Morgan Park

 Baptist Church

11024 S. Bell Avenue 

Chicago, IL 60643


Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Interim Pastor

Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister

Sermon October 4, 2015

JOHN 15:12-17

12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

Why are so many Christians unchristian?
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth

     In this past Sunday’s sermon (“The Fruit of the Spirit is Love” - available on our website) I wondered aloud: if our religion is a religion based on love, why do so many Christians act in such unloving ways?

     This question has bedeviled Christianity since its beginnings. In John’s Gospel we know Jesus tells his disciples at the Last Supper: “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.” (John 13:34-35)

     Many of us will have sung the popular hymn, “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love.” Many may not know that this hymn was written in 1968 by Peter Scholtes, who was serving at that time as a priest at St. Brendan’s Church in Chicago (at 67th and Racine; closed in 1989). Father Scholtes left the priesthood, married, and became a well-known authority on business leadership before dying in 2009.

     Since our God is a God of Love (as 1st John 4:8 asserts), why are we Christians so often unloving? Why is it that so many Christians berate and belittle other Christians? Why do we Christians hate each other so easily and so often?

     If we are called to love one another - and taught that this is the primary sign of being disciples of Jesus Christ - why do we find loving each other so hard to do? Why are we quickly lead astray by disputes over things that really don’t matter as much as love?

     Why do so many people need an “enemy” to fight in order to “feel right with God”? Why do so many Christians stubbornly adhere to a very narrow, closed dogmatism that shuts out much of the world? Do we need to identify ourselves by being “against” those people over there?

     I’ve embraced Christianity my entire life. Yet the Christianity I embrace is a Christianity of love and kindness - not a Christianity of exclusion and oppression or endless debates about doctrines.

     There is no doctrine more important than this one: “Beloved, let us love one another because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1st John 4:7-8)  

     I believe I’ve been graced with a strong Christian identity; an identity that is neither easily disturbed nor easily unsettled. I enjoy talking about Christian faith (what pastor doesn’t?) but I abhor getting into arguments about how science might be undermining biblical faith.

     My Christian identity is strong because it embraces what science uncovers. Science is not an enemy of Christian faith. Science helps explain the world and the cosmos. I adhere to the well-known quote from Albert Einstein: “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.”

     One of the difficulties we encounter in religious disputes is the amount of ignorance people often bring to the disputes. Not many Christians are well-trained in the history of Christianity and doctrinal development. Not many Christians are well-trained in understanding the nuances of Biblical texts or the times and mindsets of the Biblical writers.

     As Baptists, we happily subscribe to every Christian’s ability to interpret the Scriptures but one thing we must always bear in mind is this: we could be WRONG in our interpretation. As I tell my students at Moraine Valley Community College: whenever I state “This is what I believe” - I should always add: “But I could be wrong!”

     Imagine the healing that might occur if every person engaged in a religious dispute added: “But I could be wrong!” Imagine the healing that might occur if our politicians and our corporate leaders added: “But I could be wrong!”

     But, unfortunately, most of us do not add “But I could be wrong!” to our comments and our arguments. We do not add this important qualifier because many, if not most of us, are infected with the diabolical disease of arrogance. When arrogance is added to ignorance, it makes for a volatile and unstable brew.

     I am a Christian because of Jesus Christ. I believe that - in the end - everyone and everything will be united together - in and through Jesus Christ. But this does not make me an enemy of those who are not Christian. As a matter of fact, because of Jesus and his stunning compassion, I find myself trying to be open to all peoples, regardless of their religion or lack of thereof.

     Rev. Brian McLaren in his captivating book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?, describes a strong but kind and compassionate Christianity that makes one “more hospitable, not more hostile … more loving, not more judgmental … more like Christ and less like many churchgoers” one meets.

     Will they really know we are Christians by our love? Obviously, not yet! But I’m hopeful this might occur even before Christ returns to heal everyone and everything in need of healing.

     As the Spanish mystic, Saint John of the Cross, so well phrased it: “Where there is no love put love, and you will find Love.” God is Love and the one who loves abides (lives) in God and God abides in him or her!