(If you would like to watch our online worship service in its entirety, click HERE.)

Steve Lindsley
(John 15: 12-17)

This morning, Rebekah and I are beginning a new sermon series based on our ConnectTPC theme for 2020.  As you’ll recall, there are three components: connecting with God, connecting with our church family, and connecting with our neighbor.  We focused on connecting with God during our Lenten sermon series.  And now, in May, our sermons will explore what it means to be connected with our church family. 

But as I begin today’s sermon, I want to tell you about how this whole connect theme came to be in the first place.  It came out of a conversation I had with a church member last summer.  He and his family are very active in our congregation; involved in various leadership roles.  They are “all in” on Trinity and are happy to call this their church home. 

Even so, he kept saying to me in our conversation, “I know we can do better, I know we can do better.”  I finally asked him what he meant.  He sat quietly for a moment; I could tell he was working to locate the right words.  And eventually, this is what he told me.  He said, I think Trinity does a good job of connecting people to Trinity.  But I think we can do better at connecting people to God and to each other.

That really stuck with me.  I think Trinity does a good job of connecting people to Trinity.  But we can do better at connecting people to God and to each other.

What he meant is that in our pre-pandemic world (if we can remember back that far), many of us tended to equate doing things at Trinity with connection.  So, coming to worship or attending a Bible study; singing in the choir or helping with Room In The Inn – just showing up for these things automatically connected us to God and each other.

But what my conversation partner was suggesting – and I got to say, I agree with him – is that connection is much more than coming to church or simply being in proximity with other people.   As our ministerial staff said in the video we shared with you last week,

Connecting with our church family involves taking the initiative and getting to know the people who make up our family of faith.  This kind of connection is an intentional act of love which may require us to step outside our comfort zone and build connections with new people.[1]

In other words, unlike a virus, we cannot “catch” connection by simply being around others.  Our connection is not determined by the number of things we do at Trinity.  We have to reach deeper.  We have to be intentional. And nothing has borne this truth out more than our current situation, do you agree?  If our pandemic, stay-at-home reality has taught us anything, it is that we can still be connected to each other – maybe even more than before.

I am so grateful for that conversation last summer. It’s something we find amplified in our passage this morning.  Jesus is speaking to his disciples – known as the “farewell discourse,” in some circles.  It’s a long sermon he gives, which is understandable, because the end is coming.  He seems to know that, which might be why he tells them all that is on his heart.  Words of comfort and assurance.  Words of preparation and hope. 

But of all the words of wisdom he lifts up, all the mini-sermons he preaches, it’s these verses from the 15th chapter that I like to think Jesus emphasized the most.  Maybe he made direct eye contact with every person in the room as he said them.  Made sure his voice was soft and deliberate, the way a teacher lowers their voice when they have something important to say.   I mean, if you were listening to Jesus give what would bec his swan song, you cannot tell me this would not have made an impact on you:

Love one another the same way I loved you.
Put your life on the line for your friends.
You didn’t choose me – I chose you.
So love one another.[2]

Honestly, it’s hard getting past that first one, isn’t it?  Love one another the same way I loved you.  I mean, that’s setting the bar pretty high, isn’t it?  The same way Jesus loves us?  How is that even possible?  How could we ever hope to love as Jesus loves?

You know, it’s interesting – we put Jesus on a pedestal, high above us.  Which of course is justified, him being the son of God and all.  But sometimes I wonder if we put him there because the distance it creates between him and us gives us an “out:” a reason to not even try to emulate Jesus in our lives because he is something we could never be.

When the truth is that, just as Jesus is fully divine, he is also fully human.  And here, in this final gathering with his disciples, speaking from the heart, he is intentionally shrinking that distance.  Telling them in no uncertain terms that his way of loving is not just something we can do, but something we need to do.  Love one another the same way I loved you.

So – how is it that Jesus loves us – that’s what he wants us to think about.  How did he love the ones he was with during his time among us?

Well, he died for them, that’s true.  But before that very important act of love, there were a whole host of other ways Jesus loved the ones he was with. 

First, he sought out people where they were.  He didn’t make them come to him.  He went to them.  That’s an act of love.

