The commandment of Love  by Ralph Fothergill, adapted by June Fothergill

Scripture:  John 15: 1-12;  Acts 14: 8-22

There is a true story from Scotland about what happened in the parsonage of the Rev. Samuel Rutherford, who served the Presbyterian Church over 200 years ago. He was a contemporary of John Wesley.  One evening a stranger appeared at his door and sought lodging. He was receive graciously. As it was the custom of the minster and his family to have devotions at the end of the day.  The stranger was asked to join the family service.  After the pastor read the scripture for the day each person was asked questions about the Bible.  When the time came for the stranger’s question he was asked, “ How many Commandments are there?”  He quickly responded “ 11”

The minister was surprised and a bit shocked at the man’s ignorance, so corrected  him, “ There are only 10 commandments”.  The stranger then replied , “ Have you never then read, ‘ A New commandment I give you that you love one another?’  The guest was the renowned biblical scholar of the day James Ussher, the Anglican Archbishop of Armagh .

The next day was Sunday and the Rev. Rutherford asked the Archbishop to preach to his Presbyterian congregation.  He did and used the text “ Love One another”  which was very fitting because in those days the animosity between the Anglicans and the Presbyterians was extreme.

How necessary and important all over the world today it is for us too, to hear these same words of our Lord,” Love one another” as we deal with the many different and varied people with whom we come in contact each day.

To love as first loved by Christ ever since Christ’s death and resurrection as been the distinctive mark of true Christians.  “ By this everyone will know  that you are my disciples” says John 13:35- that you love another as I have loved you.  According to the each church father’s likely Tertullian, Christians in the 2nd century were spoken of by the world in these words, “ See how they love one another.”  This love was mot just a warm and nice feeling experience inside, but as Tertullian pointed out, “ How ready they are to die for one another.” Real love is that crucial.

Richard Hayes in “ Living by the Word” calls this commandment to love one another a crisis order.. a directive to a community about to love its leader.   He points out, “ When Jesus issued this immediately after Judas departure from the common supper, he knew that he would be with the disciples only a little longer…He had been warning his disciples to expect hostility and rejection from the world; Hence , his parting command that they love one another is a call for them to hand together, to present a united front…”    NO matter what ! love one another!

It’s easy to say- love each other but how are we do this. How can we love in such an unloving world ?  When persons will take up a gun and kill classmates or  people enjoying themselves in a night club or missionaries trying to help?    Daddy looked to the scripture story from Acts  today for some ideas.

Paul and Barnabbas witnessed to their world with the practical love which brought about the healing of the man crippled from birth.   A healing ministry in the world is one way we love one another in any age.   Daddy died before the current Imagine NO Malaria campaign of our church but I am sure he would be excited to participate. At Annual Conference this year we learned that our AC not only met its goal for the campaign but exceeded it! In fact we are honoring our departing DS Gwen Drake with a gift to Imagine no Malaria in her name of so far $2000. This campaign is spreading healing love to places of suffering in our world.

Of course our efforts to love don’t  always turn out the way we want or expect. Sometimes when we try to help, we run into unexpected outcomes.  Like the villagers trying to turn Paul and Barnabbas into gods.  Yet, in love, they didn’t  let them give them the glory.  Paul instead used this as a “ teachable moment”  to tell them about  God and Christ.  When we reach out to offer healing love,  we may find unexpected opportunities to witness.  To tell God’s story.

This happened when our AC  did a walk of remembrance for the victims of the shooting in Orlando. We walked with candles down the street in downtown Salem.  One couple saw us and asked about our purpose, when one of us told them, they decided to join in the walk.. One woman offered them her candle and we shared with them about our church.   An act of loving remembrance and healing lead to an opportunity to witness.   Taking a risk to engage in an act of love can lead to more opportunities for love and witness!  The ripples on the pond.

But I am getting away from Daddy’s sermon!   Paul and Barnabbas had opportunity to witness to God but they also got in trouble!  It soon became extremely dangerous for them in that city and Paul was almost stoned to death.   Real love in action may be dangerous .  Obeying the commandment to love is not always easy and does not guarantee appreciation of love in return.

As I was reading through this sermon on my daddy’s on the way home from AC, I heard on the radio a man named Malcom London who is part of the Chicago Freedom Movement,  current work for justice founded on the work of Martin Luther King. He talked about the need to “ Love harder.”  Love even when it’s hard, even when change seems so slow.   I have a friend that I see most every annual conference. She is Ruth Chamberlain from KF.  She is a generation older than me, but our ministries are on parallel tracks, when I was starting After School programs in Douglas Country, she was doing it in Klamath Falls. So I shouldn’t have been surprised to hear this week that she goes every week to the community meals at the KF church and reaches out in love to the unhoused folks who gather. We talked about the heart break of trying to help and the struggles people have to move forward in their lives.   Paul and Barnabbas had troubles in Lystra, but  Acts says that they returned there again. They chose to “ love harder.”

In fact  Jesus says, Love one another- as I have loved you!   Surely being willing to go to a cross for someone, especially such sinful, ordinary, run away from trouble people like his first disciples and us is a love that doesn ‘t give up when things get rough!  Jesus showed us the ultimate “ love harder”.   And because he did it for us- he trusted that we could do it for one another!   As Paul in Acts understands as he encourages the followers in Lystra and Antioch-  “ It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.” ( vs. 22)

So,  my father ended his sermon by talking with his church about how God would bring healing love to them and the need to take time to heal .  I don’t know exactly what was happening back then but it reminds me that the theme for Annual Conference this year was Sabbath.  One of the ways we learn to love in a harsh and unloving world is to take the time to connect with the love God has for us.  To open our hearts to the healing and forgiveness Christ pours out for us.   My dad offers us this thought,

You know how medicine’s new emphasis is on light exercise and activity often, instead of complete bed rest, as the most beneficial was of helping the body heal. Well, it may be the same for our souls. We are called to go on, gently flexing our mended hearts, demonstrating to others the remarkable curative powers we have encountered in Christ. God’s gift to us is healing love, but it was made accessible to the whole world through the crucifixion , death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Another pastor Frank WanderZwan has given me ( Daddy) this illustration: A father once took his three year old son up in his arms and into the middle of a motel swimming pool. And for fun began to walk slowly toward the deep end and gently chanting,  “Deeper and deeper we go.”    As they walked, the lad’s face registered increasing degrees of panic and he held tightly to his father who of course easily touched the bottom.  Had the little boy been able to analyze his situation he would have realized that there was no reason for increased anxiety as the water’s death in any part of the pool was over his head.  Even in the shallowest part he would have drowned if not held up by his father. His safety depended upon his Dad.

How do we love in an unloving world?  How do we love when we feel overwhelmed? How do we love when problems seem beyond our depth?   As with the child in the pool, the truth is we’ve never been in control over the most valuable things of life. We’ve always been held up by the love and grace of God, our Father and that does not change. God is never out of his depth, and therefore we are safe and able to love too, when we put our trust in his love!

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