The scripture lessons for our Earth Sunday message were: Acts 11:1-18, Revelation 21:1-6 and John 13:31-35. The title is above.
We started the message today with pictures of nature, sunrises, sunsets, animals, flowers garden produce, and it was all in an effort to make us think about the earth that we live on, the world we are a part of. Hopefully those pictures were esthetically pleasing. Hopefully they gave you joyful thoughts. Hopefully they were the sort of pictures that make you want to care for the earth and all that lives and grows on it because in reality, that is essentially what we were created to do. At least that is how I interpret the creation story from the first chapter of Genesis, we, humankind, are to take care of the earth and all that is in it and that is quite a responsibility. So, my interpretation of this earth loving, tree hugging sort of thing is tied a bit to the words of Jesus that we read in John, but I want to save talking about them until a little later.
The scripture lesson we had from the book of Acts, today, tells us a story about Peter being the disciple who went out and shared the good news of Jesus with the Gentiles. This word, Gentiles, originally was a word that meant nations. But when God made the covenant with Abraham and his offspring and they separated away from others, the term Gentiles came to mean those who were not descended from Abraham. The break came mostly because the others worshiped idols and so were not part of God’s chosen race.
In this story, in the vision and the actions of Peter, we see that God has opened the door of salvation through Jesus for all people. In his vision when Peter sees all of the different animals that the Jewish people considered unclean, animals they were forbidden to eat the flesh of, and the angel’s voice told him to eat of it, the meaning is that Peter was to go to the Gentiles and proclaim the story of Jesus, to teach about Jesus death and resurrection and to baptize even the Gentiles into the salvation that Jesus brought to earth. For us this is great news because it means that this story is not just for the Jewish people and not just for the people in the time of Jesus, but it is for all nations at all times, and it is for us. But I kind of sort of think, we already knew that before today. This story in Acts is nothing new for those of us sitting here today.
So, what about the next scripture? The nearly last chapter in the book of Revelation talks about a new heaven and a new earth. For those who are…oh what do we call them, Apocalyptic thinkers, this is a great chapter. You know what I mean, those who look at the events of the world and throw up their hands saying the end is near. The fact is, it doesn’t matter which time you are in, there is always something that points us to the end times. There is and was and always will be something going on in the world that is so bad it can indicate we are near the end. The truth is we don’t know when the real end is, and so we have to live in the here and now. We need to live as if there is a tomorrow, and that what we do today matters for that tomorrow.
Something about this reminds me of a sitcom, I think it was an episode of Becker, the test results of a patient were mixed up and this man thought he had end stage cancer and only had a few weeks to live. He ended up quitting his job, spending all of his money, getting rid of everything he had only to find out that the lab had mixed up the papers and he had something minor, and now he was basically out on the streets with nothing. This scripture lesson should not put us in that sort of mindset.
What it should tell us is that God cares. Besides the lesson about the someday, the eventually time when this world ends as we know it, there is the hope and the lesson that God is more than just a creator who sits back and allows things to play out on their own, or at the least just watches what happens to us. Verse 3 says that a voice came from the throne saying that God’s dwelling place, God’s home is with mortals, with us. And later in verse 4 it repeats the words we heard last week, the words that assure us God cares for us. It says again, that God will wipe away the tears from our eyes. If that doesn’t mean God cares, I am not sure what does.
And so we turn to the message for the day, the words from John’s gospel. This lesson today is the final commandment that Jesus left for the disciples, the commandment to love one another as he loved them. One of the readings I looked at for this week pointed out that the sort of love Jesus was talking about was not just the difference between the types of love you have for a spouse vs. love for a child, or other family member or friend, and on and on. The difference in that reading was between the act or feeling of love and the action of love.
According to the writer, Jesus was talking about way more than the feeling of love that we might have for each other whether in a friendship way or a family way or a romantic way. The word love in this commandment is not how you feel about someone, but how you agree or decide to act toward someone. Jesus commandment says we are To Love one another. Love, then become not just a feeling or a thing, but a commitment to a way of behaving.
Let me share one paragraph from the book…How can we love as Christ has loved us? How can this love be so evident in our lives that those around us will know we belong to God? (Song we just sang…”They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love”) When it comes down to it, this is where our faith really becomes tangible. When love becomes a commitment, it produces actions in our lives. It means going that extra yard to do something for someone, taking the time to talk with someone and work through tensions and problems. It means not giving up when we don’t get our way, but learning to live with differences ( The Minister’s Annual Manual 1994-1995 pg. 370).
