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(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

During what we know as the Last Supper, Jesus spent much of his precious remaining time trying to prepare his followers for how they needed to live after he was gone. And, what was the lesson he felt most compelled to share? Just this: Love one another.

The words from the lectionary (April 24, 2016) read:

John 13:31-35

31 When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. 33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

We, like the disciples before us, are so often slow to learn. When Jesus said to love one another—he meant to love everyone. But the disciples weren’t certain that the type of love shared with people who were like them should be shared with people, well, not so like them. Not just shared with people who were known as sinners, but also with people outside their faith and traditions. And, yet as those disciples and followers grew in their faith and understanding, they began to get it—Jesus had really meant for them to love everyone. Let us so grow in our own faith and understanding that, we, too, show—through our actions and our words—what it means to love everyone.

Who are we to hinder God and his plan for love for everyone?

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
John 3:16-17, NIV

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

The week before I got sick, I was just too busy to write. My brother Scott was coming with his family: his wife Lori, his son and his wife, and another son’s children (four boys eight and under!) whom Scott and Lori are raising. To say that we had a lot of preparation to do before Thanksgiving was an understatement— we have enough trouble keeping the house orderly enough to be guest-friendly for adults, let alone for children.

Nonetheless, when all the busyness was said and done, we were really thankful to see our relatives for Thanksgiving. Scott and Lori have taken on the everyday care of these boys and do a great job with them despite the challenges of raising such young children when they themselves are in their fifth decades.

During the week of their visit to our house, we also wanted to bring the family to see our daughter who had to cut out early from her college break to go back to work Black Friday—oh, let’s just call it Black Thanksgiving since she had to start working at 5:00 p.m. that day. Plus, the boys were quite excited to visit her at her workplace, which is still a magical place for them. So it was that we all found ourselves dodging shopping carts at ToysRUs on the real Black Friday—and four little boys found themselves enjoying the outing even if the adults in the party were a little less excited.

Afterwards we all went out for a meal—no small task with eight adults and four boys. Since the weather was unseasonably warm, next we were able to take a post-dinner stroll through the nearby pedestrian mall, decorated with its twinkling holiday lights.

That’s when we saw him, standing on his soapbox outside a bar. His sign read: You deserve to go to Hell.

I wanted to call out to him, “Exactly—we all do. That’s why Jesus came—to take away all our sins.”

However, as Lori said later, it’s often pointless to get into a debate with people who think that way. Still, there he was talking deep into his belief that he had to scare people to Jesus—that the people inside drinking on a Friday night were obviously sinners who were just plain lost. Of course the smokers who came outside from the bar were having a good time needling him, unaware that they really did need Jesus’ love—for all their sins. But they weren’t hearing anything about love. In college towns, evangelists like this man tend to focus on sins surrounding sex and drunkenness, but not on sins about treating others unkindly.

In the Bible, who is most often at the receiving end of Jesus’ angry outbursts? The uptight “rules people” who do not show kindness in their dealings with people. Yes, Jesus hung out with the sinners—maybe also outside the watering holes of the day—but based on everything else I’ve read about Him, I have to believe He showed them why they should want to change through giving his love.

As our large family group walked by on our way elsewhere, the man shouted out and pointed at one of the children saying, “You see that young child there—he’s as innocent as the day he was born.”

Please don’t take this the wrong way, but though my sister-in-law loves and serves God, she muttered, “You don’t know him.” This is not because this child or any other of the children “deserves to go to Hell” on his own merits—it is because we are all born wanting to do our own thing versus wanting to do God’s—or other authority figures’—things.

It’s not just guys drinking at a bar or men and women looking for a quick hook-up. It’s also the three-year-old who throws the fit because he isn’t in the mood for bed yet or the four-year-old who keeps touching everything he has been told not to touch or the five-year-old “innocent” child who would just rather not do what his family (that old “honor your mother or father” thing—or honor those who are raising you) asks him to do or the eight-year-old who pulls out the game he was told to put away. But it’s also you and I when we speed up to cut off other drivers or when we speak rudely to customer service people.

There are so many sins—big and little—we all do throughout our lives. I’m sinning by not even wanting to debate this man who loves God because I don’t seem to think God is big enough to make it a worthwhile conversation. Even when we’re mostly doing the right things in God’s eyes, there are still sins we commit. To ignore God’s will—even if His will is simply for us to respect people, both those we love and those whose actions have not earned our respect—is to deserve to go to Hell.

For mere humans it is impossible ever to deserve to go to Heaven—and that’s why God gave us Jesus. I personally can’t say if those guys from the bar or the street preacher or those precious (though still imperfect) children nor you nor I will ever make it to Heaven, but it’s also not up to me to say. All know is sometimes we don’t get what we deserve and sometimes we get way more than we deserve—and when it comes to Heaven and Hell, that’s called mercy—the mercy that comes through Christ.

Not a one of us walking by the sign-hoisting man deserved perfect love, not even the three-year-old, and, yet, I believe Jesus gives it to us anyway. Because of that kind of love, people do really tough things—such as raising someone else’s children or walking away when someone’s behavior deserves a wrathful response or even by making a decision to treat their bodies more like the temples God created. You can wave your signs in the air and condemn everyone who walks by but I choose to see the Christ within.

This Thanksgiving I was very much grateful for good times with family and friends—but even more grateful for the kind of mercy Jesus bought for me for which I am not prepared and that which I most definitely do not deserve.

Thank God—really.

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(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert