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Tuesday, May 29 2018

Luke 15:1-10

    Today is the one day out of the year that the church focuses on our understanding of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Almost sounds like we Christians have three gods, doesn’t it!  But no.  There is only one God.  Not three.  A one personed God in three persons.  Kind of difficult to fully understand, I know.  This understanding of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is, as I am sure you know, the Trinity.  

    But I am setting aside our annual focus on the Trinity today.  And I chose a different Gospel reading for our focus than the one appointed for today.  It’s a reading that should be familiar.  It’s the parable of the lost sheep – and the shepherd who leaves 99 sheep to look for the one that is lost.  It’s also the parable about the woman who loses one of her ten coins.  And she sweeps her house until she finds it.  What we learn from this is that God searches.  God searches diligently for his lost children until he brings them home.  

    But what we often overlook is the last line.  It’s the line that says, “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”  Sound like a party to me!  The angels of God party.  And you know what?  So should we.  What I want you to hear today – one more time – is that church should be a fun place to be.  A place where Christians feel free to party and have a good time together – while we worship and serve God together.  A place where your pastor can be unrestrained to tell corny jokes from time to time.  Yes?  One of the things I want you to remember before I leave – is that the Kingdom of God is a party!

    Now I have told many stories that I got from sociologist and author Tony Campolo over the years.  But the one I am about to tell, well, this one has been my favorite by far.  It’s been more than twenty years since I last told it.  It’s from Campolo’s book “The Kingdom of God is A Party.”  And I stole – I mean – I borrowed that title for this sermon.  Listen!

    “If you live on the East Coast and travel to Hawaii, you know that there is a time difference that makes three O’clock in the morning feel like it’s nine. If you know of what I speak, you will understand when I tell you that whenever I go out to our fiftieth state I find myself wide awake long before dawn.  Not only do I find myself up and ready to go while almost everybody else is still asleep, but I find that I want breakfast when almost everything on the island is still closed.  With this background you should understand why at 3:30 in the morning I was wandering up and down the streets of Honolulu looking for a place to get something to eat.  

    Up a side street I found a little place that was still open.  I went in, took a seat on one of the stools at the counter, and waited to be served.  This was one of those sleazy places that deserves the name greasy spoon.  It was the only place I could find.
    The guy behind the counter came over and asked, “What d’ya want?”

    I told him I wanted a cup of coffee and a donut.

    He poured a cup of coffee, wiped his grimy hand on his smudged apron, and then he grabbed a donut off the shelf behind him.  I’m a realist.  I know that in the back room of that restaurant, donuts are probably dropped on the floor and kicked around, but I really would have appreciated it if he had used a pair of tongs and placed the donut on some wax paper.

    As I sat there munching on my donut and sipping my coffee at 3:30 in the morning, the door of the diner suddenly swung open and, to my discomfort, in marched eight or nine provocative and boisterous prostitutes.

    It was a small place, and they sat on either side of me.  Their talk was loud and crude.  I felt completely out of place and was just about to make my getaway when I overheard the woman sitting beside me say, “Tomorrow’s my birthday.  I’m going to be 39.”
    Her “friend” responded in a nasty tone.  “So what do you want from me?  A birthday party?  What do you want?  Ya want me to get you a cake and sing “happy birthday?”

    “Come on!” said the woman sitting next to me.  “Why do you have to be so mean? I was just telling you, that’s all.  Why do you have to put me down?  I was just telling you it was my birthday.  I don’t want anything from you.  I mean, why should you give me a birthday party?  I’ve never had a birthday party in my whole life.  Why should I have one now?”

    When I heard that I made a decision.  Is at and waited until the women had left.  Then I called over the guy behind the counter and I asked him, “Do they come in her every night?”

    “Yeah!” he answered.

     “The one right next to me, does she come here every night?”

    “Yeah!” he said.  “That’s Agnes.  Yeah, she comes in every night.  Why d’ya wanta know?”

    “Because I heard her say that tomorrow is her birthday,” I told him. What do you say you and I throw a birthday party for her – right here – tomorrow night?”

    A smile slowly crossed his chubby cheeks and he answered, “That’s great!  I like it!  That’s a great idea!”

    “Look,” I told him, “If it’s OK with you, I’ll get back here tomorrow morning about 2:30 and decorate the place.  I’ll even get a birthday cake!’

    “No way,” said Harry.  (That was his name.)  “The birthday cake’s my thing.  I’ll make the cake.”

    At 2:30 the next morning, I was back at the diner.  With crepe paper and a sign that read “Happy Birthday, Agnes!”  I decorated the diner from one end to the other.

    The woman who did the cooking must have gotten the word out on the street, because by 3:15 every prostitute in Honolulu was in the place.  It was wall-to-wall prostitutes….and me!

    At 3:30, the diner door swung open, and in walked Agnes and her friend.  When they came in, we all screamed “Happy birthday!”
    Never have I seen a person so flabbergasted…so stunned…so shaken.  We sang happy birthday to her.  As we came to the end, her eyes moistened.  Then, when the cake with all the candles on it was carried out, she lost it and just openly cried.

    Harry gruffly mumbled, “Blow out the candles Agnes”!  If you don’t, I’m gonna have to.”  After an endless few seconds, he did.  He handed her a knife and told her, “Cut the cake Agnes.  Yo, Agnes, we all want some cake.”

    Agnes looked down at the cake.  Then without taking her eyes off it, she slowly and softly said, “Look Harry, is it all right with you if I…if I…keep the cake a little while?  “Sure,” said harry.  “Take it home if you like.”

    “Can I?” she asked.  Then looking at me she said, “I live just down the street a couple of doors.  I’ll take the cake home and be right back.  Honest!”

    As she left, a stunned silence filled the room.  Not knowing what else to do, I broke the silence by saying, “What do you say we pray?”

    In looking back it seems like an odd thing to do.  But I prayed.  I prayed for Agnes.  I prayed for her salvation.  I prayed that her life would be changed and that God would be good to her.

    When I finished, Harry, with a trace of hostility in his voice said, “Hey!  You never told me you were a preacher.  What kind of church do you belong to?”

    In one of those moments when just the right words came, I answered, “I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for whores at 3:30 in the morning/”

    Harry waited a moment, and then almost sneered as he answered, “No you don’t.   There’s no church like that.  If there was, I’d join it.  I’d join a church like that.”

    Wouldn’t we all?  Wouldn’t we all like to join a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning?

    Listen!  That’s exactly the kind of church that Jesus came to create.  Too often we get hung up on being too prim and proper.  I mean, just read the Gospels.  Pay attention to the number of times Jesus partied with prostitutes, tax collectors, and sinner.  These outcasts – these lepers of society, if you will – found in Jesus someone who would eat and drink with them, and they took to him with excitement.

    I firmly believe that church ought to be fun – and that the Kingdom of God – is a party.  And I hope and trust and pray that the party will continue long after I have left.  And hey!  I don’t know about you – but let me tell you – I’m still having fun here at this place that we call church.  Still having fun after all these years.  And in the next two weeks, there’s still so much we have to celebrate.  

    Hearts that have been touched.  Lives that have been changed.  Sinners –that’s you and me – saved by God’s grace.  For whom the angels rejoice and throw a party.

    So today – Jesus invites us to the party.  To the table.  To the table where there is room for everyone.  No matter who you are.  No matter what you’ve done.  No matter where you’ve been.  And if you’re prone to wander – no matter how long you’ve been away.  
    There is room for you here.  Here – where the Kingdom of God is a party!


Posted by: AT 10:21 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, May 21 2018

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15; Acts 2:1-21

    “Going Green” is a phrase we are hearing a lot of these days.  Everyone – it seems – is going green.  And that’s not a bad idea.  I’m constantly pulling things out of the trash around here – old worship bulletins, plastic water bottles – that kind of stuff – and throwing them instead into our church’s recycle bins.  Oh yes – I know.  I drive the staff nuts!     

