I asked Noelle what her favorite hymns are and she picked “Come thou font of every blessing and “They will know us by our love.”
We’ll sing them both in a few minutes and that second one is the focus of our message today. Based on the scripture from John 13, this passage lifts up the idea that people know we are Christ’s disciples by our love. And it can help us answer the age old question of where people see God.
Let us pray. Spirit of living God fall afresh on us. Open to us the meaning of your word and the reality of your love for each of us. Amen.
I took our boys on the church trip to Scotland last month. Going through the airport they got an experience with passports. With all the stamps. And why the pictures on them always seem so funny. I was told recently, and I tried not to take it too personally, but when you start to look like your passport picture you know you need a vacation. I tried to explain to them why passports matter. They are our identity cards. People identify us by our passport, authorities trying to determine how and who to let into the country go by them, people know us by our passports. More than that, passports identify with something bigger. A specific country. By our US passports, people know we are Americans.
In John 13, Jesus gives some advice to his disciples, his “little children.” Saying that his disciples are to love one another and that from their love others will know that they are his disciples.
For those who would follow Jesus, love is our id, our calling card, our passports. Jesus does not say his disciples are known by their fulfillment of the law, their attendance in worship, or even their profession of faith, not that those aren’t important. Jesus says they will know you by your love.
I think Jesus’ is a bit understated in his advice. Jesus had just commanded his disciples the sentence before. Plus, this is part of what is called his “farewell discourse.” Jesus knew he was at the end of his life. So one might have expected a more forceful plea, focus about his return, advice for defeating their enemies or specific game plan for the future. Instead he talks about love and his reasoning for loving one another is that people will know you by your love.
Such understatement is often how Jesus acted. Sometimes he gave orders, sometimes he spoke in parables and sometimes Jesus used nudges.
Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein wrote in their 2008 book, Nudge, about small forces in society that influence human behavior in subtle but important ways. Like a school combating childhood obesity, by nudging kids toward good diets by putting the healthiest foods at the front of the lines in the school cafeteria.
Jesus used nudge theology in his ministry. In the Beatitudes, Jesus nudges his followers saying, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” rather than “You, be a peacemaker.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew chapter 6, Jesus doesn’t say that his disciples shouldn’t worry because life has no troubles, he nudges his audience towards the present by saying that “today’s troubles are enough for today.” In the famous Lazarus passage, when Jesus hears that his good friend, Lazarus, whom he loved and would weep for, was close to death he does not rush to be with him. He waits two days to visit him. In fact, Jesus is never in a hurry in the gospels. The Bible never depicts him rushing.
Part of the reason Jesus suggests that peacemakers are blessed or that one has enough troubles for today or waits on Lazarus and doesn’t rush, is that Jesus knows what every good teacher knows, what every parent knows, that somethings have to be nudged. Sometimes we have to tell our children something directly but particularly with older children or youth, being too direct sometimes will cause the opposite reaction. Christ is more interested in what we can become over time, in making our lives more like his, than in meeting our immediate wants anyway. So he often nudged his followers as a teacher or parent would.
Noelle was a master at this. Many of her ideas came as nudges. Noelle has a calm compassionate sense about her. A very loving sense, particularly with a heart for children.
We have a strong tradition of great teaching here at Bradley Hills and much excitement for the program for the future. If you are interested in being part of our ministries of teaching we would love to minister with you. Jesus was a teacher. He was often called Rabbi which is Hebrew for teacher.
When a person finishes their work journey, it can be nice to look back and see that hopefully one left things better than one found them. What every teacher wants to know at their end of their year or ministry is that their students have learned.
This is about where Jesus was in John 13. Near end of his ministry, the end of his life on earth, he was looking back at what he had accomplished. He gave them a new commandment to love one another and an explanation for why, which is that people will know they are Christians by their love.
Their love would be the proof that they had learned. The evidence that they are Christians. The understanding that they got Jesus’ message. The identification that they are his.
They will know us by our love.