He also called them by name, because names are the very first indication that we are loved by someone.

He invited people to be part of something with him; something bigger than themselves.  That’s love.

He also ate with them.  He laughed with them.  He never made those around him feel less than him.  In fact, he did the opposite – he told them over and over again that they were children of God.

He made them part of his miracle – remember the feeding of the 5000?  He let them be the ones who found a little boy’s lunch and kept pulling bread and fish out of baskets.

And he knew the good times wouldn’t last.  He knew every last one of them would run away; that one would even betray him.  But even that did not keep him from loving them.

The greatest demonstration of Jesus’ love for us was not just his death.  It was also very much his life.  And what strikes me most is that none of it, none of it is out of reach for any of us.  When Jesus tells us to love one another as he loved us, he is not asking us to do anything we are incapable of.

We love as Jesus loves when we seek people out where they are and call them by name.

We love as Jesus loves when we invite people into our lives and take time to be part of theirs.  Eating with them, laughing with them, treating them as the children of God they are.

And in these strange times we are currently in, we love people – those we know and those we don’t – by staying at home, by preventing the spread of a sickness.  Governors and public health officials will tell us that our social distancing, two months and counting, is a way to “flatten the curve” and help our healthcare workers best manage the spread.  All of which is true.  But what is equally true is that it is also a profound act of love.  Loving others as Jesus loves us.

I mentioned before that the month of May is our “Connect with our church family” focus.  As human beings, as creations of the living God, we long for connection.  It is built into our very DNA; it is critical for our survival.  As a family of faith, we long to be connected with one another – not simply by showing up or just being in the same space, but by sharing our lives with each other – our hopes, our dreams, our fears, our concerns.  That is how we become the people God created us to be.  It was Aristotle who once said “a friend is another self” – and one of the best ways to be a friend is to intentionally connect with those who already embody what we long to become.[3]

And love – love is the glue that holds it all together; love is the very connection.  Love is what keeps us tied to each other when a global pandemic keeps us apart.  It is amazing the places that love and friendship will take us.

I remember a story that Bono, lead singer for the rock group U2, told years ago at the band’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  Years before the band was on a southern swing of their American tour.  Now U2, and Bono in particular, had never shied away from good causes; and on this tour they’d been campaigning to make Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday a national holiday. 

Which did not sit well with some at the time; and so before one concert in Arizona, Bono received a credible threat against his life.  The FBI even got involved.  They advised the band to skip the show entirely because his life was in danger.  The band thought about it, considered the risks, and decided to play the gig anyway. 

And for most of the night none of that was on Bono’s mind until one particular moment – during one of their hit songs, “Pride (In the Name of Love);” the third verse, which references Dr. King’s assassination.  If someone in the audience really did have a gun pointed at him, Bono figured this is probably when it would happen.

He closes his eyes as he begins singing the third verse.  He sings it all the way through and launches into the soaring chorus.  Understandably relieved, he opens his eyes.  And he is stunned by what he sees in front of him – or rather, what he does not see.  For it is not the glare of stage spotlights or the throng of screaming fans he had seen moments before.  No, what he sees now is the back of Adam Clayton, the band’s unassuming bass player, who during that third verse had positioned himself in front of his bandmate and friend to act as a shield.

“There are people in this room who’d tell you they’d take a bullet for you,” Bono said in his induction speech, “but Adam Clayton would have taken a bullet for me. I guess that’s what it’s like to be in a great rock and roll band.”[4]

I’ll have to take his word for it – I’ve never been in a band that great before.  But I’ll tell you this –  I am in the church, and I can assure you that when the church is at its best, when the church lets Jesus lead the way, that is exactly what it’s like:

Love one another the same way I loved you.
Put your life on the line for your friends.
You didn’t choose me – I chose you.
So love one another.

In the name of God the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!

* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

[1] https://youtu.be/VpCUFc3o208
[2] The Message translation of vss. 12, 13, 16 and 17.
[3] Feasting On The Word, Year B, Volume 2, 500.
[4] http://www.atu2.com/news/article.src?ID=3791&Key=&Year=