Tag Archive: Trinity Lutheran Church Greencastle PA


Love One Another

This was the last sermon I preached at my Teaching Parish of Trinity Lutheran in Greencastle, Pennsylvania and was given today (May 2, 2010).

John 13:31-35
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Love. The Beatles said it was all we needed. We use this little word to say we really like something, as in “oh my gosh, I love shoes!” or “I really love mocha chocolate chip ice cream!” Both of those are totally true by the way… We even use it when speaking to one another, and amazingly enough, this one word is used to cover a broad range of relationships – relationships between parents and children, those between friends, those between lovers. For a four-letter word, “love” is pretty versatile!

Last November, I had an interview for Clinical Pastoral Education, a program I’ll be participating in over this summer. Basically, I will be a chaplain at Gettysburg Hospital, learning about pastoral care firsthand. After speaking with me about what I hoped to learn over the summer and a bit about my faith journey, the interviewer asked me about what exactly had brought me to faith in God. You see, I wasn’t raised in any religious background so the interviewer was wondering how on earth I had ended up at seminary! A fair question to be sure!

After thinking a bit, I answered that it was God’s overwhelming and amazing love. The love that says no matter how much I mess up, God still wants to forgive me and have a relationship with me. And the fact that someone, a man named Jesus, had been willing to die for me in order to forgive me and bring me into relationship with God. That astounded me – who was this man who would give his life for me? I mean, he would do that for me even though I didn’t even know him?! That blew my mind and continues to leave me speechless. The feeling I had that God was out there, coupled with hearing about Jesus’ selfless act on the cross, told me that there was a God who loved me more than I could even begin to fathom. Once I heard that, I wanted to hear more – I wanted to know more about this God who would go to such incredible lengths for the sake of people who sinned and turned their backs on God and each other.

It was from here that my faith journey took off, slowly, but surely. Along the way, I have encountered many things, both positive and negative in the church, as I am sure you have as well. It’s quite inevitable to avoid any negative experiences within the church, because, ultimately, we are dealing with people who share and struggle with the same sins. In my personal experiences, I have encountered the condemnation of others who did not believe the exact same things being taught as well as people looking down on those of different faiths. I firmly believe that this is contrary to the new commandment Jesus gave to his disciples.

In our Gospel reading for this morning, Jesus declares: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” This statement comes just after Jesus has knelt to wash the dirty feet of his disciples. It also follows Jesus’ statement about the glory he and God the Father have received through Judas’ betrayal and the upcoming crucifixion. Jesus gives this new commandment, but he elaborates on it, saying that the disciples are to love just as he has loved them.

When I don’t slow down to actually think about what Jesus is saying, I think “oh, loving other people – that’s like being “nice” to them, right?” Yes, of course, but Jesus’ two sentences here mean infinitely more. First of all, love is a verb, not a noun. It’s an action, and, in the original language, the verb that is used here translates into “keep on” or “continue loving one another.” Here, Jesus is urging his disciples to continue loving one another, especially given that he knows his trial and crucifixion are going to happen in a few short hours. The community of faith must continue on in the spirit of Christ, even though dark and trying times are around the corner.

Secondly, what exactly does “just as I have loved you” mean? At a quick glance, it’s tempting to think of pictures of Jesus smiling and laughing with children or of the songs “Jesus loves me” or “Jesus loves the little children.” While these are wonderful in their own right, I think Jesus’ statement here is much more powerful. Jesus stands before his disciples as the Word become flesh, the one who was “in the beginning with God,” the one who has done incredible signs and taught powerful things. He stands there as the one who has just taken on the role of a slave, washing the disciples’ feet and who has predicted his impending suffering, death and resurrection. He has done all of these things out of love and now, he tells them to love each other as he has loved them. That is way more than being nice to one another!

There is a Middle English poem in the Commonplace Book of John Grimstone written in 1372, which speaks to this love beautifully:

“Love brought me,
And love created me,
Man, to be your companion.
Love fed me,
And love led me,
And love abandoned me here.

Love slew me,
And love drew me,
And love laid me in a tomb.
Love is my peace,
For love I chose,
Man to dearly buy.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t rhyme or flow as well when it’s translated, but I think it captures the depth of Christ’s love for us.

