? Why did they choose to die this way? Why put up with the constant humiliation, and hunger, and persecution, and defeat town after town after town?

I’ll tell you why, because, in the words of Apostle Paul, they were held captive by the words and teachings of Jesus Christ. It was because they loved Jesus and they could not help but love others.

Next weekend has been set aside in our country’s calendar to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice–who were witnesses, martyrs, who gave their lives in the service of their country.  We honor their sacrifices with flags, with plaques, with prayers. 

In Romans 12:1 the apostle Paul charges us by the mercies of God to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. Part of being a living sacrifice is loving one anothers.  Another part is loving others that aren’t a part of our “one anothers.”  

The passages of scripture we have considered today hold the keys to renewal for any church—loving one another and sharing God’s love with others and even with those who aren’t yet or may not ever be a part of our “one anothers.”  

Those first followers, Jesus’ graduating class, found assurance in the promise of the Holy Spirit. They recognized their need for God. So, obediently, they waited for the Holy Spirit to come to them and guide them and empower them. They accepted God’s purpose for them. They became faithful witnesses. They answered Jesus’ challenge to demonstrate that even in dying they lived up to his challenge. They kept his commandments as a way to say to others and to Jesus, I believe you meant it.  I will not only be a living sacrifice, as long as I live I will be a … loving sacrifice. Let’s pray. Dear Jesus, thank you for loving us. Thank you for loving us enough to distill all the commandments into one.  Thank you for spending time with your disciples after your resurrection and appearing to them and reassuring them that you would not leave them without sending your Spirit to remind them and empower them to follow you.  Thank you for ascending to be with your Father and for interceding on our behalf and watching over us from your heavenly vantage point.  Thank you for sending your Spirit to remind us of all that you taught and to give us the power to obey your commandments. 

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