There is a story of a mother who sends her twelve-year-old son out on an errand, and it takes him a long time to come home. When he finally gets back, his mother says, “Where were you? I was worried about you.” The boy says, “Oh there is a little boy down the street whose tricycle broke and he was crying because he couldn’t fix it, and I really felt bad for him so I stopped to help.” The boy’s mother asked, “Are you trying to tell me you knew how to fix his tricycle?” To which her son replied, “No, I sat down and helped him cry.”
There is nothing that could have made that mother prouder than hearing that.
That child didn’t get that compassion in a vacuum, he learned to love from no doubt watching someone else, mostly likely a parent, and by feeling love at home.
They will know us by our love.
One of Noelle’s great qualities is her listening. There is a profound need for listening in our world. For people of different backgrounds to listen honestly and really hear one another.
In the face of the great racial and religious divisions of this summer, violence from Orlando to Dallas to Nice to Munich to Kabul, it is more important than ever for people to be able to listen to each other.
To find ways to love even those we disagree with.
They will know us by our love.
Christianity Today and other publications are remembering the one-year anniversary of the Charleston shooting. On June 17, 2015, after joining a Bible study with parishioners at the Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina, 21-year-old Dylan Roof killed nine black church members. Fed by Internet propaganda, Roof had grown to despise African-Americans.
The family and friends of the victims gathered in court for Roof’s hearing two days later. The message they offered was amazing. Relatives of victims spoke to Dylan Roof directly. They told the man who killed their families and friends that they forgave him and were “praying for his soul.” The nation was moved by the power of love by these church members. Bethanie Brown’s sister was killed but she said, “My sister taught me that we are the family that love built. We have no room for hating.”
They will know us by our love.
On the one-year anniversary of the Charleston massacre, Jim Wallis wrote that in the face of the great violence of this past year we have seen the incredible depths of hate but also the great love that human beings are capable of.
Wallis wrote that the violence of hate is the denial of the image of God in the human beings we have decided to use, abuse, and even kill. And then Wallis concludes, “Love always reveals the face of God.”
In a world where bad things happen and people ask where is God. Where political candidates stoke fears and hatred rather than faith and hope. Or we turn around in the face of growing atheism and search for evidence that God exists and where to see God. Or we look for some sign that goodness is out there, Jesus proclaims still that people will know us by our love.
But more than that, people will know our God by our love. For love is our passport. It is how we all can reveal the face of God.
John tells us that “God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.”
People know we are Jesus’ disciples by our love because love is the most enduring quality of Jesus.
By loving, as Jesus commands and nudges, we show people God.
In a world where people are searching for God and signs of hope, our love points the way.
Diana Butler Bass tells the story of a children’s sermon once where the pastor called the little children forward and they gathered on the chancel steps. The pastor asked, “Where is the candle? Do you see the candle?” The children looked around. One sharp-eyed boy said, “There it is.” And the pastor replied, “Would you get it?” The boy retrieved the candle and handed it to her.
“Where is the communion bowl?” she then asked. And a child brought it back. “Where is something that reminds you of Christmas?” Same thing happened.
Finally, the pastor asked, “Where is God?” The children looked about. Up, down, all around. A few bewildered stares, some shrugged shoulders. Then, a small boy in a plaid shirt, about three years old, said, “I know!” The pastor said, “You do?” The little boy looked excited insisting, “Yes, yes!” Then the pastor said, “Where?” And the little boy replied, “I’ll go get God!”
He jumped up from the chancel stairs and ran down the center aisle. The boy’s father, obviously a bit worried about the open doors at the back of the sanctuary, leaped out of his pew to fetch his son.
Before he got very far, however, the little boy had returned. He was holding the hand of a kind-looking woman, literally pulling her down the aisle. “Here!” he cried, “Here’s God! She’s here!” The pastor looked puzzled: “Miss Jean?” And the boy pointed, “There she is! God! God!”
Turns out she was his Sunday school teacher.
Noelle, you have helped remind us of the nobility of teaching, the impact we all can have in the lives of young people, and the value of care. Even more, that by teaching and modeling love, how we help make God known. As we think about the opportunity we have to change lives, identify with God and be identified as followers of Christ, we know that they will know us by our love. Amen.