But what does this all mean for us? Having received this amazing love, how does it affect our lives? Jesus has commanded his disciples and us to love one another with the same selfless love he showed in his life, throughout his ministry and in his death on the cross for our sake. We must get our hands dirty, throwing ourselves into loving others just as Jesus took on human flesh to show the love of God to and for us. Like happy gardeners reveling in the messiness and earthiness of the garden soil, we are to be busy about the work of the kingdom of God, loving with abandon.

Jesus also told his followers, “everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Like a badge or a tattoo, loving one another like Christ will show the world who his disciples are – who his representatives are on earth.

All I have to say to that is a sheepish, “Oops.” How many times have I shown less than Christ-like love to others? Driving on the road, in my relationships with those around me, the list could go on…I know for sure that I have not always loved as Christ loved me. I also have this sneaking suspicion that I’m not the only one here who has had this problem! As I said before, love is an action, not a noun. It is something that we must continue to seek to do, relying on God’s never-ending grace and the Spirit working within us. I have also found that two of my favorite authors have encouragement for all who would seek to follow Christ.

First, C.S. Lewis, the great 20th century apologist and author, wrote, “do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone you will presently come to love him.”
In other words, Lewis wants us to stop thinking about and pondering whether or not we are truly loving someone and, like Nike would tell us, “just do it!” If we begin treating people as if we already loved them, with dignity, honoring them with our time and extending generosity and hospitality, I think we will be surprised to find that our attitude toward them shifts.

Second, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, pastor, theologian and member of the Resistance movement against the Nazis, wrote extensively in his book Life Together, how Christians can and should live in community with one another. In this book, he urges people to pray for one another, to listen to each another’s stories, to bear one another’s burdens, to forgive each other, to proclaim God’s love and forgiveness to one another, and to allow God to interrupt our plans and hectic lives for the sake of others. This list rings true today, even though it’s more than 60 years later.

Remember that we are not just to love one another in the church or in the body of Christ, but also to love one another in the world. The famous Rabbi Hillel, who lived around the time of Jesus from 30 BCE to 10 CE, wrote, “If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” This applies directly to loving one another as Christ loved us. Yes, it is important for us to speak for ourselves and love one another within the church, but if we are not speaking for and caring for others, for our brothers and sisters outside of the church, then who are we as the body of Christ? Jesus, a Jewish man, went to Samaria and taught there, even though it was taboo for the two religions and cultures to interact. Time and time again, Jesus reached out to the outsiders and the marginalized and loved them.

If we do not stand with indigenous peoples whose homes and livelihoods are being destroyed due to deforestation and pollution, who will? If we do not stand with those who are persecuted due to their race, ethnicity, gender or faith, who will? If we do not do so, just as Jesus did, who are we? And, if we do not do it now, when will we do so? Will we only wake up when it is too late?

Love is a many splendored thing for sure. But love as Jesus talks about it is not static or something that happens to us. Rather it is something we are to actively participate in. As love brought Jesus to take on flesh and love for all of us drove him to the cross, it is a powerful force, not just a four-letter word. We have been commanded to love just as Jesus loved us and we are able to because Christ loved us first. We are to respond to the love of Christ by going and doing likewise. Are we up for the challenge? Maybe The Beatles were right: all you need is love. Perhaps, however, we can expand our view to include that of the band Switchfoot when they sing “Love is the movement. Love is a revolution. Get up, get up. Love is moving you now.” Love, the overwhelming love of Christ, is moving us now. Amen.

© 2010. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

Love

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Sharing in Paul’s Joy

This is the sermon I preached at Trinity Lutheran Church in Greencastle, PA today.

Philippians 3:4b-14:
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

As I began preparing for this sermon, I started by reading over the texts for the day. And as I read, I found myself being drawn to the reading from Philippians. So far, so good. But, oddly enough, as I read it again and again, songs kept popping into my head. And not hymns or contemporary Christian music, but a song from Disney’s Hercules movie and a song from the musical Hairspray. Weird. And as I tried to figure why this was happening, I began to think – what would it be like if Paul had put this passage to music?

