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Live Simply: Act Together Sermon
John 13: 34-35

October 16, 2016


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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

On the night of his betrayal – the night before his trial and death – Jesus spoke these words to his disciples knowing that the events about to unfold would send them into a tailspin: “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.” I have always found it very profound and telling that he didn’t give them any advice about dealing with the Romans or the Jewish religious authorities; he didn’t make suggestions about protecting or preserving their lives. He didn’t even tell them to take up arms and fight the battle. He told them to love one another. During a time when you are going to feel at risk and in danger, turn your attention to the well-being of others. These are words which are not heeded very often by us human beings; but when they are, they have a wonderful affect for the people who follow this new commandment.

Yoshi and Karen visited Yoshi’s parents for their usual Saturday noodle lunch. At the end of the meal with the dishes cleared and the kids outside playing, Yoshi spoke softly to his parents. “Karen’s company laid off a thousand people this week. So far she’s okay, but we just don’t know if or when she could be next. We are not here asking for money or anything … we’re actually here asking for something more valuable than money.” Finally after many seconds of suspense, Yoshi finally spoke, “You lived through the depression and the internment camps. Knowing the challenges we may be facing, we want to know how you survived.” Yoshi’s parents looked at each other nervously – they would almost have preferred digging up some money to give to them. That was a time in their lives of which they didn’t speak very often … especially since their son’s wife was not Japanese. After a long pause, Yoshi’s mother, grandma Hana agreed to share their experiences, but not then and there. They needed time to get their thoughts together – to talk with each other about their memories, to prepare for this deep sharing which they were asking them to do. They promised them that they would write them a letter. A few weeks later, their promised was kept, and they received this letter:

Dear Yoshi and Karen,
Before we left for the camps, we had a prayer service at our church. We heard the story of Jesus saying goodbye to his disciples before he went to the cross. Jesus told the disciples to love one another, so others would know about Jesus. We prayed together, and then we boarded up our church, hoping it would remain safe.

We remembered Jesus’ words when we had to say goodbye: Love one another. Jesus said those words before he left this world. It was a terrifying time for the disciples. And now it was a terrifying time for us. The hardest part was that we were sent to different camps in Arizona.

When we arrived at the camps, it was hard to breathe. Everything familiar had changed in a day. We had to endure large annoyances and small annoyances: hot weather, cold weather, dust, cramped quarters, sick people, bad food – the indignity of being the subjects of the nation’s suspicions. It was hard, but after a while, all the injustices just became normal.

We wrote to each other every day. Even though we didn’t send all of the letters, at least each day we could be faithful. Jesus’ words stayed in our minds when we felt bitter and angry. Love one another. Just that. We remembered our church and how much our Christian family helped us.

Jesus went away from his disciples. We went away too. Everything changed. Everything except God, who made us and continually loved us. Somehow the Spirit that Jesus promised came to us. It moved among us like the dust. We didn’t die inside. Our baptismal water kept us from drying up in the desert. We prayed. It was easier when we tried to keep each other going. Jesus walked with us, comforted us, and showed us what sin looked like.

There were so many people to help. We tried to witness to Jesus by keeping our hopes alive. Many people were looking for good news and something to hold onto. We made a new community – we had to. We learned to work together, not just worry together. This all kept our spirits up.
Jesus wanted his disciples to be a model for others. We felt God’s spirit drawing us to faith, pulling us on, pushing us out to someone else. And we knew deep down that God’s love was something totally opposite from the injustice inflicted on us.

How did we survive? Only God knows. When we finally saw each other again, all the tears came. They washed away the dust of the camps. But the residue remained. What remained was the compassion that we learned. We still feel it when we hear of the injustices in God’s kingdom today.

Our best advice to you in these times of change is the advice of Jesus. Love one another. That is the strongest tool for you and our beloved grandchildren, for your congregation, for God’s world. Hold on to Jesus’ words and practice them.

Jesus knew we needed to stay focused, so he gave us the gift of a new commandment: Love one another. These words are a touchstone for your children, a comfort and a call. Don’t worry so much – love so much. When everything is gone, love remains. And a new reality, no matter what it is, brings new chances for worship and witness to Christ’s love, multiple chances to pour out God’s love that lives in you.

Maybe our advice will seem too simple for this modern world. But you asked and now we tell you. How did we survive those times? We survived by Jesus’ words: Love one another.
Love, Mom and Dad

This letter moved Yoshi and Karen very deeply. They wondered if the people in their own congregation would support each other in this way if they were to experience such a crisis. After a while, they stopped wondering about others in their congregation, and started to examine their own lives. They asked themselves how much they were involved with the people who they saw mostly just on Sundays. They thought about the new emphasis in their job places about sustainability and energy planning, and they thought about how they could transfer these concepts to their congregation. Yoshi said to Karen, “If these are the people you can depend on through thick and thin, like my grandparents did, imagine the energy potential in this church working together!”

Think about it, friends. God’s love is the source and fuel for our love. Like the warmth of the sun, do you feel the comfort of knowing that the connections among these people of your congregation will sustain you in whatever crisis you experience? Will the love that you give sustain others in their need?
The gift of Jesus’ words – knowing that his own disciples were about to experience total upheaval in their lives – is that the love that we share is ultimately not our own … it is God’s. And being selfless with God’s love in the times of unrest or uncertainty is the commandment which, when followed, not only gets us through times of want or crisis, but sustains the love of God in Christ Jesus for our whole community. As we seek to live simply, may we always consider how we can act together, sharing God’s love in ways that may seem reckless, but are really sustainable and energizing! Amen.