They will know we are Christians by our…

One of Jesus’ more famous sayings comes early in his Farewell Discourse to his disciples on the night before he died.  After washing their feet, he gives them the new commandment that we heard two weeks ago: Love another.  “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  In my context, as an Episcopalian in the Central Gulf Coast, John 13.35 has become larger than life as it is a key song in the Cursillo Community, a strong voice for renewal in my diocese.  While there is quite a bit about Peter Scholtes’ song that is left to be desired, it is a solid reminder that our call as disciples is to love one another.

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Of course, this isn’t the only thing Jesus says his disciples should be know for.  In fact, in the very same speech, some four chapters later, which we will hear on Sunday, Jesus says that the world will come to know the Father through those who are in Christ, just as Christ is in the Father and the Father is in Christ Jesus.  What it means to be “in Christ” is a little ambiguous in the NRSV, but several older translations (King James and Young’s Literal) spell out what it means to be in Christ.

“… as Thou Father art in me, and I in Thee; that they also in us may be one, that the world may believe that Thou didst send me.”

The world will know that we are disciples of Jesus, who was the one sent by God to save the world, by our unity.  If this really is a criteria for God’s successful evangelization of the world, then we are doing a pretty poor job of living up to it.  American Christianity, in particular, seems to have as many flavors as there are ways to order a cup of coffee at Starbucks.  How, then, can we live into the ideal that Jesus set for us in his Farewell Discourse?  The key seems to be that we go back to the first test of discipleship: that we have love for one another.

Unity comes from love.  It comes from respecting differences of opinion while honoring the core values we share.  Unity can be found between Southern Baptists, Congregationalists, Orthodox, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians in our shared love for Jesus Christ and for one another.  We may disagree on governance, on scriptural interpretation, on the relationship of science and faith, on same-sex marriage, on liturgy, on an educated pastorate, on musical style, and even on the date of Easter, but in the end, our unity can be found in Christ, just as Christ is in the Father.  Would that we could show the world that unity instead of the messiness of our differences that they might come to believe in the one whom God has sent.

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Fear and Awe

As Jesus taught in the Synagogue at Capernaum, the congregation was “astounded” (NRSV).  After Jesus cast out the demon from the man with the unclean spirit, they were “amazed” (NRSV).  Mark uses two different Greek words to describe the reaction. of the crowds, presumably to point out that while both were reactions of awe, they came in different forms.  This makes sense to me.  The reaction I might have to a excellent teacher is going to look markedly different than the reaction I might have to seeing an exorcism first hand.  Both are awe inspiring, but one is perhaps more visceral.

As 21st century Christians, we’ve become pretty comfortable with awe being our go-to reaction to the divine.  Who doesn’t love to sing “Our God is an Awesome God”?

What we’re decidedly less comfortable with, however, is the fear of the Lord, which is what makes our recitation of Psalm 111 this Sunday so delightfully counter cultural.  The closing line of this instructional, acrostic poem of praise reads, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: all those who practice it have a good understanding.  His praise endures forever.”  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.  For the ancient Hebrews who sang this psalm, who used to it teach their children in the way of the LORD, that fear wasn’t about the Saw movie franchise or the feeling you get just before a roller coaster.  The fear of the LORD is the awe you feel in his presence.  It comes when we realize that God is so wholly other, so utterly holy, so unimaginably loving and desires a relationship with each of us.  Sure, they were afraid that they couldn’t handle the holiness of God and that it might wipe them out entirely,

but if that’s all we think of when we read “the fear of the LORD” in the Old Testament, we do a great disservice to the chosen people of God.  Our proper approach to God is with fear and awe, recognizing the great power of God while attempting to comprehend God’s great love at the same time.  Pondering that for a while is no doubt, the beginning of wisdom.