(to the tune of “Without Love” from Hairspray)
Once I was a Pharisee
Who never broke the rules
Never looked inside myself
But on the outside, I looked good!

Then we met and you made me
The man I am today
Jesus, I will follow you
On your holy way

‘Cause
Without you
I consider all things a loss
Without you
How could I ever bear my cross?

Jesus, I’ll be yours forever
‘Cause
I never wanna be
Without you…
Jesus, you have set me free
No, I ain’t lyin’
You have set me free
Oh, oh, oh!

Perhaps it would have sounded something like that – well, if Paul was influenced by 1960s rock-n-roll and showtunes.

In any case, I think the joyful and upbeat tune conveys Paul’s message to the church in Philippi very well. This passage is a fairly well-known one, but I think that sometimes it’s hard to hear the joy, hope and appreciation in Paul’s voice when he says he considers all things rubbish for the sake of Christ.

Before we get there though, let’s take a look at how Paul arrived at this statement about rubbish. Paul starts by listing his inherited traits, including his Jewish ancestry and the traditions he participated in from his early life – like circumcision on the eighth day. Next, he moves on to describe what he himself had accomplished, saying, “as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” Now, up until this point, it seems that Paul is almost boasting about his accomplishments. He was a Pharisee, one skilled in interpreting and explaining the Law of Moses. And not only could he interpret and explain it, but he followed it carefully as a way of life – an incredibly admirable endeavor. In addition, to show how devout he was, Paul even mentions his persecution of the church. One can almost see him sort of shaking his head as he admits this to his fellow Christians.

And then comes the twist. Paul says, “yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish…” In fact, Paul’s wording here is very strong – think of the strongest word for rubbish or filth you can find and that’s what Paul is getting at. Yes, Paul has a potty mouth here!

What would this statement sound like in our context? Imagine being born into a good family and then having a wonderful opportunity to go to an Ivy League school where you excel in everything you are doing. You graduate and achieve all you ever wanted – an amazing job, a sweet sports car and all the honor and prestige you could ever desire. Then, you have a life-changing encounter with the living God and tell your friends, “I count all that I had as nothing because of Christ. Actually, everything I’ve ever known and the opportunities I’ve had, have been nothing compared to experiencing Christ. I’ve even lost my six-figure job, my corner office and my amazing house and I consider them all garbage now because I have Jesus in my life.” Anyone who heard you say that would probably think you were in some sort of incredible denial, unwilling to admit that you had failed or fallen from where you were. It’d be a huge shock to hear those words coming out of someone’s mouth today and it was most likely a huge shock for Paul’s readers to hear him describe where he had been and how his life had changed.

Paul does not stop here, however. He says he wants nothing more than to be found in Christ – to be found following Jesus, no matter what the cost. It is at this moment that Paul declares that all his works and blameless adherence to the law don’t mean anything without faith. As he explains, it is through this faith in Christ that he, that is Paul, and we too, have righteousness that comes from God. God does not look at us and see our works, judging whether or not we have been “good enough” or judging whether or not we have measured up. Nor does God look at us and see our sins piling up around us.

This is where the love for God and the joy and hope I was speaking about earlier enter into the picture. Paul’s love for God stems out of his overflowing gratitude for what Christ has done for us on the cross. Because of the cross, when God looks at us, God sees the righteousness of Christ. Instead of the multitude of sins, God sees Christ’s perfection and the loving obedience that brought him to the cross on Calvary. God sees us covered over in mercy and grace. It is through Jesus that we have been made righteous – that we are able to stand before God. That, my friends, is grace. It is that precious gift, freely bestowed by a loving God. It is not something that we attain through clinging tightly to the law or by living perfectly. Otherwise, we wouldn’t make it – we would all be judged under the law and found wanting. As Casey Novak, Assistant District Attorney on the hit television show Law and Order: SVU pointed out, “No one is above the law.” As someone slightly more credible than Ms. Novak, namely Martin Luther, put it “…we let God alone work in us and in all our powers do we do nothing of our own.”

It is with this in mind, that Paul continues his letter passionately, saying that he wants to know Christ, to experience him and the power of the resurrection. It would be easy to see why one would want to experience the resurrection with its redemptive glory and invitation to new life, but Paul also states that part of the experience of knowing Christ is sharing in his sufferings. Here, Paul is saying that he wants to die to sin and experience new and abundant life with Christ. This is what we are to do every day in living out our baptism. Daily, we die to the old person and we are raised again, loved and forgiven to go out and serve.

Lest we become frustrated when we feel like we continue falling short and sinning far too much, Paul assures us that we are to keep on moving forward. We can do so because Christ has made us his own. This phrase “Christ Jesus has made me his own” is interesting because it can be translated as “I have been won by Christ Jesus.” Jesus has won us in the fight against sin, the powers of the world and the Devil – the very things we renounce in baptism. Jesus is with us, strengthening and encouraging us to continue following him. No matter how many times we stumble or fall, Christ has already won us and nothing can remove his victory. The key is to keep trying, no matter how difficult it seems. To keep moving forward, even when it may seem like you’ve done something unforgivable or when you feel there is no hope.

Paul reassures the Philippians and us that he is by no means perfect yet, but that he is also journeying “toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” That’s an awful wordy sentence, but I think we can break it down and make it a bit easier to understand.

A few weeks ago, many of us, myself included, were glued to the television watching the Winter Olympics. We cheered for the United States and for those who had overcome so much to make it all the way to the medal podium. We teared up over those touching stories the announcers presented between all the action. We were absorbed in what happened in Vancouver. With all of this in mind, however, I couldn’t help but think about the athletes’ lives after the Olympics finished. They have spent their whole lives straining toward the Olympic prize, trying to beat incredible odds to attain that one glorious, shining moment on the winners’ podium. But what happens when they have achieved that?

In his letter, Paul writes, “not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s goal isn’t an Olympic medal, but rather life in God through Christ. In fact, the Greek phrasing Paul uses can be translated as “the prize of the upward invitation of God in Christ Jesus.” God is inviting us to a whole new life and a new way of thinking. Our goal is not one that we can achieve, like putting a check mark on a to-do list, but the goal is rather the invitation to a whole new way of life. It’s only the beginning of the adventure that lies ahead of us.

Life with Christ is just that – an adventure. It’s dying to our old selves and discovering our new identities as people living in and walking with Jesus. It’s picking up our crosses and following our Lord. It’s failing and falling, and getting back up, knowing that Christ is with us and will not let us go. It’s looking at life through the eyes of Jesus and realizing that, thankfully, we don’t have to be perfect to be loved by God! It’s struggles and joys, fears and hopes, death and resurrection. It is an adventure, but it is one we are by no means traveling through alone. God is with us and will remain with us. Moreover, our brothers and sisters in faith are our companions on the trip.

It is this journey we experience on a smaller scale during the Lenten season. We began on Ash Wednesday, confessing our sins and with the reminder that we are dust and to dust we will return. As we journey, maybe we have given up something or taken up a new spiritual discipline in order to try to focus more on our relationship with God. Next week will be Palm Sunday and then, Holy Week. Good Friday will bring the crucifixion and with it, the reminder of the heavy price Christ paid for us on the cross. But the Easter Vigil and Sunday will once again remind us of the Resurrection and the hope and joy Jesus’ rising brings to us.

I believe it is with this joy that Paul writes. He has come to realize through his encounter with Christ that it is not about him and how well he can uphold the law or obey the rules, but rather about the beautiful and unmerited gift of grace and forgiveness that God gives us. Take a moment. Think about that. That’s freedom. It’s freedom from the frustration and despair that comes from falling short of what we should be. It’s freedom from the exhaustion we feel when we are trying to live up to other peoples’ standards or trying to be all things for all the people around us. It’s freedom in which God says “I have done this for you – rest in this grace and know that I love you.” Paul’s joy is one of liberation and his hope is one of hearing the invitation of God and setting out to join God on the adventure.

Yes, God is with us through it all, sustaining us through the Holy Spirit, and encouraging us by reassuring us that Christ has already made us righteous before God. How amazing to have a God who loves us so much! Thinking of this, let us share in Paul’s joy and hope. And, knowing this love and the freedom and righteousness we have through Christ, how can we keep from singing? Amen.

© 2010. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

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