Scripture: John 13:31-35
In 2017, two former google employees, Paul MacDonald and Ashwath Rajan, announced their new start-up venture. This announcement was made with a lot of hype, as they unveiled their brand new idea called Bodega. Their concept was to do for shopping what Redbox did for video rental. The Bodega (now called a Stockwell) is a box full of goods such as drinks, Tylenol, and even toilet paper. People use an app on their smartphone to make purchases and then the box unlocks and delivers the ordered goods. The two promised it would revolutionize the way that we approach and do shopping. Despite all of their P.R. statements and hype, the announcement quickly fell flat, because a lot of people realized this was not a shopping revolution. All they had managed to do was build a more cumbersome and complicated vending machine. Despite the initial ridicule, the company has chugged along, but rollout has been somewhat slow. It seems people are not all that interested in getting toilet paper from a vending machine.
In an attempt to create something brand new these two entrepreneurs essentially reinvented the wheel. They created something that already existed. This is something that has happened in Christian history on more than one occasion. An example of this are the Jesus people or as they were sometimes called the Jesus Freaks. The Jesus people was a counter cultural movement that arose out of the hippies of the late 1960s. Like other counter-cultural movements of the era, they rejected the modern culture and sought to emphasize “peace, love, and happiness.” However, unlike some other movements that relied on illicit substances, the Jesus freaks emphasized Christ as their focus and source of peace and love. This movement sought to return to a simpler time of the first century church, and as such many of the most devoted members of this movement lived in communes. In these places they could be removed from worldly influence, live in a connected Christian community, and be devoted to living Godly lives together.
This idea was not new though. Just like Stockwell created a high-tech version of the vending machine, the Jesus People created a hippie version of the Amish. The Amish originally came to the United States because of religious persecution and once here they sought to establish places where they could be removed from worldly influence, live in connected Christian community, and be devoted to living Godly lives together. While the Amish do include whole families, their basic concept was essentially a reinvention of monasteries. Monastic life originally grew around the desert fathers, hermits who had removed themselves from the world to avoid its influence. Monasteries, which hold to a monastic rule of life, were safe places where likeminded people could be removed from worldly influence, live in a connected Christian community, and be devoted to living Godly lives together.
This idea has been re-invented throughout Christian history because the core aspect is a good one that people find appealing. We realize that one of the most effective ways to living Godly lives is to do it together, and to live in a connected community. I find it interesting though, that time and time again when disciples of Christ attempt to do this, they do so by removing themselves from the world. In this morning’s scripture, Jesus gave a new command, and throughout history Christians have wrestled with the best way to live it out. This morning’s scripture brings up the challenges to us of what does it mean to love one another and how do we do it in this day and age?
Throughout church history, one of the reasons why there has been such a draw to communal living is because it is biblical. The first community of Christians devoted themselves to the apostle’s teachings, to prayer, and to fellowship with one another. The early church described in the book of Acts lived communally, they shared everything, and they were of one accord. The reason for this lifestyle is that they took following Jesus seriously, and that included the commands of Jesus. One of the last commands that Jesus gave his disciples was this morning’s scripture to love one another. Jesus was very specifically here. This is not just a general command to love others. Jesus was telling his disciples to love one another. The intent of this command is that those who follow Jesus are to have a deep love for each other. Jesus is very clear about this, this is not a suggestion. This is a command with a capital “C”, this is a proper biblical “Thou Shalt Love One Another” type of command. Jesus himself makes this emphasis. This morning’s scripture comes from chapter 13, which is part of the last supper discourse found in John’s gospel. In chapter 14, which is part of the same thought as this morning’s scripture we find Jesus saying, “If you love me, keep my commands” and then “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” Jesus specifically said a new command I give you, because Jesus wanted to show how much importance was to be placed on loving one another. Loving other followers of Christ is a requirement to loving and following Jesus.
Jesus gave his followers the new command to love one another. More specifically, Jesus told his disciples to love another as Jesus loved them. Followers of Jesus are to love each other with the same sort of unconditional love that Jesus showed us. Jesus was willing to lay down his life for us, he was willing to pour out all he had and that he was on the behalf of others. That is the kind of love that followers of Christ are to have for one another. Given that level of devotion, it makes sense that the early Christians chose to live such a communal lifestyle. In sharing all things and providing for one another, these early Christians found a way to fulfil the command to love one another. Throughout history from the church of Acts up to the Jesus freaks of the 1970’s, communal living has stuck out as a way to fulfill the command “love one another.”