    If something is compostable, I throw it into my compost bin at home.  I even rip open my used tea bags – and throw the used tea leaves into my compost.   And my coffee grounds.  I have no need for the compost!  But I compost anyway.

    Nancy and I have replaced our light bulbs with energy efficient fluorescent bulbs.  As we replace our kitchen and washing machine appliances – we buy energy efficient units.  Energy star efficient all the way.  I guess I do these things because I feel for me it’s the right thing to do.  When our 20 year old water tank went on us 2 years ago, we replaced it with an energy efficient tankless water system.  And since the furnace was the same age – and although it was working fine – we replaced it at the same time with a high-energy efficient unit.  

    A number of years ago, the church added solar panels to the roof to generate electricity.  Nancy and I have talked about doing the same at our home.  A recent power outage that lasted more than a day at my house – I have a wood burning fireplace that I heated the family room with – showed just how much we rely on a variety of sources of power.  I want to install a partial-house generator this summer so that I’ll never be without power again.  
    So the world needs power.  But let me tell you something else.  The church needs power.  And I’m not talking now about solar panels or natural gas.  The power I’m talking about when I say the church needs power comes from a different source.  I’m talking about the power of the Holy Spirit.

    Now – before the church goes green – and now I’m talking about the altar hangings that will be changed to green in just two weeks – we first go red. Today is one of two red days in the life of the church.  That’s because today we celebrate the day of Pentecost.  One of the three great festivals of the church year.  

    Christmas is the first.  We celebrate the birth of Jesus – God becoming flesh and living among us.  The second major festival is Easter.  That’s when we celebrate Jesus rising from the dead.

    And then there is today.  Pentecost.  The birthday of the church.  The coming of the Holy Spirit in power.   You can read all about it in Acts chapter 2.

    You see, before the Holy Spirit came, the church was powerless.  There were some 120 disciples of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem – in hiding – living in fear of the authorities.  Yes, they had seen the risen Savior – Jesus Christ risen from the dead. Some of them had watched as Jesus had ascended into heaven some 10 days earlier.  But still they are without power.

    And so they wait.  They just wait.  Jesus had told them in Acts 1:8 that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon them.  The question is power to do what?

    Well, as we heard just a few moments ago, the disciples were all gathered into one place.  And there came the sound of a violent wind.  Wind power?  Not exactly.  And then tongues of fire appeared over each one’s head.  Burning methane?  Not a chance!  

    What they experienced is the power of  the Holy Spirit.  And they began to speak in other languages.  And Peter – good old Peter – the same dude who denied knowing Jesus – and then went and wept bitterly – now has the power of the Holy Spirit within him.  And now in the power of the Spirit he stands up with boldness and preaches a sermon to the crowd that has gathered.  And at the end – when he is finished – we read that 3,000 people were baptized that day.  3,000 people were added to the church in one day.  

    Those first Christians – the first disciples of Jesus Christ – were not powered by wind or methane or solar or fossil or nuclear fuels.  No.  Their power came from on high.  From the Holy Spirit.  This power source enabled them to speak in other languages so that those who spoke other languages might hear and understand.  This power source enabled them to speak boldly and with confidence about Jesus Christ – the things that they had heard and experienced and seen.  They talked about the Good News of Jesus Christ – and in doing so offered a word of hope.  They talked about salvation and what it means to have eternal life with God forever.

    Now – lest I give you the wrong impression.  The Holy Spirit is not just a force.  As I tell you so often –He is not like the force in Star Wars.  You remember those movies.  “May the force be with you.”  And if you’re a good Lutheran – every time you watch those movies you’re likely to have the urge to say – “And also with you.”

