by Elaine Maust
Bible School Dedication
June 11, 2006
John 13: 34-35
I’ve had a lot of fun this week, watching for identifications. These words of Jesus got me started and I’ve been hooked all week. I guess I just didn’t realize what effort we put into letting people know what team we’re on. Here’s what I mean.
Let’s say you’re driving down 8th Street. The car ahead of you has an American flag, a Nascar number, and a parking sticker for one of the hospitals. Right away you know three teams that this person wants to identify with. If I love fishing, hunting, or my shiatsu, it might just say that on the back of my car.
Or how about this… You are walking through the mall or down the isles at the grocery store and many, maybe most, of the people who are walking toward you have their team printed on their clothes. Have you ever thought about how bizarre that is? So watch, folks have all kinds of identification labels on their clothing. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I just wonder when we started this trend… The clothing may identify a sports team, or a particular brand of motorcycles, or be the uniform of a school. Just another way to say, “this is where I belong.” Or maybe we note an expensive brand name. How else will people know we are rich, or wish we were… Benjamin Franklin asked, “What would our purchases be like if everyone in the world was blind?”
Now again, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this, I’m just finding it interesting. One time I was thrilled to see a man wearing a T-Shirt that I thought would be perfect for our son Nathan, called something like the periodic table of fishing. It was a great spoof on chemistry and fishing, two of his interests in the same shirt. I was so excited I asked the guy who was wearing it if I could buy it from him. It’s a long story, but now it’s Nathan’s. Of course it also advertises the company that sold it, Cabalas.
I took a look in my closet and it wasn’t hard to find shirts with words on them that identify me. Here are a few I found…….
Like I said, these words of Jesus got me noticing all of this. Let’s take a look…
Jesus is getting ready to die. At the beginning of chapter 13, Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. Then Jesus told Judas to go on and do what he was going to do, that’s verse 27. And now, toward the end of the chapter, Jesus begins a long talk with his friends. If you have a red letter Bible, notice how much of the next several chapters are in red. You might call these chapters Jesus’ last words.
He begins with these words at the end of chapter 13 saying (v 33), “Little children, I am with you only a little longer.”
What? What? Wait a minute, Jesus. We aren’t ready for you to go!
And so as if he is saying, “And one more thing before I go…” Like your mother on the way out the door, Jesus says, (v34), “I give you a new commandment…”
I wonder what the disciples thought of this. After all, Jesus seems to have been very careful to support and clarify the Old Testament commandments instead of adding to or taking away from them. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” (Mt 5:27)
The religious leaders of Jesus’ time were notorious for the vast amount of laws they expected people to follow. The list of laws was so massive that the scribes and Pharisees spent their lives copying and interpreting the laws. There was a law covering every imaginable situation.
I can imagine the disciples are hearing, “I give you a new commandment,” and wondering, “Oh great. We’ve already got ten that we’re not doing very well with. Add to that all the other rules of Jewish life. All we need is one more commandment.”
Or maybe they were curious. Given their deep fascination and admiration for Jesus, maybe they leaned forward a little. What was he going to say next?
What is Jesus saying? “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” Love one another. Oh, now that is new!
I wonder if they looked around the circle and thought, “This is going to be tougher than we even imagined.” Remember these fellows? In Luke’s version of this story in Luke 22, right before this moment an argument had broken out between the disciples about which one of them was greatest. Can’t you just hear them? “Of course, I am more important than you.” “Someday everyone will remember me as the greatest of the disciples.” Now Jesus looks these very men in the eye and says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.”
But there’s more… “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another.” Jesus, who knew full well that he was about to die of love for them and eventually us too, said, “Tell you how I want you to love. Love like me.”
How did Jesus love? Remember he had just washed the disciples’ feet. Let’s take a look again at that story. (12-16)
Turn the page to John 15, which Duane just read. This is still part of the parting words of Jesus, there in the upper room. Jesus repeats the commandment and goes on to explain it a little. (12-17) Loving like Jesus is loving through service and sacrifice.
Back to John 13:35. These are the words that have stuck with me all week and got me noticing how I identify myself. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
It is as if Jesus put together a massive advertising campaign: let’s see, what will the branding be? What kind of a logo shall we use?
I don’t know how this hit the disciples, but I want to say to Jesus, wouldn’t it have been a lot simpler if you just said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you wear orange tunics.” Wouldn’t that just simplify things? I suppose eventually that would cause problems too, but this love thing is ambiguous and difficult most of the time.
The early Christians found an interesting identification. They used the sign of the fish. Have you seen this simple outline of a fish on backs of cars or on T-shirts? It’s still used today. It stands for “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.” The first Greek letters of each word spelled the Greek word for fish. It became both a secret sign and a branding for the early church.
We could do that, Jesus, I want to say. All of us get a fish tattoo or wear a fish necklace, and then everyone would know that we are disciples. But Jesus has a better idea. Love each other. Folks will watch and they’ll figure out who is the believer and who isn’t. Whew. That sobers me up quite a bit. Does it you?
So how do we go about this loving business? Last Sunday we reconfirmed Jubilee’s covenant. Here are some of the things we promised… To care for, speak well of, share with one another… Sounds like loving to me.
An interesting misconception that some folks have about Mennonites is that we are communal. That we all share the same property, check books, etc. Of course you all know that that isn’t true. But I think on our best days, we can accept that as a compliment that others observe the sincere way we care for each other and draw those conclusions from that.
Covenant words are strong words and promises only the Holy Spirit can help us live out. But there are simple ways to show love, too. Loving could be learning the names of all the people here at Jubilee, and whose children belong to whom and what their names are. A simple way to show love is to find out one thing in a person’s life that is important to them and ask them about that the next time you see them. “So, how is that new boss working out?” “Hey, did you lose that loose tooth last week?” “Did you get the summer job you applied for?” We can do that, right?
The Serendipity Bible asks this question: “On a scale of 1-10, how does your church rank against the standard of love? How could you increase its score?” (v35)
And what about our love for believers that are in other churches? In this town there are dozens and dozens of other churches with hundreds of other believers. Baptists, Episcopals, 7th Day Adventists, Pentecostals, and Catholics. Sometimes folks who don’t go to church, use the disrespect shown between churches as a reason not to associate with any church. Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” All these different churches in Meridian are part of the same franchise in different locations. If we are critical and demeaning of each other, it is as ridiculous as the employees of college park McDonalds looking down on the Frontage road McDonalds. Hello. Same owner, same big Mac, same golden arches.
It would be better for God’s business, the kingdom, if we pledge that we will respect, learn from, and cooperate with other believers and other churches in Meridian. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.”
This week during Bible School we will be memorizing these two verses and we will learn about being Jesus’ Friends. Jesus Friends who show hospitality, spend time with God, care for each other, etc. We will talk about specific ways that we can show love to one another. We hope this week will make us more recognizable as Jesus’ disciples.
Most days, I wear a cross. It reminds me that I am not alone. The Holy Spirit is with me. It reminds me that I belong to Jesus and that I want to represent him faithfully. Wearing a cross makes me feel like I am on God’s team.
This week I felt Jesus looking into my eyes and saying, “It’s great that you have a fish on the back of the car. And I’ve got no problem with the cross around your neck. But if you really want to identify with me, if you really want everyone to know that you are a disciple, then love somebody.” Yes, Jesus, with your help I will.