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31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.33 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 going, you cannot come.'34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
Love one another. Amen? Easy enough. Amen!
Did you know that the longest sermon ever preached is 53 hours and 11 minutes. Yes, you heard me, 53 hours 18 minutes. 3 days of preaching. Now I couldn’t verify it as a certified Guinness World Record, but that’s the claim. In fact, several reputable news outlets reported the even. 53 hours.
These are the kind of things you find when Google sucks you in and your mind wanders. And so I kid you not, it was widely reported that in November of 2014, a 31 year old pastor named Zach, preached a sermon...never stopping for more than 30 seconds...to a rotating crowd of people in, get this, Mount Dora, FL. Practically in our backyard.
53 hours and 18 minutes. Now, to be fair, in an interview, Zach clarifies that his motivation was not only to proclaim the word of God, but it was to raise awareness and money for a local organization.
So my friends, sit back, and relax, order some pizza, I think today is a good day to chase the record. 53 hours and 19 minutes. Joking, sort of.
So, like you, I found myself wondering, “What does someone even talk about for 53 hours?” Thankfully the interviewer asked this question. Pastor Zach said, “I chose to speak on the Bible and kind of cover the entirety of the story from Genesis to Revelation. My goal of the whole sermon was to talk about God's ridiculous commitment to God’s people, even though we give up on God that God never gave up on us.”
53 hours on the theme of God’s ridiculous commitment to God’s people despite our failure. Now I didn’t read the transcript, but if I interpret the theme correctly and paraphrase just a bit, it seems to me that the entire preaching event was about God’s love for God’s people. It was about the love of God. A love we are desperate for. A love we are not worthy of. And a love we would do well to learn, receive, and imitate. Love!
There’s the classic tale of a preacher giving the shorte sermon on record. Obviously, there is no exact record holder, but I’m sure you’ve heard the tale. Preacher steps into the pulpit. Looks intently across the congregation. Takes a breath and says one word. Love. Then sits down.
The world’s longest sermon and the world’s shortest. And when you parse it all out, it seems the theme is the same. Love. I mean no disrespect to my brother preacher, but you gotta wonder, why in the world use 53 hours of words when one will do? On average, a person speaks 125 words a minute. That’s 400,000 words, amplifying a theme of love. And here’s the crazy thing, neither had a more powerful message than the other. Neither was more right. Neither is more theologically brilliant or insightful. Love is love is love. Be loved. Now love one another. Love. Amen?
Beyond raising money for a good organization, why the exhaustive lesson on God’s love? The more I thought about it, the more I came to realize, because there are times in our lives when we need to hear again and again, and I mean, 400,000 times, how loved we are. How loved you are. How powerful love can be. Love of a God for God’s people. A passionate, dedicated, ridiculously committed God...who would even take on death...gruesome, humiliating, painful, and tragic death...for the sake of those whom God loves. You and me.
And sometimes we are so broken. So beaten. So jaded, torn, distraught, misguided, abused, and neglected. That it takes some repeating. Maybe even 400,000 reminders that you are loved.
“I give you a new commandment, Jesus says, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
Anybody hear the old Nat King Cole classic from 1948? Nature Boy. It’s been covered so many times, but in the final line, Nat so smoothly sings, “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”
This new commandment to love one another happens on Christ’s final night with his disciples. Our small excerpt occurs within a larger story, a story we typically hear on Maundy Thursday. Christ gathers for a meal with his closest friends. He removes his outer robe, takes on the role of a servant and washes their feet. Then he dines with them. He offers bread and wine, as body and blood of a new covenant. He even shares the cup with Judas who will soon betray him. And just as Judas leaves, we hear today's text. “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
Here’s an honest, vulnerable question. Is there anyone among us who would argue with Christ’s command to love? Anyone stand in opposition to Christ’s command, that perhaps love...love for each other and our neighbor is not the way of Christ and the root of our Christian calling? Any objections?
No of course not. And why would there be. Why oppose love? I believe each and everyone of us understand that our call as Christians, as people of God, as believers and witnesses is to love. As Christ loved us, we should love one another. That makes sense, doesn’t it?
Seems like an easy and common sense concept right? Seems like a quality characteristic we might aspire too. Surely we want to be known and remembered for our love. After all, if God is love, and we are created in God’s image...if Christ teaches and commands us to love...if love is the foundation of our faith and the theme of our Christian narrative...
