Due to technical difficulties the first 10 minutes of the service was not recorded. We apologize for the inconvenience.
Focusing Out Lives – Part 2 of 6: What Love Looks Like
Pastor Jonathan Arnpriester, Chandler United Methodist Church
May 14th, 2017
You all know – and if you don’t know you are going to know soon — I was born in the 60s and I was raised in the 70s and I think all people should suffer accordingly. So we are going to begin with the song from the 70s. I’m hooked on a feeling. I’m high on believing that you’re in love with me. It was a nice song. I really enjoyed it. It really gets at this notion that we have that love is a feeling. I’m having a hard time not throwing up because anybody that has been in a relationship for any period of time knows that love is more than a feeling,
We get a definite direction from Jesus on that today. Jesus is moving toward the cross and he links love to action, love to obedience. He orders us to love. Can you imagine me standing at the altar with a couple; they want to get married. They have come and said: we feel love for one another, we love one another. And I stand there at the altar at the wedding and I command them to love one another. How do you think that would go? One of my jobs is to prepare people for marriage. People come in and they say that they’re in love; they feel so in love. But that’s not what we talked about in premarital work. What we talked about is how you’re going to show that love in the long haul. In the ceremony itself we don’t ask the question, do you love each other. We asked the question, will you love each other.
You should know that when the church engages itself in marrying a couple, we are careful not to think about love as a feeling. I know we have this: I’m falling into love, whoops! And if that’s how it works for you then you can just as easily out of love. Is that how it is? The concern of the church is that when you are bone weary after having been up for five nights straight with a sick child and you smell of that combination of barf and poo. And that same power fight comes into the marriage and this time it’s about who has been up the longest and is the most tired. Will you compete to serve your partner or will you compete to sleep? When your significant other is talking to Earl in the white bus; they are on their knees in front of the toilet and they are throwing up. You think well I love them so I’m going to get a washcloth and wet it down and handed it to them so they can wipe their mouth after they’re done throwing up. And so you let the washcloth and you hand it to them. They finish throwing up. They wipe their mouth and then they reach out to hand it back to you. Do you take the washcloth? Wrinkles arrive, hair comes out, you both are remarkably similar to parents that you swore you would never be like. And the middle-aged temptation rolls by in a little red convertible in tight pants. Will you love each other then? You’re using your walker to defy gravity and most of the muscle tone that you once enjoyed has been sucked out of you by gravity. Your knees ache, your back hurts, your innards rumble. The only regularity that you know are twenty-three pills that you have to take every day and you saying: I’m just a love machine and I don’t work. Will you love each other then?
The interest of the church is not: do you love each other when you’re young and live and life is exciting and everything’s good. The question of the church is: in those most tough moments when you don’t feel like it, will you love each other then? And what tools will you use to carry out your love? That’s what Jesus is talking about in our Scripture reading today — the 14th chapter of the Gospel of John — Jesus and his disciples are together at a table and Jesus said: this is how you make love your default response in life: if you love me, keep my commandments and if you keep my commandments you will love me. Jesus links love with obedience. He commands us to love. Although this is not new to us, we already do this. A few years ago, a young couple was rather exuberant and we met for the first time and they wanted to get married and they came back. They did these themselves. They came back a second time and they had sat together at a Denny’s and they had written out the commandments of their relationship based around the notion of the Ten Commandments. Here is what they put. You shall not engage in the ogling of any graven image or likeness on the computer screen. You shall not attempt to reform me to your liking by criticizing me. You shall not take my name in vain or attempt to use the kitchen sink in fights. Remember that we spend our day of rest with one another. Honor and do not badmouth my mother and father. Do not kill us by disrespecting me. Do not commit adultery, either in person or emotionally. Do not steal from me my trust of you by lying. Do not covet your neighbor’s house or spouse or iPhone or car; lest priorities become out of balance. And love me in anger as you would like me to love you.
The commandments that Jesus offers are things like love the power of understanding more than you love the power of being right. Love God in how you act more than you love putting on a religious show. Love supporting vulnerable people with your money more than you love accumulating your money. Love your enemy more than you love getting revenge. In fact go as far as praying for them. Sweet people who are a little lost in life and love them until they’re found. If you want to measure a life, look for how a person actively loves others. And Jesus says: if you live your life this way you will be blessed. It’s not so much a matter of proving our love for Jesus by the keeping of his commandments and if we prove our love and suddenly a switch goes BLESS. It is rather the outcome. The fruits of our keeping the commandments are that we figure out a new way of doing life. We find ourselves living differently because of our love for Jesus. It changes us. Jesus is linking the command of love by putting some shape and substance onto this abstract vague mushy word we know as love. Although I’m not necessarily a hundred percent grateful that he did that. Sometimes love is a whole lot safer when we let it be mushy and vague. When he makes it specific with his commandments, life gets a little frightening.
I am haunted by a conversation that I had with a member of a youth group at the church I served in the months following 9/11. He told me of the conversation that he was having with his friend group. They were talking about the progress of the war on terror. Most everyone in the group agreed that war was a good thing. The only disagreements were about how the war was being executed. Some of the group thought more bombs on Afghanistan. Others said that we should have a war with Iraq. He tried to object to the war. His reservations were hooted down by his friend group and they called him a number of things. We’ll stick with peacenik and pacifist for this moment. Why do you think you know more than the president? Do you want America to roll over and take this with no resistance? Nine out of ten Americans support the war. Why don’t you support the war? In our conversation he said: I don’t know whether I’m a pacifist or not. All I know is I follow Jesus. I don’t find anything in Jesus that allows me to think that the use of violence is somehow good. It isn’t that I thought this through; it’s just that I’m trying to follow Jesus. That’s all.
