Last week, we started a new series called Beyond 52: Church Outside of Sunday Mornings. Why is it called Beyond 52? Simply put, there are 52 weeks in a year. There are 52 possible Sundays that you and I could walk through the doors of a church. However, the Bible’s vision of the Church is more than just a couple hours on Sunday mornings; it’s a way of life.
My hope is that this series will challenge our ideas about church, our concepts and understandings of church, and that it will challenge us to think about how we are called to be the Church and sent by God to live in this world. And by the end, my hope is that we will be inspired and prepared for an event that YSUMC is hosting on October 4th. Let’s take a moment to talk about that event right now.
Throughout the quarantine, we discovered that we are stronger together. We’ll never forget how important our relationships are and the value of spending time with loved ones in person. As we are now able to meet in person, I ask you to think about every person in your life, no matter the stage of life they are in, where they’ve come from. Many people are still struggling from this pandemic, and many people’s struggles were there before the pandemic and have only increased throughout it. These people are waiting on an invitation to church from you now more than ever. Because we really are stronger together.
So how do we get people to church? How do we bring hope to folks who need it? Where do we let people know about God’s good news for us?
On Sunday, October 4th at 10:30am, we’re hosting an outdoor worship and picnic at the York Springs Lion’s Club pavilion. This is an opportunity for you to invite your friends, neighbors, co-workers, family…anyone you can think of….to a place where they can hear the hope and good news of Jesus. It’ll be a laid-back event. You don’t even have to dress up. Everyone here is asked to bring a covered dish, everything else will be provided, and guests are not asked to bring anything but themselves and a lawn chair if they would like.
We are the Church and it is our part to invite people to know Jesus. This is where you can do that. Not only will they hear the good news, but they will also get the chance to make new relationships. Relationships that will help them along their journey of faith.
And that leads me to the topic of today’s message. We’re going to talk about relationships. Last week, we talked about what church is. It’s not an event. It’s not a building. It’s not until believers gather together, that it’s actually a church. Most days of the week the church is scattered, but when believers gather together like we are here this morning, now church is happening. Even though, most gatherings are only once or twice a week, church, our gathering, is meant to affect every aspect of our lives. And because we belong to Christ, we are all an important part of the body. Christ is the head, the church is the body. (Remember wanting Jesus without the church is like wanting a decapitated head…that’s just creepy.)
Over the years, many have lost sight of the fact that the church isn’t an optional add-on to your faith, but instead an essential part of being a Christian. And I believe that’s because we, as the church, have forgotten to teach what church is and why it matters. But we can change that by inviting people to church on Oct. 4th and then through a little something called relationships.
You have relationships literally all around you. You’re in a relationship with me as your pastor, with each other, your family, your co-workers, your neighbors, your friends. And that is how you are designed. You are made to be the Church and you are made to be in relationships…all kinds of relationships.
Relationships are those who we are connected to in some form or another. Now yes, some are deeper than others as they should be. And some you may wish you never had. Like ones with an enemy. And you hopefully are in a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Again, Church affects every aspect of our lives, especially our relationships. So we’re going to talk about our relationship with Jesus, our relationships with each other, and building relationships with those outside the church. We’re going to start by looking at a passage from John where Jesus defines what these relationships are to look like.
9 “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. (that’s a lot of love! So…) Remain in my love. (Just how do we do that) 10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!
His commands can’t be all that bad, if we find joy when we do them. Ever know someone who no matter how bad the situation is, they keep smiling. They are truly not bothered and still finding joy no matter what’s going on. The reason they can do that is because joy comes from a consistent relationship with Jesus Christ. This is more than just being happy, this is a deep joy. When our lives are intertwined with His, daily He will keep us levelheaded, no matter how high or low our circumstances are because deeply none of that matters because we have His joy in our hearts.
He goes on to tell us just what that commandment is that will keep us in His love….to remain in His love.
12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.
Remember, He loves us the same way the Father has loved Him. (Verse 9) So what does that kind of love look like?
13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. 16 You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
Relationship with Jesus
When you chose to trust Christ alone for your salvation, you immediately enter into a special relationship with the Savior. When you chose to follow His command, you are now His friend.
First off, because Jesus is Lord and Master, we should be calling Him Master, and He should call us His servants. But no, not once, but twice Jesus called us his friends in this passage. This isn’t just a friendship like yeah, he’s nice and I like him. No, this friendship is so strong Jesus died for it. He says, “I chose you. You are my friend because I chose you.”
Just think about that for a moment. Not everyone thinks of Jesus like this so I want you to go here with me…think about the closest friend you’ve ever had in your life…okay now imagine an even better friend than that, the best friend who never lets you down, who never leaves you, is always there for you, always ready to talk, and just doesn’t let you go, loves you unconditionally, that’s Jesus.
Now if you are sitting there thinking, “Oh wow, Jesus calls me His friend like He’s pretty serious about it, and I haven’t been so serious about my end of the friendship.” Just like we have to do with human relationships, we have to consistently nurture this one too. We have a part in it.
So if you want to step up and do your part, first thing you can do is increase the time you spend with Him. We understand this with human relationships. The more time we spend together, the closer together we grow.
I’ll be honest with you…when Matt and I don’t spend a lot time together, it isn’t so pleasant. I don’t get it. We live in the same house, are committed to each other, but when we don’t spend quality time together weekly, even daily, our relationship is strained. And it isn’t just with Matt. I’ve noticed this with my sons, friends and other family members. We’re either just not close or the relationship is strained.
