By K Karpen Church of St Paul and St Andrew New York City
Download or listent to the podcast of K’s Sermon 4-28-13
“When Judas had left the table and gone out, Jesus saidâ€¦ Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me, but where I am going you cannot come. So I am giving you a new commandment, and here it is: Love each other! The way I have been loving you, that’s the way you should now love each other. And by this, everyone will know that you are my followers, if you have love for each other.â€ John 13:31-35
Charlene and I were coming home from South Street Seaport the other day, so we caught the #3 express train at Fulton Street and figured we’d make it home in plenty of time before our son Harry got home from school. Everything was fine until we pulled into Penn Station/34th Street. We sat there a minute, and then we heard those seven last words of the MTA, This train is going out of service.â€
We jumped out, but the train just sat there. And sat there. So we looked up at the nice little electric sign that tells you when the next train is coming. The answer was not encouraging. But we interpreted it, hopefully, to mean that there would be a #1 local train coming along sometime that same afternoon, so we switched over to the local track.
If you’ve been in New York City long enough, you know that the Penn Station subway station was designed by Satan, and that to switch from the express to the local involves descending a staircase, passing under the tracks along a corridor, coming up another staircase, and dashing across the platform to the local track.
We did that, but as we came to the local track, we saw that the â€˜out of service express train’ was pulling out and clearing the track. There was no local train in sight, so we dashed back down, through, and up to the express track. No train in sight, but two were promised for the future.
As we stood there waiting for the express, they announced the imminent arrival of the local. We figured a train in the hand was worth two in the bush, so we went down, through, up and across into the local. Then, we looked out the window and saw the express pulling in. â€˜Great! We can make up some of this lost time.’ So we went out, down, through and up and got on the express. Whew. The local pulled out. We sat there on the express for a minute, and then came the seven last words. Again. This train is going out of service.â€
That’s the message Jesus is trying to give his followers that last evening of his life. Friends, you’ve been along for the ride. I’ve been happy to carry you along. But guess what. This train is about to go out of service. Now it’s your turn. It’s up to you. This train is going out of service.
Jesus is going out of service, but not before he teaches his followers to serve.
Jesus is going out of service, but not before he shows p with a basin and towel and insists on washing their feet.
Jesus is going out of service, but not before he leaves them with operating instructions for this world he was sent to love:
Little children,â€ he says, I am giving you a new commandment, and here it is: Love each other! The way I have been loving you, that’s the way you now need to love each other. And by that love, the love you start showing and doing, everyone will know that you are my followers; if you have love for each other.â€
You need to engage in conspicuous love, Jesus is telling them.
You know about conspicuous consumption. That’s buying clothes or handbags or with labels on the outside instead of the inside. That’s buying shoes that don’t need labels. That’s buying sneakers or cars that cost too much, even when the ones you have are just fine. Conspicuous consumption says to other people, â€˜Haha, I can afford this. At least until the Amex bill comes.’
There was conspicuous consumption at the time of Jesus, too, but he railed against it, â€˜You have two cloaks, cool, you only need one, he says. That pair of sandals that’s not on your feet, they really belong to someone who needs them, he says. Those shoes and suits that clog your closet, give them to WSCAH. That’s somewhere in Luke, I think.
What Jesus wants from them is conspicuous love. Love that’s obvious. Jesus wants other people to say, â€˜Look at the way they love and care about each other. We want what they’re having.’ Conspicuous love. Love that makes a scene.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for each other.â€ says Jesus.
They’ll know we are Christians by our love,â€ says the sixties song.
Here’s a question: When was the last time someone noticed some kind, random thing you did for somebody, and said to you, Wow. That was really nice. You must be a Christian. You must be a follower of Jesus.
That was a rhetorical question, but if it happens to you, I’d love to hear about it. Because it seems to me that there are a lot of stereotypes about Christians floating around, but the one that goes, â€˜Those Christians, they just go loving each other, they just go spilling love all over the place,’ I’ve been missing that one. The label Christian sometimes means something else.
I know we put labels on everyone and everything. Ours is a labeling culture. There was a report yesterday about a supermarket chain in northern England that had to pull packages of peanuts from its shelves. Know why? The packages did not include the label, â€˜Contains Peanuts’. We love labels. And we use them for everything. And everyone.
About two months ago, John Rivera, one of our staff members, came to me and said, there’s a homeschooled, Mormon boy scout who wants to meet with you.
And I am ashamed to say how many stereotypes were triggered in my mind by that description.
But here’s what that homeschooled, Mormon boy scout, who is a great kid named Jake, by the way, here’s what Jake had to say tell me. He was up for Eagle Scout, and was looking for a good service project, and had decided he wanted to paint our church for us. Why? He said, I know a lot of people come here, all kinds of people, all different kinds of people.
And you know what? Friday afternoon and evening, and yesterday until about 10 pm, this room was filled with 40 members of Jakes family, members of his temple, and members of his scout troop who were carefully and lovingly painting around the woodwork, rolling the walls, and doing brushwork on the tops of these Corinthian columns
And you know what? Now I have some new stereotypes going on, an the next time a homeschooled Mormon boy scout comes by, I’m gonna run downstairs to meet him.
Jesus knows people are going to think things. Jesus knows people are going to form stereotypes about this new movement he’s beginning. He’s telling his disciples and his followers, You decide what stereotype you want them to have. But here’s what I’d like them to say, Wow look at the love those people do. Must be Christians. Must be followers of that Jesus guy.
We went to see the movie 42 the other day, the film about Jackie Robinson breaking the color line in major league baseball. And here’s my favorite line, of course. Dodgers owner Branch Rickey is explaining why he’s picking Jackie Robinson out of all the possible African-American players, to be put in what he knows is going to be a hugely difficult situation, and he tells his crew,
Jackie’s a Methodist. I’m a Methodist. Hell, God’s a Methodist.â€
He needed an incredible ball player. But he needed something else. He needed someone who knew the guy who first taught us to love in the face of hate. And when Robinson asks him later on, So, you want a man who doesn’t have the guts to fight back?â€ Rickey says, I want a man who has the guts NOT to fight back.â€
Don’t you wish that people would know something amazing about you when they discover that you follow Jesus?
Don’t you wish that instead of some of the currently-prevailing stereotypes of Christians as self-righteous, conservative, small-minded, homophobic, what else?
Don’t you wish that instead of that, people would assume that you were so overloaded with love, you couldn’t do anything BUT love.
That’s what Jesus wants from us! And to tell you the truth, it’s up to us. If you want people to make up their mind about the Christian faith based on Fred Phelps or the religious right, that’s one thing; but if you think that might be a distorted view of the message of our savior, that radical message of conspicuous love, maybe it’s time to do something about that. Maybe it’s time to do a little more love. And do it more conspicuously.
Jesus tells them, Look, it’s been a great ride, and I’ve been happy to carry you, but this train is going out of service. And it’s time to come into service. I’ll be with you, I’ll be inspiring you, I’ll be loving you, but it’s time for you to get it in gear with this love thing I’ve been talking about. I need you now to come into service. The service of love.
Because I want people to take one look at what you’re doing and how you’re loving each other, and how you’re loving other people, and how you’re loving so randomly and conspicuously, and to think,
She must be a follower of Jesus.