Now whether or not you agree with his reservations about war, you have to admit that in light of the gospel reading today, you really got to the heart of the matter. How often, as we debate what we should do, as we think about what we call right and wrong, how often do we begin the conversation pondering what Jesus expects of us? I know, those simplistic: “What would Jesus do?” bracelets; they were kind of cute; I think you can still find them online. But there’s also the matter of, as followers of Christ, we are under obligation to imitate Jesus. In fact, often times when we dismiss the simple: “What would Jesus do?” as naïve or simplistic or unrealistic, what we really mean is what Jesus would do is too difficult, too costly, too demanding. Every year, every church that I know of has something of a commitment campaign to fund its ministries and its existence. Through the years I’ve listened to a lot of people talk about giving. I’ve heard and overheard what they said. Some said they give out of the sense of gratitude for all the good things that God has given them. A lot of people said they give because common sense says if you want the benefits of the church you need to support the church. But I didn’t really understand how we were missing the conversation until I got to this church and it was a member of this congregation who said it may sound trite but I give because I think I’m supposed to. If you’re going to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, that’s what you do; you give. He gave to us; we give to support his ministry in the world; that’s that. I don’t think what this person said was trite at all. In a climate where most people believe that it is insincere to do something unless you really feel it first, it’s refreshing to meet someone does something because we are supposed to.
Sometimes the things that are best in life are things we’ve done simply out of obligation because we are supposed to. You want to start a conversation between good parents and bad parents. The good parents are the ones who don’t do it because they want to every moment of the day. That’s bad parenting. Good parenting comes out of obligation. This is what I signed on for; this is the gig; this is what it means and feelings get put aside. You want to know how far that will go? You want to know the difference between historic Christianity and contemporary spirituality? Most spirituality looks a lot like mashed potatoes, it is kind of mushy, it is kind of a whipped up idea of something vague and undefined, and some religious sentiment is involved. You can’t really do anything with it. Christianity, on the other hand is simply the daily specific obedience of Jesus. That is pretty powerful stuff when you see how far it goes. Here is how far it goes.
When I was in seminary. We had a visiting professor. He was a Lutheran German Lutheran professor of Christian history. In one of the days we listen to him lecture on when the Nazis came to power in Germany. It was the members of the more disciplined Christian groups – specifically the Quakers and the Moravian — who were specifically concerned with simple obedience in the imitation of Jesus. The Moravians and the Quakers were able to recognize the characteristics of fascism: powerful nationalism, disdain for human rights, scapegoating of enemies, supremacy of the military, rampant sexism, control of the media, elevation of corporate power, intertwining religion and government, visible dishonesty, justified cronyism, corruption and profiteering. They were able to recognize those things for what they are: idolatry. Idolatry of power, idolatry of the nation, idolatry of the self and they were fairly successful as they could be at resisting the Nazi party.
Other Christians, I will not name their groups but they were Lutherans and Methodists. They were more interested in these idealized belief systems. They were more interested in appearing relevant to the changing culture around them and they were able to easily mesh Nazi-ism with their thin heady Christianity. They were pretty much useless when it came to resisting the Nazi party. In the opinion of this professor, those Christians who stressed obedience: simply doing what Jesus expected us to do, have greater resources for resistance because they had already been practicing being different than the world around them. This is where I make the connection to good parenting. Today is Mother’s Day, but it’s also a symbol of the Christian home. This is where I make the connection to the good parenting in a Christian home. People committed to being good parents do this same thing. They see parenting as a commitment to upholding higher standards for appropriate mature behavior. They’re able to recognize the characteristics of childishness for what they are: emotional escalation, blaming, lying, name-calling, impulsiveness, the need to be the center of attention, bullying, narcissism, defensiveness, and lack of appropriate boundaries; for what they are, the behavior of a tyrant. They parent the child. Lo and behold, whether they know it or not, they have committed to and are keeping the good parenting commandments.
Here are the good parenting commandments. Kids watch, so what you do in front of them matters. You cannot too loving with time and warmth and affection. Time is everything, be present with your kids. Kids develop, adapt your parenting to fit your child; establish and set clear rules; foster independence; be consistent; avoid harsh discipline; explain your rules and decisions in age-appropriate ways and number ten: the best way to get respect is to be respectful at all times.
There’s something in us, we work well with commandments. These commandments for effective parenting are clear. The commands for a lasting marriage are clear; the same way that Jesus is clear. You want to show love? The way you show love has nothing to do with what you think you believe, what’s in your head. The way that you show love is not by being right in all things. The way you show love is not in your ability to string together words to form a good excuse and talk your way out of trouble. You want to know about love? Look at how you do love. You want a better marriage? Look at how you do love? You want a better divorce? Look at how you do love. You want to be a better parent? Look at how you do love. You want to feel more comfortable in your own skin? Look at how you do love as a measure of your life.
Jesus said people who love me keep my commandments. People who love keep commandments. We hold ourselves as followers of Jesus to a higher standard than what is convenient or familiar, by which we measure love. Our our measure of love is Jesus. There is today in the text of promise, which is especially helpful to all of us who have found we are not quite as good atlove as we like to think. We are not as good at expressing love, we are not as good at discerning love. Work not as good at choosing from love the messages we can start again if we will dare to keep his commandments; if we will dare to love him by being obedient to him. Walking his way, acting differently than the world would have us act; we will come to love him his way will become our way. We will be changed and we will become better at love. I think that’s a pretty good promise. So happy Mother’s Day and may your home be blessed by your love.