    But no, don’t you dare confuse the force of Star Wars with the Holy Spirit.  Because the Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force.  The Holy Spirit is not an “it.”  The Holy Spirit is a person.  The Bible tells us that He has knowledge (1 Cor. 2:11).  He has a will (1 Cor. 12:11).  He has a mind (Rom. 8:27).  He has affections (Rom. 15:30).  You can lie to him (Acts 5:3-4).  Not a good idea, by the way.  You can insult him (Heb. 10:29). You can grieve him (Eph. 4:30).

    The Holy Spirit is a person.  The third person of the Trinity.  And as such, He is the source of the church’s power.  

    Folks – the church needs power.  My question is, how welcome is Holy Spirit power in our lives?

    Because, I’m going to tell you, we still need that power.  We need that power if God is going to use us to touch hearts and change lives.  We need that power if we’re going to be God’s church that brings the Good News of Jesus Christ to those who do not know him.  We need that power if we are to bring hope to the hopeless.  Joy to those in despair.  Fulfillment and purpose to those who find no meaning in life.

    The church needs power.  For the here and now.  Church is not just a place where we learn about a guaranteed place with God in heaven after death.  No.  And don’t get me wrong, I am looking forward to heaven as much as anyone.  But until then, we need God’s power – God’s Holy Spirit power – God’s Pentecost power – God’s resurrection power – to live life in a Christ-like way in the here and now.

    Max Lucado in his book, A Gentle Thunder, gives the following analogy.  Let me share it with you.

    “Let's imagine that you want to learn to dance.  So you go to a bookstore and buy a book on dancing.  You take the book home and get to work. You do everything it says. The book says sway; you sway. The book says shuffle; you shuffle. The book says spin; you spin.

    “Finally, you think you’ve got it, and you invite your wife to come in and watch. You hold the book open and follow the instructions step by step.

    “You continue to read, then dance, read, then dance, until the dance is completed.  You plop exhausted on the couch, look at your wife, and proclaim, ‘I executed it perfectly.’

    “‘You executed it, all right,’ she sighs. ‘You killed it.’
    “‘You forgot the most important part. Where is the music?’

    Then Lucado says, “We Christians are prone to follow the book while ignoring the music. We know what we believe.  We debate the rules.  And sometimes, we step around the dance floor with no music in our hearts.  

    “Dancing with no music is tough stuff.”  Living life as a disciple of Jesus Christ without the power of the Holy Spirit is tough stuff.
    “Jesus knew that.”  And for that reason, before he ascended into heaven, he told the disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon them.  To fill them.  To be the power they would need to go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and indeed the entire world as witnesses to the life-changing message – the Good News – of Jesus Christ.  And in the power of the Holy Spirit, they did indeed turn the world upside down.

    “So think about it; have you ever been comforted? Has God ever brought you peace when the world brought you pain? That’s the power of the Spirit to be the Comforter.

    “Have you ever sensed a stab of sorrow for something you’ve said or done that you shouldn’t have said or done? Then you’ve been touched by the Holy Spirit.

    “Or have you ever understood a new truth?  Or seen an old principle in a new way? The light comes on. Your eyes pop open. “Aha, now I understand.”  Ever happen to you? If so, that was the Holy Spirit at work in you.

    Have you ever shared the Good News of Jesus Christ with anyone?  That’s the power of the Holy Spirit at work in you to give you the power to speak with boldness.

    “Well, friends, what do you know?  Looks like the Holy Spirit has been and is at work in your life already!”

    Those are the words of Max Lucado.  He has some good stuff to say, wouldn’t you agree?  This is the power of God, the Holy Spirit.  And these are the things that the Holy Spirit does.  In fact, without the power of the Holy Spirit, we cannot come to faith.  Without the power of the Holy Spirit, we cannot even say the words, “Jesus is Lord.”  

    The Holy Spirit gives us the power we need.  Power to speak and to share boldly what we hear and know and have experienced.  To share and to speak of the difference that being a disciple of Jesus Christ has made in our lives.  

