Love, Thank, Repeat…


“Love, Thank, Repeat”
John 13:31-35
Pastor Todd Buegler
April 23-24, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church

Grace and peace to you from God our creator, and from Jesus Christ, our Lord and savior. Amen.

One of the reasons I love coming to work in the morning is because of the sounds. My office, over on the end of the education wing, sits directly above one of the Trinity Nursery School classrooms. And every morning, as I sit down at my desk to begin working my way through emails, messages, sermons or whatever it may be, wafting up through the air vents is the sound of laughter, playing, singing. And I think about the 50 year legacy of love, learning and caring.

I smile…and I am grateful.

I love coming home at the end of the day. I love walking in the door, and being greeted by the sound of “Hey Dad!” by a hug from Lori. Even by being jumped on by our dog.

I smile…and I am grateful.

Every two weeks I love sitting down in the Gathering Room for Trinity’s full staff meetings. These are hard working and dedicated people. We get to check in together; to talk about whatever is coming up; to plan, and to dream a bit together.

And I am grateful.

When I sit up here on the chancel, and I hear the voices of the congregation come together in a hymn, or as we pray together the words “Lord in your mercy…hear our prayer,” I am reminded of the power of gathering in the name of Jesus, and of adding our diverse voices together into one.

And I am grateful.

And I could go on! I could talk about the way our family has been received into this community. I could talk about the good friends we have made. I could talk about being overwhelmed by the “Happy Birthday” messages on Facebook this last week. I could go on, and on, and on, and on…

I am grateful. I am grateful.

And this week, when we finish out our three-week sermon series on “Gratitude for all Seasons,” it is only appropriate that we think together about how and why we thank.

There is a cycle in which we live. We are grateful because of love we experience, and we love, because we are grateful. Love…gratitude…Circle back…repeat; love…gratitude…circle back…repeat.

Love and gratitude are intertwined and enmeshed. They cannot be separated.

The story in our Gospel lesson takes place immediately following the last supper. The disciple Judas, with evil in his heart, has just departed to go find the authorities in order to turn Jesus over to them. And Jesus knows what’s coming. He understands what’s at stake and his words in our Gospel text are the beginning of what has come to be known as the “final discourse.” That is, Jesus’ final instructions for his disciples.

And Jesus starts it off strong. He says: “Where I am going, you cannot come. I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

This tells us, I think, a great deal about the kind of love Jesus is talking about. This surely isn’t romantic love, nor is it simply being nice, nor is it only loving those who love you back. Think about it: when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, Judas, the betrayer, was still there. And Jesus knew what Judas would do. And Jesus washed his feet anyway. And now, Jesus will now demonstrate just how much God loves the world by dying, even for those who do not love him. Jesus shows us that love is hard because it is self-sacrificing. It means putting the good of the other first, even when it hurts.

I find it striking that Jesus begins his final instructions to his disciples with the words “Love one another.” I mean, he could have just said, “Go out and die with me.” Or, “keep the faith.” Or, “when I am gone go out and teach and preach to all the world.” Or, well, any number of things.

But instead he offered this simple and challenging word, “love one another.” Why? Because Jesus wants love to be not just his hallmark, but also a sign of the whole Christian church. As in the old camp song, Jesus agrees that the whole world will know we are Christians not by our sermons or our sacraments or our festivals or our buildings or our crucifixes or our family values … but by our love. It’s that simple. It’s that important.

Jesus is telling his disciples, above all else, to choose love. To always choose love. Even when it is a challenge.

Have you experienced loving someone who was hard to love? Do you remember what that is like?

As a college student, I spent a summer working on the staff at Red Willow Bible Camp, in Binford, North Dakota. When people debate whether or not purgatory really exists, I can assure them that it does, because at age 20, I spent a summer in Binford, North Dakota. But my experience at the camp was wonderful. I worked with great people and I learned a lot.

Four times during the summer, the camp hosted weeks for developmentally disabled youth and adults. As a counselor, I was assigned a cabin with three or four campers and an assistant counselor. These were hard weeks. The developmental disabilities our campers lived with were profound, and they were completely dependent on us.

Even now, 32 years later, I remember Richard, one of my campers. He was somewhere in his mid 40’s. I was 19. He was in a wheelchair and needed to be pushed all over the camp. Did I mention that the camp was hilly, and all the paths and roadways were gravel? The level of his care was complete. He needed to be fed, washed, and dressed. He needed assistance going to the bathroom, before, during and after.

He came to camp with a cut on his foot that needed to be cleaned, and the bandage changed several times a day. He needed medications on a precise schedule. Now all of this, I could actually handle. It was exhausting, but I could do it. But his attitude; Now I know it wasn’t intentional, but for whatever reason, because of the disability he lived with, he was an angry man…bordering on mean. So when he wanted something, he yelled. And if we weren’t quick enough in tending to him, he would shout…call names…swear at us…

To be honest, at first, this surprised me. Then, it intimidated me. After a few days of this, to be honest, it angered me. I was doing my best…I really was.

One day, the camp’s Executive Director, Erik, saw me struggling. Richard had just had a temper tantrum right in the middle of the dining hall, complete with throwing food at me. I was right at my limit for what I could deal with. Erik came over, pulled me aside, looked me in the eye and said “hang in there Todd. Remember that anger might be the only way that Richard knows how to express emotion. You’ve got lots of ways. Stick with him. See the good. Love him.”

I took a deep breath, turned back to Richard and got him cleaned up. I made it through the week, and while I wouldn’t necessarily want to repeat it, I’m glad I experienced it. I learned how to love beyond what I thought were my limits…I learned that it’s possible to love while anxious, and even angry.

I think I experienced just a small taste of the kind of unconditional love that Jesus has for each of us.

And, I’m grateful. I’m grateful to God for the opportunity. I’m grateful to Erik for talking me off of the ledge; and I’m even grateful to Richard, for the challenge.

Love, and gratitude…circle back, repeat. These two things are tied together.

When have you found it hard to love? When has that been a challenge for you? Have you had difficult relationships? Have you struggled with someone else’s behavior or emotions…or maybe your own?

This week, I have been reminded of how following Jesus’ command to love one another is not only a different way to live in the world, but also a different way to see the world.

  • When you choose love, you can more easily see the love that surrounds you.
  • When you choose love, you can more clearly sense expressions of love. Love can often be overlooked, taken for granted, dismissed as just an act of kindness when you are not used to living in love.
  • When you choose love, you look at the world not through a filter of scarcity, or cynicism, but of abundance and joy! When you see love, when you experience love, you can’t help but want to share love. And that manifests itself, in gratitude, and generosity.

And so when I see a person who is a thankful person…a person who whose life is full of gratitude, I know that they are a person who recognizes that they receive and experience love. They live deeply into the cycle of love, gratitude and repeat.

That is the kind of person I would like to be. That is the kind of person that I…that all of us…are called by God to be.

Jesus reminds us today that to follow him means to look at the world through the lens of love. Why? Because that love first comes from God. In 1 John 4, it says: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”

Today, we follow Jesus’ call to choose love not just as an emotion or an activity, but as a way of living. And we remember. We remember that

  • Jesus calls us to love our neighbors…even when it is hard, even when that love involves some sacrifice.
  • We remember that Jesus calls us to recognize that everything we have comes from God, because of God’s love for us.
  • We remember that Jesus calls us to see to the world through the lens of gratitude, abundance and joy.
  • And we remember that Jesus calls us to live deeply in the cycle of: Love. Gratitude. Repeat. Love. Gratitude. Repeat.

Beloved, let us love one anther; and let us give thanks. Because that love…it comes from God.


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