[What an amazing idea, imagine if all our national politicians acted this way]
Jesus commanded us to love one another, and that doesn’t mean we have to agree with everything that someone else says or does, but it is a matter of concern and compassion and grace and at the least civil respect. What is that saying, you tell children when you aren’t pleased with what is going on, “I don’t like what you are doing, but I love you.”?
Love is a commitment. Love as Jesus commanded it doesn’t turn and run or give up at the first sign of trouble. This is true in a marriage, a parent-child relationship, a friendship, the church fellowship, really a partnership of any kind. If we love as Christ, loved we are willing and able to work through many problems and issues.
And then we come to a couple of recent readings from our devotional booklet, The Upper Room. I was struck this week by the reading on Thursday and Saturday. The message on Thursday gives us great reassurance and what I would almost call relief, as we read that love is more than something we are expected to do. Love is what God does, and because God loves us, we are then able to love others. Love doesn’t start with us, it starts with God. One line in particular says, “…endless, abounding, overflowing and incredible supply.” This makes me think of the spring of the water of life mentioned in Revelation. This particular devotional even mentions God as the Alpha and the Omega. Again, I am thinking less and less that these things are coincidences.
The reading for Saturday talks about how children in a kindergarten class go about learning their calendar lessons. The class described was one of caring and encouragement. The children were taught to clap when their classmates answered correctly and to encourage when they couldn’t remember and to help the others to learn the correct answer. The writer used this lesson to remind us that we are to encourage others in their growth and learning as Christians. As the church we are not the judge and jury, we are the examples and teachers and leaders.
This brings me to the person story for the day. It is from one of our track meets this past week. We went to Fessenden, ND on Tuesday. If you remember Tuesday morning, we work to a good amount of fog. It was misting on and off most of the morning. We kept waiting for the call that the meet was off, but it didn’t come, and when we loaded the bus around noon, the sun was shining in Linton, and the wind had died out, and we thought it would be a great day. By the time we hit the interstate and got to Steele and started heading north, the fog was back. James was having fun trying to keep the windshield from fogging over while maneuvering around curves on a road that was without shoulders. It was a fun trip, let me say. Anyway when we got there, we found the track was indeed surrounded by mature trees, so any wind there wasn’t really a factor, and that was nice. But the setting sort of reminded me of the story, Bridge to Terabithia, because there were footbridges from the track to the field events. None of that is really important to my point; it is just a picture for you.
At this meet, we finally had our new team t-shirts, and while we were waiting for an event to start, a lady came up to the girl beside me and asked if she could take a picture of the saying on the back of the shirt. I hadn’t really thought about the saying much, but we were all impressed that she liked it until she told us why she liked it. She wanted it to laugh about how some of the people of her church acted. [picture of shirt or shirt] The back of the shirt says, “We are not here to take part, we are here to take over.”
Now, this might be a great attitude for an athletic team who wants to be the big winners, but this is not really a great attitude for a group of people out to share the love of Jesus with the world. Christ’ love is not about being the winners; it is about winning others to Christ’s love. It is about loving.
And finally one last thing, though we have not spent the entire message talking about the earth in an Earth Sunday sort of way, I believe that the love Jesus commands of us reaches beyond the bounds of human beings. If we really love as Christ loved, we are also caretakers of the earth. Living in the type of communities we have in our area, I am not sure how we can be earth haters, though I am sure there is something we can all do to ensure that those after us continue to have the sort of lifestyle we have.
If you follow some of the news from the national office and from around the area, there is an effort to protest fossil fuels, and the new pipeline coming through the area and probably other things too. Those are all things we may have opinions about perhaps even mixed opinions. To paraphrase my son-in-law he says he understands all that people are against and why, but he also says, “just let me get my student loans paid off, then I will hug any and all trees that need hugging.” Sadly that is where we all are on some of these issues. How do we balance our needs to the needs of the future?
How do we fulfill Jesus commandment to love one another as he loved us? How do we love as a commitment instead of as a feeling? The answer is that we draw from the love that God gives to us, and we keep going back to that well on a daily basis and in Christian fellowship. Let’s make sure to drink deeply from that well this week, Amen!