Sunday, April 28, 2013

Love Each Other & Praise the Lord; Psalm 148, John 13:31-35

Our lectionary passages today are seemingly unrelated. We have a psalm of praise and a small snippet from John’s version of the upper room discourse, which takes place shortly after Jesus has washed His disciples feet and Judas has left to betray Jesus. So what do these passages have in common? They both contain essential commands that improve our well being if we obey them. The two commands are: “Praise the Lord” and “Love one another.” “Hallelujah” is a command, not just an exclamation. We are commanded to praise. In this psalm, all creation is commanded to praise. All created beings in whatever location--in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth—are commanded to praise. The angelic messengers, the angelic warriors, all people, regardless of age, are commanded to praise. Even plants and animals are commanded to praise. Even more interesting, the things we don’t think of as living are commanded to praise—the sun, moon, and stars, the weather: storms, fire, wind, hail, snow, rain, the mountains and hills—are commanded to praise. And indeed, these inanimate things do praise, because they reveal the glory of God. They point us to God. If you were at the community Thanksgiving service at the Lutheran church last fall, you might remember that I preached on praise—that it is easier sometimes to offer praise than it is to offer thanksgiving. I’ve heard some of you lately saying you don’t feel joyful, and you don’t feel like celebrating. Begin with praise. For what do we praise? . From that sermon, you may remember that the definition of praise is simply stating facts to God about God. These are truths that do not change regardless of our feelings or circumstances, time, or anything else. In this particular psalm, we see that with creation, we praise God for God’s creative power. “God, You are the Mighty Creator. You are the Source of everything. You knit me together in my mother’s womb.” We praise God for His power to act by speaking. “God, You speak a word and it comes into being.” We praise God because God’s word has power. “God, You speak and things happen. Your written word reveals you. Jesus is the Word Incarnated. Your word has power to transform lives.” We praise God that God is a God of boundaries. God sets limits on us for our good, for our protection. “God, You set limits for the seas. You set limits on time. You set limits on me, all to protect us.” We praise God because God’s name is unlike any other name. We praise God because God is glorious. We praise God because God puts people in our lives that we can emulate. We praise God because God puts people in our lives who care for us and who intercede for us. We praise God because God gives us Jesus, our ultimate Intercessor, and the Holy Spirit, our Comforter. Jesus leads us, delivers us, gives us life. The Spirit empowers us and teaches us. The second command comes from the mouth of Jesus, “Love one another as I have loved you.” He tells us twice in one verse to love one another. Jesus also calls it a “new” commandment. The command to love wasn’t new, remember the command, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” but Jesus renewed it and made it new by adding Himself, not ourselves, as the standard by which we are to love each other. “Love one another as I have loved you.” This means that we are to love with a self-sacrificing love. It is a love that risks getting hurt, and it is a love that is even willing to die for another. It is a love that forgives. Again, Jesus had just finished washing the disciples feet. Part of that washing was to demonstrate forgiveness as well as an example of caring and concern for the most basic needs. We are to love one another, attending to each other’s needs, with caring and compassion. We are to love both by word and action. Jesus uses a command tense that is continuous. We are to keep on loving. We love because Jesus loves us, and we are to love with His love. Love must be our unifying factor. Both of these commands when obeyed are an external witness to the glory of God. Creation in praise witnesses to creation the glory, majesty, awesomeness, and reality of God. Praise is all about facts, not opinions or feelings. “Jesus died for our sins!” is praise. “God is Love” is praise. “Jesus is my Lord and Savior” is praise. These things are true and will always be true no matter where we are, what we’ve done, when we live. These things witness to others of our great God. Jesus says that it is by our love for one another that we are witnesses to the world that we belong to Jesus. Our loves testifies to the person, love, work, and reality of Jesus. Love attracts the world to Jesus. Love that can disagree without being divisive is a testimony to the grace and love of God. In the deepest part of each one of us, we are all looking for real love. Both commands, when followed also improve our well being—our attitude and our outlook. They enhance our emotional, physical, and spiritual health. Praise moves us towards thanksgiving. When we start with praise, we usually find things for which we are truly thankful as well, and we can offer our thanks up to God in addition to our “Hallelujahs.” Praise and thanksgiving enhance our gratitude. Grateful people are healthier. They adapt better to change and to bad news. They have lower blood pressure. They are more at peace. When we love, we come to experience Christ’s love for us more powerfully and personally. When we love, we are less selfish and less self-centered, which also reduces depression and anxiety. When we love, we are more receptive to love given to us. When we love, we are less judgmental. When we are love, we are not as prone to harmful anger. Our stress hormones are reduced, and we are healthier. Most of all, when we do these commands, we can be sure that we are in the center of God’s will. Brothers and sisters of Grace Presbyterian Church, I don’t think I can leave you with any better exhortation that to praise God and love each other. If you do these two things, you will continue to be the church. In both of these we glorify God. Praise is worship. Love is Body life. In the midst of change praise reminds you of the One who holds all things, who is in control, who never changes. Love will keep you knit together and continue to be an outreaching witness to the community, that this is a church where people are treated like family because they belong to Jesus. Yes, there will be tough times ahead, but there are also times of great joy and delightful surprises ahead. In the midst of it all, love each other and praise the Lord. May the world know that you belong to Jesus.

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