Then why is it so gosh darn hard for us to love one another as Christ loved us? Now hear me out. I am not suggesting that anyone among us is void of love. Or lacks the ability to love. Each and everyone of us is loving, and I’m sure we each have a list of people to attest to that fact. But, let’s be honest….we all at times, whether we mean to or not, show partiality in our love.
I think we’re all guilty of cherry picking who we love. Choosing to go against our being and Christ’s command by withholding love when it comes to loving as Christ loved us.
And to be clear, we’re not talking about familial love or brother love. Love between friends, neighbors, colleagues, and families. There are specific words for that type of love in the original greek. The love that Jesus commands is agape love. Selfless, sacrificial love.
Agape is to have love for someone, based on sincere appreciation and high regard...it’s not a love rooted in emotion or feeling. It’s a love rooted in the preservation and dignity of life. A willingness to humble yourself to lift up another. An intentional and imbedded sacrifice for the sake of the other. To empty yourself, pouring out for another, with absolutely no reason, motivation, or incentive other than that is who you are created to be.
We might say that such a level of love. Agape love, seems to be the exception in our society and culture. Selfless, sacrificial, non-incentivized love is the exception. And Christ calls us to not only receive such love, but to reflect back to the world as well.
So why is it so hard? Why do we struggle? What within us causes us to put conditions or incentives on love? It’s easy for me to say that I love everyone, but the truth is it is just as easy for me to justify and convince myself into withholding love. And the true confession, friends, is that love seems easiest when the other person either looks just like me, or I know that I have something to gain from offering love.
Why is it so hard to love as Christ loves us and as Christ commands. Are we afraid to be vulnerable? Are we scared we won’t be loved in return. Maybe we prefer not to be so selfless? Maybe we fear there isn’t enough love to go around. How can I be so selfless to so many?
I think it ultimately comes down to power, and a fear of giving up our power. You see, to love as Christ loved is to relinquish power. To humble yourself in order to raise up another. To remove any power you may hold. Because when we withhold agape love, we deem someone unworthy or unfit of love. That’s a power move. An abuse of power, even. To have something to give or offer, and to say, I’d rather not offer it for you is a power play. And God knows, it’s hard to give up power.
This is what makes Christ example of love so radical. Christ never withheld love. In fact, on the night of our text, Christ removed his outer robe, put on a towel and took on the role of a servant. Humbled himself before his followers and friends, even those whom we may argue you were unworthy. And Christ washed their feet. He had nothing to gain.
This what makes Christ’s sacrifice on the cross so radical. He gave up everything, including his own life, with nothing to gain, for the sake of the world. Even in his final breaths, Christ prayed for forgiveness for those whom we may argue were unworthy.
This is Christ’s example of agape love, and holy smokes, we’re called to do the same? It’s no wonder we struggle with such love.
There is no weakness if relinquishing power. In fact, there is power is weakness. Power in vulnerability. Power in sacrificial, unconditional, Christ-commanded love.
There is power in such love, because loving one another as Christ love us means restoring, preserving, and celebrating the life and dignity of all God’s children.
It means equality and equity are the norm, not the exception.
It means acts of generosity and mercy are the norm not the exception.
It means that siblings take precedent.
It means we are no longer motivated by fear of the unknown or the other.
It means health, wholeness, and justice upstage profit and self-interest. It means empowering the hungry, homeless, last, least, and lost, challenging the systems of oppressive power and preferential love.
It means washing the foot of unworthy, affirming the unfit, forgiving the unforgivable, and becoming one of the least of these.
In the power of such love, everyone will know that we are Christ’s disciples. In the power of such love the first heaven and the first earth pass away, as John reveals, and God will dwell among us in the kingdom of God. Every tear will be wiped away. Death will be no more. Mourning and crying and pain will ease. All things will be made new.
So, it may seem fair to ask, how do we love as Christ loved?
First, you dip your fingers in the water of the font, you taste the bread and wine, and you remember that you are loved. And even more so, you are worthy of Christ’s love. Now and Always.
Second, we confess that we have not loved with our whole hearts and not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
Third, you hear the words of forgiveness and acknowledge that you do not have to love perfectly in order to love powerfully.
Lastly, remember and affirm that love and the power of love are gifts from our grace-filled God. There is no and will never be any shortage of love.
As much as you pour our love, God fills you again and again. And so you love, love, and love some more until the Kingdom of God is fully at hand and Christ’s glorious name is proclaimed by all.
© Pastor Daniel Locke, preached May 19, 2019 @ St. Mark's Lutheran Jacksonville, FL