However, in the communal examples we lift up there is another similarity. They remove themselves from society and the world’s influence. The monasteries literally erected walls to create the separation. The Amish hold to an older, technology free way of life to create this separation, and the Jesus people communes tended to be in rural places to be separated. I understand the desire to remove one’s self from worldly influence to focus strictly on following God as a community, and I do not fault them for adapting that way of life. However, as I read this morning’s scripture I cannot help but wonder if there is something to be gained by keeping our Christian community not separated from the world around us. In this morning’s scripture Jesus said “As I have loved you, so you should love one another”, but then he added “By this everyone will now that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” The way that we love one another is supposed to part of our Christian witness. One of the ways that we are supposed to share the love of God of others and make disciples, is by being a living example of that love in the way that we treat one another. If we separate ourselves from the world, then it becomes impossible for our behavior to one another to be a shining light, to be an example of God’s great love and illustrate to everyone who’s disciples we are.
Of course, given how we tend to treat one another, keeping it hidden may not be the worst of ideas. Unfortunately, churches in general do not have the best reputation when it comes to being places that are defined by their loving atmosphere. A few years ago, president and CEO of Lifeway Christian resources at the time, wrote a blog post about this. In this post, he shared an antidote he had come across in research for a book. The young man, named Kevin, that he interviewed said, “I went to a business meeting at the church. I am never going back.” This young man, who was not a Christian, had been exploring faith and visiting a church for several weeks. To get a better feel for the place, he attended a board meeting as an observer. This was a mistake. Kevin stated that he was “blown away” by the petty disagreements and harsh words that were used. He was especially shocked to hear one man speak in loud angry tones to another person. The person doing the shouting was the leader of the small group he had been attending. At the conclusion of the interview Kevin said, ““I felt like I was at a playground fight with six-year olds. Boy did I make a mistake visiting a church.”
Sadly, there are too many people who have stories like this. There are too many people who have been hurt by others who did a poor job at following Jesus’ command to love one another. It does not have to be this way. We can do better and we should do better. Jesus commanded us to love one another, but Jesus did not say this would be easy. Love always takes work. It is a choice, and it is a choice that we must invest in. This can be hard, because life is messy, people make mistakes, and we all have our moments where we can act a little unlovable. It is during those moments, when we are interacting with another follower of Christ who is not acting at their best, that we need to be the most loving. It is during those times that we need to make the choice to love and not condemn, to accept and not judge, to love and not cast out. We love one another in this way when we choose to value our brothers and sisters in Christ over our personal preferences, wants, and petty concerns. We love one another in this way when we realize that when we were at worst, Christ gave us his best. When we love one another in this way, we are following the example of our Lord and Savior and we are following his command.
When we make the choice to love one another, to treat one another, with grace, mercy, and forgiveness then an incredible thing happens. By our love everyone will know we are Jesus’ disciples, because we are modeling the very love of God. This is a love that this world desperately needs, it is a love that everyone is desperately looking for. When we love one another, it is like a flashing billboard that loudly proclaims “Love is found here.” When people hear that message and see it is true, then they will not stay away and cram the pews to be part of it.
I am not just making this up, there is research backing it up. The story I shared about Kevin, that came from research that Thom Rainer and his son Jesse did for a book called The Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation. One of the data points their a research showed is that for the people of this generation, who are between 38-22 years old, one of their highest values is mutual respect. About this Thom Rainer wrote, “It seems, therefore, that Christians and churches will win the right to be heard by Millennials when those Christians and churches demonstrate love and unity among themselves.” What a generation is looking for is a community where they can be respected, accepted, and loved. Christian churches are ideally suited to be these places, if we take seriously the command of Jesus and we love one another.
The Jesus freaks of the late 60’s- and late 70’s began as a counter-culture movement centered around Jesus. I think it’s time to time bring that back. Our culture of today is so divisive. Our culture today is one that draws lines in the sand and says if you are not with me you are against me. Our culture today is one where our mistakes and failures are recorded digitally to be remembered and used against us forever. We can be different. The church be a place that says there is room for you here. The church can be a place that says even if we do not agree on everything, God still loves you, so I can too. The church can be a place that proclaims you are forgiven, and you are loved no matter what you have done. This is how it should be, a bunch of Jesus freaks who love each other because he first loved us. May we prove love for Jesus by following his commands, and may we follow his commands by loving one another. Then everyone will know that we are Christians by our love.