John 13:35 - By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
At a high school in the 1960s, one student was a self-proclaimed Civil War enthusiast. Though he grew up in the Northeast, he was fascinated by the rebel soldiers and generals. Someone gifted him a coat that resembled General Lee's and he wore it every single day. When his class voted on senior superlatives, his classmates voted him mostly likely to secede.
Our identities matter. And those identities are formed by many things. It matters how we build ours and what that resulting identity is. If I asked most of you right this minute to identify yourselves, most of you would reach for your wallet and show me your... driver’s license.
In our country, we begin to identify as adults and independent by our society's greatest measure of skill... driving ability. Our teens are very concerned with this passage into adulthood and aging adults often name the loss of license as the biggest feeling of loss in independence.
Our accomplishments define us, the best... and the worst... of our ACTIONS. Christ tells us in this passage that his hope, his one and only command to them in the book of John is to LOVE one another. And that loving each other as HE loved them would be so profound and so evident, that they would be identified by it.
The emperor Julian of Rome was quoted once as saying that, “The Godless Galileans,” (meaning us, as we Christian have one God and the Romans had many), “The Godless Galileans feed our poor in addition to their own.”
The early church was identified by their love for one another and the stranger, the widow and orphan, no matter who they were.
Is the Church identified that way now? Is OUR church? You... and your family? In your neighborhood, your sports and rec leagues, your social circles? Is your family known as that family that loves? “They must be Christians! They love everyone! That’s who they are!”
When I went to my grandfather's wake, dozens of people stopped me to tell me what my grandfather meant to them. Golfing buddies, bowling buddies, members of my grandmother's Catholic Church, his Presbyterian church, his neighbors. They all said the same thing over and over... "He always had time for me."
Time and again, whether to listen, or to organize, to fix, or to build. No matter the project or time or purpose, he made time. My grandfather was not known for being cuddly, fuzzy, and sweet. But he was known for his love. Are we?
The youth you just sent to Costa Rica did you proud. They accomplished a lot, they built a lot, but that's not what you should be most proud of them for. And it's not what I hope they bring back and make a part of their lives and identities. What should make your hearts burst with joy and pride is that they LOVED on one another and on the families, the neighbors, the children of the places we worked. Yes, they built two houses, yes, they helped two extended families, orphans, and missionaries. They raised over $200 for the local YWAM staff! But they loved everyone we brought and everyone we met, and they loved them as he loved us. They loved 'em like Jesus.
It is that love, that identity they took on as individuals and as a group… that represents my greatest hope for them. And for us. IN a few short weeks, 6 seniors from that trip will head to college and face an array of challenges, opportunities, and temptations. They will form new relationships and begin new endeavors, explore new callings and experiences. I hope and pray they say and do as they did on this trip, forging an identity based on love. That they will love 'em like Jesus and they will be known as disciples by that love. The other 16 kids will head to their high schools and face similar challenges with the support of their families and us.
I challenge you to be a community that challenges them to keep at it, to keep loving others as they have been loved. To love 'em like Jesus. To be a community that encourages them and sets the example of kind words, merciful actions, daily kindness, acts of service to those in need. Be the families they need to be identified by their love.
In recent weeks, we have had a multitude of people come to the church looking for assistance because our church is known to those in need as a place of love. I challenge each of you as families and individuals to be the same in the places you live and work. Be known to others as people who love. Glorify God in the powerfully obvious and tangible way you love everyone who comes into your life, and by the way you enter into the lives of others.
These youth have been an inspiring example to me this week of Mission trip. I challenge you to be an example to them, to partner with them, to walk beside them into a world in need here in Salisbury. And love 'em like Jesus.