If you love me

May 21, 2017

Summary

Two weeks ago my wife Emily and I went to a conference for pastors and their spouses. All of us attendees are serving English speaking International churches in Europe and the Middle East and meet up once a year to learn, grow, and support one another.  This year the conference was held between the cities of Bratislava, Slovakia and Vienna, Austria.  Our association of churches is represented by three different congregations between the two cities, and because they are so close together it was a good fit for our annual conference.

Each day we took time to learn, both from the cities and their histories, but also from the congregations and their ministries.  In Bratislava we toured a Lutheran high school, attended chapel and got to meet some of the students, while also having a time of sharing with the principal, with whom we prayed and encouraged.  In Vienna we learned about the cities history during and after the tumultuous period of the reformation, and how those struggles had created such a strong Roman Catholic identity for the city.

We also learned about ourselves and all of you wonderful people whom make up our congregations, meaning: global nomads and Third-Culture Kids.  Some of you know of what I speak, and for the rest, shortly, we whom are living outside of our native cultures, are global nomads, and children whom are raised between two or more cultures are Third-Culture Kids.  The reality of living between cultures and languages change us adults, and form our children into the people whom they become.  This happens in all of us, for the better, but also at times with negative side-effects.  At the conference we explored this unique reality.

By the way, these are issues I want to look at more deeply this fall in some educational opportunities.

Yet, most of all, what this conference does is, it gives us pastors and spouses whom rarely have colleagues in close proximity, the chance to talk with, and hear from our colleagues, many of whom quickly become our friends.

You see, this association of churches is an important one for pastors like me, and congregations like ours.  For the majority of the congregations involved in this association are independent of larger church bodies, and being located in international settings means, our churches are on our own, without great support.  This also means that we pastors are on our own, without great outside support as well.  That means this association and its conference is of great importance to us pastors, giving us the chance to support one another even while divided by borders and distances.

A wonderful blessing of this conference is the great variety of pastors which attend.  The pastors and spouses with whom we were hanging out with during the week of the conference hailed from a variety of denominations.  There were; Baptists, Methodists, Covenant, Disciples of Christ, UCC, Presbyterians, non-denominational and of course some other Lutherans were in attendance too.

If you started to unearth the theological differences within the variety of denominations, and then the individual pastors, we would have covered much of the spectrum of Christianity, and we could have started some real doozies of debates and even arguments.  Frankly, it probably could have got ugly…but it never did.  We never even got close, because our unity in Jesus Christ was greater, and more important than any potential differences in belief.

Rather what I heard were the joys and sorrows of ministry from this eclectic and wonderful group of people; pastors and spouses, who loved the Lord and were simply trying to preach and teach God’s word, build up the church in the congregations they are serving, and love Jesus’ people both within and outside of their church walls.

For instance my friend Dennis serves a church in Antalya, Turkey.  Besides preaching, and leading worship, Dennis sees an important part of his ministry being that of connecting with the Turkish community and loving them with Jesus’ love.  Each day he goes downtown and simply meets people, drinks coffee with them, and gets to know them.  He asks about their joys and their struggles, he tells them about whom he is and what he does, and tells them he will pray for them, and of course, invites them to church.

I experienced first-hand how Dennis does this, during the Saturday we spent in Vienna.  We had a few free hours, and so we were wandering that beautiful city, and decided to sit down at a street cafe and have a Latte.  While Emily and Dennis ordered I peeked into a store seeking a pair of shoes that were less expensive than the ones for sale here in Oslo.  Outside of Oslo, that’s not hard to do!

Anyway, as I came back to enjoy some coffee, I see Dennis leaning forward in his chair talking to a group of young men at the neighboring table.  He had taken the opportunity, when they asked to use one of the chairs from our table to introduce himself to them, and so we met, Kristian, Marco and Robert.  They were in their early twenties and were all Croatian, two having been born there, while Marco was born in Austria.  Dennis was telling them who we were and why we were in Vienna.  And then, as I was listening to them share about their love of American basketball, unbeknownst to me, Dennis went and paid for not only our coffees, but also theirs.  Later when they learned of this they were surprised and so grateful.  During our conversation, Dennis told them about where he lived, and what he did, and even invited them to come and visit him in Turkey.  After taking a photo together and Dennis sharing his e-mail with Marco, we parted ways and walked off in separate directions into the crowds of the city.

What had happened?  Well, over the course of a half-an-hours conversation over coffee, these three young men had had the opportunity to encounter in a low-key way, people whom met them where they were at, and through interest and conversation shared Jesus’ love with them.

It was nothing dramatic, but it was an encounter in which the Holy Spirit guided us and had room to work and move. I trust that God is continuing to work and move within the lives of those young men.  By the way Dennis later received an e-mail from Marco thanking him for the conversation and mentioning that he hoped they would meet again in the future.

“If you love me, you will follow my commandments.” said Jesus.

You see, we live out Jesus commandments, because we love him, not in order to make him love us.  Our lives of Christian love are a response to Jesus’ love for us, and our faith in him.   We have to remember that just a few minutes earlier in the conversation with his disciples around the table, the same conversation we read from this morning, Jesus gives his followers a new commandment, “Love each other.  Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other.  This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”

So, when we read the opening sentence from this morning’s scripture, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

We need to understand that Jesus is calling us to lives of active love in the world.  Lives in which we believe that God the Holy Spirit will walk with us, and live in us.  We need to trust that the Spirit of Truth, God’s Spirit moves us, and gives us the words to speak, and the love to give. And our love, it can be as simple as striking up a conversation at a café, or as difficult as translating the Bible into a different language. Jesus’ love felt in his forgiveness and the new-life of his salvation, is what we need, each of us, and what the world needs too. So, let us follow Jesus’ commandment to love one another, as he first loved us. And don’t worry, the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit will show us the way!

Amen.

Bible References

  • 1 Peter 3:13 - 22
  • John 14:15 - 21

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