one another with mutual affection...
ohn the Beloved was the only Apostle to die of natural causes. Ten were martyred for their faith and one committed suicide. But John is said to have lived into his nineties as an exile on the small island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea, which is located between Greece and Turkey. Townspeople called him The Apostle of Love. Tradition says that when he was old the young people would carry him around town on a cot and he would wave his hand repeating, Love one another, Love one another as Christ has loved you! The people loved him dearly because he loved them so much.
The Bible teaches that we should love everybody. One of Jesus main teachings was, Love of Neighbor. Nearly everyone knows the story of The Good Samaritan who was an alien in Israel, but became a neighbor to a Jew. I read somewhere that geneticists say that all humans are no more distant in relationship than twelfth cousins.
Sitting on a bench at Lenox Square Mall a couple of years ago, I noticed a man across from me that looked like some of my uncles. Short legs, pudgy, happy looking. I like to strike up conversations with strangers so I said to him, You sure look like my uncle. Are you from North Carolina too? With a heavy accent he replied, Turkey! I momentarily thought he was calling me a turkey, but then realized he was from the country of Turkey. In fact, he was comptroller of Delta Airlines new operation in Istanbul and was visiting the home office. However, that afternoon we were both waiting at the mall as our wives and daughters shopped: We found fraternity in our mutual plight. He agreed that we looked somewhat alike. We exchanged cards. I explained to him what a Pastor did. I have thought of that encounter a lot during these recent days since the tragic earthquake in Turkey. I sure hope his family survived. Those thousands who suffer are our cousins, brothers and sisters.
There is another circle of love presented in todays text that pictures the burgeoning, first century, church as a big happy family living together in mutual love. However, the early church, the household of faith, was a startup group back then and folks were bonded by the radical nature of their commitment. The high cost of discipleship meant that believers sometimes faced the possibilities of loss of employment, shunning by the secular society, and sometimes public execution. Todays church offers a much cheaper grace and modern christianets sometimes find themselves shunned if they do not have some church affiliation.
However, it has been my experience that within all of the churches that I have been involved, and I have lived my entire life as a preachers kid, and now a pastor, there is always a kind of inner circle of spiritually minded folks who live within a climate, and context, of mutual love. Our church here is different in that I have come to realize that the majority of us live within this atmosphere and aura. I feel a lot of love in this place. It is your best quality.
Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; execute hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. (Romans 12: 10-16, NRSV).
I realize this is a big statement to lay claim to this heavenly imagery, and you may already be thinking that you are an exception; however, I believe it to be so. I feel that this is why we are such an open congregation to visitors--- The Folks Are Friendly is our motto, and we act it out. Visitors often tell me, and write notes saying, how friendly our church is. Many have said that they knew that this was a loving church the minute they walked in--- they could sense, feel, observe the mutual affection we share at 360 Peachtree St..
I almost hesitate to mention it, but if we are to preach the whole text I must point out that there is also something that we are supposed to abhor: Hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good. (v.10, NRSV). Let me say quickly that we are never to hate individuals. We are to love the sinner but hate the sin.
Most of the time we have trouble with this. I fussed at a beer man at the ball game last week. He stood in front of us, blocking our view, selling beer to one already drunk guy after another. What I should have attempted to explain to him was that he was enabling folks to drive away from Turner Field drunk, and thus was endangering the lives of children and many others. However, I probably should have kept my trap shut, and maybe written a letter to management. At least they didnt spill beer down the back of my pants like happened last time.
I feel that if we are in love with Christ, and all people, we will have a natural loathing of evil in any form. Our whole mission is to tell people that there is a way to deal with sin and that God will forgive them and set them free. We see persons not so much as they are but as they can become through the redemptive process.
This has historically been a great force in the development of our American social structure. We hear about a politician that was something of a rebel in his youth, but who has long since accepted a new life in Christ, and we extend our forgiveness because he has been forgiven by God. However, we are typically suspicious of those who have had no redemption, but who try to convince us that they have turned over a new leaf on their own. We know by personal experience that self-reformation is impossible, but that with the help of the Holy Spirit, and his agents, all things are possible. one hundred and fifty A.A. and N.A. members met in our gymnasium last night as a living witness to what God can do to pull us up out of the mire, when we are willing and ready.
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor