|A sermon delivered by Robert Browning, Pastor, Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Ga., on May 2, 2010.
A father who was terminally ill sent for his four children. The end was in sight. Would this be the final time they would be together? Perhaps.
After all of them arrived, the father asked a couple of them to go to the yard and gather five sticks. He asked the other two to go to the kitchen and get him a piece of string.
When they returned, he handed one of the sticks to a son and instructed him to break it. He did so with very little effort.
He then took the other four sticks and wrapped the string around them. He handed the bundle to another child and asked him to break it. As hard as he tried, he could not do it.
“I am not going to be with you much longer. My dying wish is that you stay close to each other and continue the good work that your mom and I began. Love each other at all times, good or bad. If you do, nothing will break you. Like this bundle of sticks as opposed to the single stick, you will withstand whatever comes your way.”
I get the feeling from this text that Jesus was sending the same message to his disciples.
It appears that two things were on his mind that evening in the Upper Room. One was leaving them. “Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am you cannot come’ ” John 13:33.
Jesus knew his time was short for soon Judas would return and betray him. The next day he would die.
What do you say to those you love when time is running out? I usually say too much. I am the one yelling last minute instructions to my children as their car is pulling out of the driveway and I know I won’t see them again for several months.
“Oh, one more thing…don’t forget to….” Perhaps you can identify with me.
Jesus did not add one more thing to a long list of instructions for them. Instead, he narrowed it down to just one.
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” John 13:34-35.
Why did Jesus want them to love each other? He knew that the only way any group of people would stay together was to have their relationships rooted and grounded in love. The stresses and strains of life would pull them apart if they did not love each other.
Conversely, he knew that their most powerful witness to the world would be their ability to stay together in spite of their diversity or the hardships they would face. This would get their neighbor’s attention. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
I don’t think this implies that love for each other means that problems won’t come. It certainly is not a mandate to live in denial. I believe it refers to a level of commitment that refuses to let any problem destroy significant, essential and meaningful relationships.
It is easy to fight and split. It is much harder to hang in there and work out the problems that divide most people.
What group are you a part of that is being pulled apart at the seams? Is it your family or a group of dear friends? Is it a civic club or a Sunday school class? Is it the people with whom you work or the neighbors in your subdivision?
What is causing the stress? What is jeopardizing the bond you have developed? What threatens to unravel what has taken years to weave together? What will be lost if it happens? What can prevent this?
How would Jesus respond to this question? “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another.”
Jesus had a lot of confidence in love, didn’t he, at least the kind of love he taught and modeled. What kind of love was that?
It was a redeeming and transforming love that put others’ interests above his. It was a selfless and sacrificial love that compelled him to do what was right even though it was hard and to refrain from doing what was wrong, as appealing as that was.
It was a hard-working love that created healthy communities by building bridges of trust and goodwill to people instead of walls of suspicion and hate between them.
It was an honest love that always told people the truth, even when it was not what they wanted to hear, because it was a courageous love that never shied away from dealing with difficult issues.
It was a forgiving love that helped people recover from mistakes rather than a judgmental love that condemned them for what they did wrong, with no hope for change.
It was an understanding love that took time to listen to people’s stories and a generous love that responded to their pleas for help with compassion.
It was a healing love that refused to judge people by the worst thing they did, but helped them deal with the consequences.
It was a hopeful love that wanted the best for people but also a tough love that responded to the worst in other people with his best.
It was a patient love that gave God time to work behind the scenes and a resilient love that allowed people to grow and mature.
Years ago, Jackie DeShannon popularized a song written by Hal David titled, “What the World Needs Now.” I used to belt out the lyrics as a teenager while washing cars at my brother’s service station.
“What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing there’s just too little of. What the world needs now is love, sweet love; no, not just for some but everyone. Lord, we don’t need another mountain. There are mountains and hillsides enough to climb. There are oceans and rivers enough to cross, enough to last until the end of time. What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing there’s just too little of.”
I’m not sure what kind of love Hal David or Jackie DeShannon had in mind, but I have some understanding of the kind of love Jesus was referring to in this passage. It really is the kind of love that the world needs now.
Is it the kind of love you need in your world now, too? Who can help you teach and model this like Jesus did?
Do you think he would give us this command without offering his help? I do not believe so. Love would not let him do that. So, call upon him now to help you. I am confident he will.