    We dance together to the music of the Holy Spirit – the music of our lives.  The Holy Spirit is the power the church needs.               Amen

Posted by: AT 12:16 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, May 15 2018

John 17: 6-21

    Let me ask you a question.  To whom does this church belong?  Anybody?  Yes.  This is God’s church.  As the weeks count down to my departure, this is what I want you to remember.  To whom does the church belong?  It belongs to Jesus Christ.  

    To be sure, you and I belong to the church.  We are members of the church.  And just in case you missed it – I really don’t like using the word member.  Because the word member can imply ownership – it can imply – as the credit card commercial used to say – that membership has its privileges.    
    Truth is, we are not owners.  Christ is the owner – and we are disciples – and that’s the word I prefer to use – disciples instead of members – we are disciples who belong to Jesus Christ.  THEREFORE – we are at best caretakers of this place – this building – or better yet – this organism that we call the church.

    And I’ve gotta say that I feel a certain amount of pride in this place.  Pride in all of you who give of yourselves – you give your time to this place – you give your talent and your financial resources to the work of ministry that is making a difference in so many people’s lives in and through this place.   

    This is an amazing place because of all the amazing people who are and who have been a part of this place.  And I have to say this.  This church is not about me.  It has never been about me.  But sometimes – okay a lot of times – I can’t help looking at this place – thinking about his place – and – you know – just feeling good about what God has done through all of us in this place.  But ultimately – we all need to remember – I know that I need to remember – that this church that we love so much – ultimately – this church – belongs to Jesus Christ.

    Now here’s the thing.  Even though we are not the owners –still – the church – this church – has been entrusted to us.  And that’s a big responsibility if ever there was one.

    The first disciples in the early days of the church completely understood this.  Even before the day of Pentecost – the day we call the birthday of the church – which we will be celebrating next weekend by the way – those first disciples of Jesus Christ understood that the church did not belong to them.  

    Our first reading from the book of Acts tells us that the disciples are waiting for the promised Holy Spirit.  And as they wait, they feel it necessary, after the death of Judas – to name a successor to Judas.  A man by the name of Matthias is selected to take his place among the twelve.    Again, they understood that Jesus had entrusted the church to them – and that if the work and the mission and the ministry of the church had to continue – that it was up to them to make sure that it happened.

    Pastor Bill Hinson tells the story of a husband and wife team who made a significant impact on the world of science, Pierre and Marie Curie. They were the French scientists who discovered radium. They worked closely together in their laboratory until the day Pierre absent-mindedly walked in front of a wagon and was run over and killed. Marie was devastat¬ed. Pierre had only recently been appointed to a prestigious chair in the Academy of Science.

    A few days after Pierre’s death, Marie was invited to take that chair in his place. She accepted with gratitude. A great scientist in her own right, she entered the hall that day to an overflow crowd. They all wondered, “What will she say? Will she eulogize her husband?”

    When she mounted the platform she began reading these words, “. . . when I consider the vast progress which science has made . . .” The crowd realized that she had picked up exactly where Pierre had left off when he had been interrupted while reading a paper he had been presenting to them before his untimely death.

    Then Hinson makes this observation, “As Christians, we should bear with pride the fact that we pick up where Jesus left off, because we are His body in the world.”

    That’s the understanding that the first Christians had.  They knew that Jesus had called them – to carry on the work that Jesus had started.  They knew it was up to them to carry on the work of the church.

    And in the middle of all this – they remember that Jesus prayed for them.  They remember that on the night just before his betrayal and arrest, Jesus prayed for them.  A portion of that prayer is in our Gospel reading from John’s Gospel.  And we need to remember this.  Just as Jesus is praying for his disciples – he is praying for you and me as well.  Listen.

    “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.…As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world….I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word.”

    Did you catch that last sentence?  We are those who believe through the word and witness of those first disciples.  Jesus sent those first disciples out into the world – and he sends us out into the world too!  To share the good news.  To make disciples.  And what’s more – the owner of this place is praying for us.  The owner of this place is praying for you!

    So Jesus is praying for us – and what he prayed for is that we might be one.  Do not miss that point!  We are a body – the body of Christ.  We are a family.  That’s why we come together – to be together – to worship together – to pull together – to support each other.  

    You see – there is a difference – a big difference – between just being a part of a crowd – and being a part of a congregation.  
    A man by the name of Charles Jefferson once described the difference between an audience and a church.  I like what he has to say.  Listen.

    “An audience is a crowd.  A church is a family.
    An audience is a gathering.  A church is a fellowship.
    An audience is a collection.  A church is an organism.
    An audience is a heap of stones.  A church is a temple.”

    And he concludes, “Preachers are ordained not to attract an audience, but to build a church.”  And I have to add to what Mr. Jefferson says here, and that is to say, that it is not just the job of the preacher to build a church.  This is not a task just for the preacher – but a calling for every one of us here today.  We have all been in this together.  And it has been a great run – a wonderful partnership.  And we’ve still got a few weeks left.  And I am confident that after I have stepped aside – well – I just know that your partnership with each other will continue.  Yes?  You will partner with each other – AND when the next pastor is called – you will continue to partner with whomever the Lord sees fit to call here.  

    Because – the owner of this church is Jesus Christ – but still, it is our job to build it.   

    I am often asked by guests at weddings and funerals, “How long has this church been here?”  And my answer – this year – is 164 years.  

    “No.  How long has the building been here?”   
    “Oh!  We moved into this sanctuary 17 years ago.”  
    And almost without exception, the response has been, “Well, it’s just beautiful!”

    And it is, isn’t it!  A number of you remember when we watched this building go up.  Arch by arch. Brick by brick.  But when I talk today about building the church – I’m not talking about brick and mortar and wooden arches.  I’m talking about the people who visit us for the first or second or more times – people who for the most part are here primarily because you invited them.  You invited them to “come and see” – or they have come here because of this place’s reputation.  People looking for a church home.  People looking to be connected with God’s people in the body of Christ.  AND – you made them feel welcome.  DO NOT stop doing that!  That’s how the Lord uses you and me to help build his church.

    I got to thinking this week that today is the 27th anniversary of my first Sunday here with you.  And I had a goal to teach this congregation to be friendly, not just among themselves, but to visitors.  After two weeks, I realized I didn’t have to teach them that, because they already knew how to do that.  By the way, how many of you were already here before I got here?  Let me see a show of hands.  Yeah, not that many.  That means that all of the rest of you have come here sometime in the last 27 years, and you decided to stay because you realized what a wonderful church family this place is.

    So when I talk about building a church – I’m not talking about brick and mortar and wooden arches.  I’m talking about changed lives.  People looking for a relationship with Jesus Christ, or looking to grow deeper in their relationship with Jesus Christ.  People who have been changed and are changing.  I’m talking about a church that’s alive.  
    So – how have you been changed?  How have you been changed by what you hear – what you see – what you experience in this place?  I want to know – because that’s always been a goal of mine – it’s a goal I have for each one of you – that we be changed – that we be transformed – that we grow in faith – in our love for God and for each other.  That we become more and more like Christ in our thoughts – in our words – and in our actions.  This is my hope – and this is my prayer – for you.

    And to that end, I also want to ask you, are you praying for this church – this congregation?  For its leaders?  For its pastor?  Would you pray for our Call Team whose job it is to interview potential pastoral candidates on your behalf?  And then – and most especially – pray for that person – that man or that woman – that God is calling to be the next pastor at this church.  Pray for that pastor whoever he or she may be.  

    Remember – this church is not my church.  This church belongs to Jesus Christ.  And just as Jesus prayed for those first disciples – he also prays for us.  Therefore – we need to pray too.  Will you promise to do that?  Will you promise to pray for Zion and its mission?  In fact, I invite you to join with me in doing that right now.  Let us pray.

    “Father God, we come to you in the name of Jesus, the head and the owner of this church.  Lord, we love this church – this place – and the people gathered together here today to worship you.  May we continue to reach out – and invite – and pray for those who have not yet walked through our doors – but who we know you are sending this way.  Continue to work in and through us through the power of your Holy Spirit.  We turn to you for strength and for courage to do what needs to be done every step of the way.  In the name of Jesus we pray.  And all God’s people said….  Amen.