Another thing you can do to improve your relationship with Christ, is to remove the barriers that hinder the relationship. All the barriers in your relationship with Christ are on your side. You know that, right? We question His guidance, we rebel against His commands, we refuse to repent, we allow sin into our lives. Get rid of the barriers, and getting closer to Jesus is going to be a whole lot easier.
Another thing you can do is verbally affirm your relationship. Around our house, we express our love by saying “I love you” and we use it like it’s going out of style. Even though I know my family loves me, I NEVER get tired of hearing it!
You may be thinking, having a relationship with Jesus sounds like it is hard work, but really I think a relationship with Jesus is a whole lot easier and less complicated than a relationship with anyone else. Because again, the uglys only come from our side. He’s the forgiving one, the one who never gives up on us, the one like in the movie The Shack who Mack, the leading character, felt was the most comfortable to be around. He’s the easy going one, we’re the ones that feel we have to make it harder than it has to ever be.
Relationships with Each Other
And that’s exactly why Jesus gave us these instructions on what to do with each other. He knew how hard-headed we can be. It’s like He’s saying, “Look it’s as simple as this…“This is my commandment: Love each other….Love each other in the same way I have loved you.” And anytime He repeats something means you really need to listen and get this…so He says it again, “This is my command: Love each other.”
In this passage, Jesus was teaching the disciples about His love for them, but more than that, He was teaching them how He wanted them to love each another as Christ followers. The Greek word He uses here is agape. Not philia, which means brotherly love which sounds deep in itself. But agape means sacrificial love. It’s the deepest love you can get. It’s the same love God gave His son, Jesus.
A sacrifice is to give up the best of your best, so a sacrificial love is to give your best love. All that we have, all that we are. We are to love each other with that kind of love. And that kind of love is astounding! It’s beautiful and it’s joyful!
Most of us will never be faced with a time when we have to choose to lay our life down for someone else. But what Jesus is telling us to do here is to give that same kind of sacrificial love that He gave, and we can do that in so many ways. And in all reality, I believe Jesus said it twice and wants us to really hear this part, because sometimes it’s hard to give this kind of love. And Paul taps into this.
Paul was an apostle of Jesus, who worked really hard to continue Jesus’ message and explains in a letter to the Ephesians, how the church must work together to be the unified, as a sacrificial loving body of Christ.
Ephesians 4:2–6 Unity in the Body
2 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4 For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 and one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all.
Paul’s charge is not a simple task. The reality of God’s family is that we are all a little messed up. We all have different backgrounds and personalities and opinions. And we will clash. It will be messy at times. It’s a huge challenge committing to a family like this, but it is not optional! Adopted sons and daughters of God can’t just throw in the towel and retreat to our ‘just like me’ friend groups and cliques. We must lean into the community of people who comprise the church. Believers have to understand that every member of the body is important and valuable. When we rely on one another, in the midst of all our imperfection, God is glorified. It is when we choose to value one above the others, whether that’s ourselves or someone else, that’s when the body becomes sick, disfigured, and broken.
Every part of the body needs to be connected and in action. The believer is called to love their neighbors, and often the process of learning to love others starts with learning to love the Christian community, no matter how dysfunctional it is.
Can you imagine Paul arriving in a city, finding the local congregation not to his taste and simply staying away? For Paul, a Christian without the Church is as unthinkable as a human being with no relatives. A person may quarrel with his kin, but no matter what—they are still flesh and blood. So, it is with the church. And furthermore, they are Jesus’ flesh and blood. People need people. God’s people need God’s people in order to know God.
To be ‘in Christ’ we cannot stand off distant from this body. We absolutely must serve other Christians—other parts of his body—in a continuous relationship. A body part detached from other parts is clearly useless, and soon dead.
God has given each person of the church a variety of gifts to build up the body of Christ. When the members of the body express their varying gifts, the body grows in unity, knowledge, and maturity. With Christ as the Head, and every member working, the body builds itself up in love…in a sacrificial love.
In John 13:35 Jesus said, “Your love for one another (that love you’ve built for one another) will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”….because it’s sacrificial love. It’s different. It will stand out about all.
Produce Lasting Fruit
And it will produce a lasting fruit. Remember Jesus said…
“You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit….”
Think about it for a moment. If we truly loved others the way Jesus loves us, and that is everyone, wouldn’t we be doing all we can to make them lasting fruit? There is plenty of hatred in the world. What the world really needs is love, and not just a topical love that makes us happy, but a sacrificial love that has deep joy.
When a believer makes the intentional decision to be committed to God and His Church, the church will bear fruit. And because there are so many people in need of hope right now, in need of someone to care about them, will you please take the opportunity to start thinking about who you will invite to Back to Church Sunday, write their names down, pray about it, and follow through with who God leads you to invite.
This image of the church as the body of Christ is so important. I take it to mean that the church is literally Christ in the world today. We are meant to continue the ministry that Jesus began.
Because Jesus is our Lord and Master, we owe him our unqualified obedience, but most of all, Jesus asks us to obey him because we love Him. Remember, Jesus chose you. He made the first choice – to love and to die for you, to invite you to live with Him forever. And we make the next choice – to accept or reject His offer. And I will say, without His choice, we would have no choice at all.
Jesus said, “This is my command: Love each other.” Love each other with a sacrificial love.
BENEDICTION May the joy of Christ’s love overflow your cups and affect every aspect of your life. And may you in turn give that same kind of sacrificial love to everyone around you.