Called To Be the Evidence

Philosophers, poets, and writers throughout history and still today have all lifted up and commended to us the idea of love. Socrates, William Shakespeare, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the Jonas Brothers…

On the top of the charts you can hear them singing:

“We go together/Better than birds of a feather, you and me/We change the weather, yeah/I’m feeling heat in December when you’re ’round me/

I’ve been dancing on top of cars and stumbling out of bars/I follow you through the dark, can’t get enough/You’re the medicine and the pain, the tattoo inside my brain/And, baby, you know it’s obvious/I’m a sucker for you

You say the word and I’ll go anywhere blindly/I’m a sucker for you, yeah/Any road you take, you know that you’ll find me”

Every generation has its love songs, and they’re fun to sing along to.  You might even be able to learn something about love, but the truth is even at our best, our love for one another often requires something in return – it isn’t free.  We want some reciprocated action that communicates gratitude, some sign of appreciation, or a ‘thank you’ at the very least.  We want something to show for the effort of reaching out to care for someone else, even if it’s just the pride we feel for being so noble.

Jesus’ love, however, is entirely self-giving.  He gives up his life for us as a free gift, demanding nothing in return, only wanting to be with us.

Jesus gives up his life, but it’s not just as a sacrifice.  Because Jesus loves us so much he puts himself on the line for a specific reason: in order to protect the ones entrusted to him.

Next weekend a bunch of us are going to Bear Creek Lake Star Park to camp together for Memorial Day Weekend. 

Growing up, my family used to go to Hungry Mother State Park in Smyth County, VA, which is one of the original Civilian Conservation Core parks built during the depression and completed in the early 1930s.  The park has over two-thousand acres of lush woodlands for camping and hiking and a large lake for swimming and fishing.

When I was very small, I remember sitting with my grandparents in their living room one day as they told stories about going to the park they loved so much and asking my Grandmother how the park got its unique name.

She said that she had been told as a girl about a mother and daughter-of-about-two-years-old who were traveling far from home through Smyth County long before good roads and they got caught out in a snow storm.  The mother gave the daughter all of her food and tried to shelter her daughter from the ice, the cold rain and snow, the freezing temperatures, and in an effort to protect her daughter, had found an embankment and dug into the snow and placed her daughter down on the ground and then covered her up with her own body to keep the child warm. 

A group traveling through the same area in the next day or so came along and found the pair.  The mother was frozen to death, but under her, the small child was alive and in a small, pleading voice was crying out for help: “hungry, Mother.”  The child was taken and cared for.  She was adopted by a loving family and she grew up to live a heathy life.

Jesus shows us his vision for a new kind of love without limits by laying down his life to save us from the storms that ravage the world around us and churn within us.

In Jesus we see that God knows about the storm, because as Jesus gathered at this table for a final time with his friends and lavishly washed their feet, there was a storm coming.

You see the “he” in the first verse we heard this morning from John’s Gospel refers to Judas. 

Judas was going out in order to betray Jesus, bringing a storm of betrayal and arrest and death.  But as Judas heads out into the dark of night with ice in his heart toward what Jesus is trying to do in the world, Jesus is in control, aware that all this has been set in motion so that his disciples and the people will be able to see God’s glory revealed in how he will use his body to protect us and give his life for ours.

As followers of Jesus, we have been commissioned to follow him, and to give of ourselves, even to the point of death if necessary.

Recently I was listening to one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermons called “a Knock at Midnight.”  Dr. King says that in our call to stand up to the evil and the storms of the world we should never forget how many Christians there are in the world (he said at the time there were a billion Christians but I think there must be more now). 

He reminded those gathered at his church that we must be willing to give up our life if it’s asked of us and recalled how Caesar demanded his subjects to fight in the imperial army, but Christians refused and they would go to the lions with a “hymn on their lips and a smile on their faces.”  Why?  King asks.  Was it in their ecclesiastical machinery?  No!  Was it in their creedal system?  No! It was not only that.  They had “love for the brethren,” he said.

They loved one another with a love that came from Jesus.

You see, I don’t have enough love with which to love you, forgive you, or care for you or any other person.  And you don’t have enough love with which to love me, forgive me, or care for me or any other person.  But Jesus Christ stands between us.  By his resurrection power at work in us, Jesus gives us love with which to love one another.

This is how the world will know we are his disciples.

One week ago, last Sunday morning, perhaps while we were in worship together messages of graffiti were being discovered on the walls of Godwin high school.  Overnight, multiple crude drawings of guns appeared with the word “soon” and the date 5/15/19, which was the date of last Wednesday.

It is a terrifying thing to happen in our community, but its hard to imagine what kind of fear courses through your body if you are a student at Godwin.   The 1,800 students and 200 staff of Godwin high school must have all been rocked by this egregious, threatening display.  Parents and families must have felt – may still feel – perhaps even more trepidation.

From Sunday morning on, Principal Leigh Dunavant and her staff were tireless in their pursuit of uncovering who drew the graffiti: they explored tips, found information by scouring social media, they asked hard questions, they didn’t stop, and finally they uncovered who made the threat and secured a confession through a hard but compassionate confrontation with them.

The staff of Godwin pulled together and scrubbed the spray paint off the walls of the school.  They invited the students to write and sign banners of hope and positivity and inclusion, and the news went out that WITH the people who had written the graffiti in custody, it would be safe to go to school on Wednesday.  Still, there were extra police called in – police on the campus, in the parking lot, in the buildings –people to be there with these young men and women to make sure they were safe.

They might not think of it this way, but Leigh, the police, and the staff were there to put themselves on the line.  They were there to protect the ones entrusted to them.  They were there to show love without regard for themselves, instead putting others first.

Who says the love of Jesus Christ isn’t allowed in the public schools?

I know better, and we all know better, because this week we saw the evidence.

God’s glory is revealed in Jesus’ willingness to meet the evil of this world head-on and face-to-face in the cross and empty tomb, and he sends us out to step forward as he stepped forward: without fear and in full confidence that God is with us and his own love pulses through our shared life.

Sisters and brothers, we are called to be the evidence of Jesus’ love.

We are called to share the news of a vision of the things of heaven coming down to the things of earth, so that all who suffer and grieve will hear the promise that God will wipe away every tear. 

We are called to share the news with those who experience life cut short by senseless violence, with those who experience hunger and tragedy, with those who experience the loss of loved ones, and to all of us who bring any grief or sadness to God…. 

Death will be no more. Mourning and crying and pain will be no more. Jesus makes all things new.

We simply point to God.

We point to the One who is the mother of all creation and the father of Israel, who is praised by angels and the host of heaven; sun and moon, fire and hail, snow and fog, mountains and hills, and all peoples, old and young together…

…we point to this God who became flesh and lived among us so that God’s glory – his reputation – his splendidness – would be revealed in the cross. 

The cross of Jesus is what love looks like.

Jesus laid down his life for us as a free gift of love and because Jesus has been raised, his love has no limits.  He will not hold back anything of his own but lays it all out for you and for me and the small, pleading voice of the world that cries out for help.

You can hear Jesus respond in love when he offers you his forgiveness, when he calls you to his table.  If you listen hard enough you might even be able to hear him singing to you, singing to me, singing to the whole world:

We go together/Better than birds of a feather, you and me/We change the weather, yeah/I’m feeling heat in December when you’re ’round me

I’ve been dancing on top of cars and stumbling out of bars/I follow you through the dark, can’t get enough/You’re the medicine and the pain, the tattoo inside my brain/And, baby, you know it’s obvious/I’m a sucker for you

You say the word and I’ll go anywhere blindly/I’m a sucker for you, yeah/Any road you take, you know that you’ll find me.