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Tuesday, May 08 2018

John 15:9-17

    You know that I love to tell stories in my sermons.  And from your reactions over the years, you love to listen to them.  Shortly after I announced my retirement three months ago, I let you know that I hoped to retell some of my favorite stories.  The story I am about to tell you happens to be among my favorites. Listen!

    In 1940, Nazi Germany was already well on its way in displaying its military might in an effort to bring the entire world under the rule of the fanatical Adolph Hitler.  In that same year, the armies of Germany invaded its neighbor to the north, tiny Denmark.  After just a few hours of fighting, the Danes surrendered.  One of the first edicts handed down to the people of Denmark was that all Jews would be required to wear sewn onto their clothing a yellow Star of David.

    Now the king of Denmark at this time was a popular king by the name of Christian, Christian X.  Christian was famous for riding often down the streets of Copenhagen on horseback, and often unattended.  The day after the Nazis had issued their edict that all Jews should wear the Star of David, King Christian, in a bold act of defiance, was the first person to be seen on the streets of Copenhagen, riding his horse, and wearing, sewn onto his coat, the Star of David.

    The Nazis protested.  “You must not do this!  We want only the Jews to wear the star.”  King Christian replied, “If even one of my subjects is required to wear the star, then I shall wear it too.”  Soon everyone in Denmark, Christian and Jew alike, was seen wearing the star.

    But the greatest act of defiance against the Nazis was not that all of the citizens wore the Star of David, but that secretly, one by one, the Jews of Denmark began to disappear.  In an effort that had no central organization, but happened rather spontaneously, the people of Denmark were able to smuggle the Jews out of Denmark – in boats of every shape and size – across the sea to neutral Sweden.

    As a result – even though 50 Danish Jews did meet their end in the death camps – more than 7,000 Jews were saved from Hitler’s gas chambers.  Denmark would prove to be the only country that did anything on a national scale to protect its Jews in World War II.
    After telling that story at the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem on one of my visits to Israel, our guide then told us that to this day, the Jews have never forgotten what the Danish people did.  And the Jewish people learned a valuable lesson from the courageous acts of the Danish people.  And what they learned is this.  They learned that the opposite of love is not hate.  The opposite of love is not hate.  It is apathy.

    In our Gospel reading today, Jesus is sending a message.  He is sending a message to his disciples, and by extension to us as well.  And the message is this.  Love one another.  Love one another as I have loved you.  This was not – this is not – a suggestion.  He calls it a commandment.  Listen!

    “This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you.”

    What can be said about the love of Jesus is that it is real.  It is authentic.  There is nothing phony about Jesus.  Please don’t forget what I have been saying to you for many years now – “God loves you – Jesus loves you – just the way you are.  But he loves you too much to let you stay that way.”  And he loves you – he loves every single one of you – even though he knows everything there is to know about you. Jesus loves you through and through even though he knows you through and through.  Chew on that for a while!

     But don’t miss that part where he says, “Love one another.”  Again, not a suggestion.  Not a request.  But something that we are commanded to do.

    Now, let’s be honest – not that we wouldn’t be honest – but let’s be honest.  We all know that there are just some people who are difficult to love.  Sometimes loving somebody is just plain hard work.  Most of the time it’s not – but sometimes it is. Sometimes – like King Christian and the Danish people – it involves taking risks.  And it always involves being vulnerable – because you know when you love that other person – when you love as Christ loves – you risk being hurt.  

    Now – in the Greek language in which the Scriptures were first written – there are a variety of words that mean love.  Philos refers a brotherly or sisterly love.  Eros refers to the romantic love between two people who are married to each other, or those entering into marriage.  Here – when Jesus says, “Love one another,” the word is “Agape.”  This is a self-giving love – the kind of love that Christ loved us with – a love that led Him to give Himself for us.

    This is a self-less love.  We might even call it a love that nourishes.  It’s the kind of love that says, “You are important; you are special; you are someone I believe in.  Just because – just because you are who you are.”  

    Isn’t that the kind of love we’d all like to have?  Even at those times when we are not all that lovable!  What we need is someone to listen without judging.  Without condemnation.  Someone to love us unconditionally.  

      Let me tell you – most folks don’t need a critic.  What they need is a coach.  A cheerleader.  Moms and dad, listen up!  Your kids don’t need a critic.  Be a coach, not a critic.  

    Listen! If we are to love as Jesus loved – then our love needs to be genuine.  It needs to be authentic.  It needs to be unconditional.  And yes, that’s not always easy.  And by the way – I think this is a good point to say this – although to love unconditionally is to love the way Jesus loves – that does not mean that anyone – man, woman or child – should ever stay in an abusive relationship.  No one should ever have to put up with abuse or bullying.  That’s not love.  That’s self-centeredness and control.  But it is not love.

    Do you remember what I Corinthians 13 has to say about this?  I like Romans 12 starting with verse 9 and following, by the way.  But I Corinthians 13 is a great way to understand what agape love is all about.  Many of you should be familiar with I Corinthians 13 because it is highly likely that these words were spoken at your wedding.  Or, I am sure, you have attended a wedding where this passage was read.  Even though the love that I Corinthians talks about has nothing to do with the romantic love between two people – it is often read at weddings.  These are words that every one of us should memorize and take to hear.  But do you remember the words?  Again – the word used here is the word Agape.  Listen!

    “Love is patient and kind.  Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.”

    Really – I can think of no better words than these to describe a love that is authentic.  A love that is real.  

    And of course any one of you could rightly ask, “Well, Randy, why should I love like that?  Why should I love other people in this way?”  Glad you asked.  Well, first of all, it is by the Lord’s command.  “Love one another as I have loved you.”  Challenging?  Yes.  Sometimes daunting.  Downright impossible?  Well, yes, sometimes it seems that way.  But just because it isn’t always easy – most of the time it is – but just because it isn’t always easy doesn’t mean you should give up.  

    Why?  Because the benefits are unlimited.  You see, not only will others be built up – not only will others be encouraged – but so will you.  So will you!

    Remember, the opposite of love is not hate.  It is apathy.  You cannot say you love someone – and not care for them or about them.

    Preachers like me often lift up Mother Teresa as an example of selfless – giving – agape love.  And although she is no longer with us – many of you will remember how she dedicated her life to the thousands of hungry, sick and dying people of India.  She wrote a book that offers excellent ideas about loving others as Christ loves us.

    Referring to the parable of the bridegroom and the wise and foolish maidens she writes, “Do not imagine that love to be true must be extraordinary….  See how a lamp burns, by the continual consumption of the little drops of oil.  If there are no more drops in the lamp, there will be no light,…”

    “My children, what are these drops of oil in our lamps?  They are the little things of everyday life: fidelity, punctuality, little words of kindness, just a little thought for others, those little acts of silence, of look and thought, of word, and deed.  These are the very drops of love – the very drops of love that make our life burn with so much light.”

     The Bible tells us that we love because God first loved us.  We learn to love – we gain the capacity for love – when we ourselves are first loved by someone else.   

    We all need to be loved.  All of us.  And because this is true – everyone here today – myself included – we need to ask ourselves, “How am I doing?  How am I doing at receiving and then demonstrating the love of Christ?  The love that first loved me?  How am I doing?  Am I loving in ways that others experience and know that I love them?  That they know the love of Christ through me!

    For love to be love it must be real.  It must be authentic.  It must be genuine.  Like little drops of oil in our lamps that never run out.

    Remember that!  As the weeks are counting down now to my final Saturday/Sunday with you – my joy will be complete to know that just as you have been doing for so many years in my presence – so you will continue to do in my absence – to love one another just as Christ loves you.

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