The Risky Witness of Love

The Glory of God is nothing less than the Love of the Father for the Son. It’s a beautiful Love, a Love that radiates with a brightness outshining even the sun. The Glory of God is a Love so deep, so full, so true, so real that God’s Glory, God’s Love, has a Name, and that Name is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit just is God’s Love, the Love of the Father for the Son, the Love of the Son for the Father, the Love of God for us, God’s creatures. The Glory of God is the Holy Spirit, who is the Love of God.

Our gospel reading from John 13 picks up at verse 31, an awkward place to begin. It starts, “When he had gone out,” but who is the “he” who “had gone out”? It’s not Jesus, not this time—it’s Judas Iscariot, who has gone out of the Upper Room to betray Jesus, to hand Jesus over to the authorities so that they might capture, try, and execute Jesus.

Just before Judas exits the Upper Room, something extraordinary happens. Jesus dips a piece of bread into a dish and gives it to Judas. The last thing Jesus does before Judas Iscariot betrays the Savior is offer Judas Holy Communion. And Jesus gives Judas the bread knowing that Judas will betray him. This profound enemy, this traitor, is given the ultimate gesture of love Jesus can offer him.

No wonder Jesus says in our reading, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.” This jarring episode is a fantastic display of the Love of God, a Love that does not strike down enemies but offers us tokens of love in bread and wine. This is the fullest display, the greatest manifestation, the most visible proof that Jesus truly is full of the Holy Spirit, so full that the Glory of God, the Love of God who is the Holy Spirit, radiates more brightly than the sun through this beautiful offering to Judas Iscariot. And it is the same offering we receive each Sunday when we, who were also Christ’s enemies, come forward to dip bread into the cup and eat the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

How many of us spend time figuring out how to defend ourselves from enemies instead of offering them signs of love and fellowship? How many of us have decided that if someone wants to hurt us, then we’ll just have to hurt them first? How many of us have thought, I will defend myself and my family to the death, if necessary? Friends, the Love of God, the Glory of God, the Holy Spirit, does not shine through such thoughts! We serve an unseen God, a God who even in Jesus Christ goes to a place where we cannot follow, as Jesus tells his disciples. It is the witness of love, the risky, bold, daring, sometimes terrifying witness of love, and only the witness of love, that testifies to the Glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ. If you cannot love your enemy, you cannot claim to be full of the Holy Spirit.

Love is the visible witness of our invisible Lord. “If you have love for one another,” Jesus tells us, “people will know that you are my disciples.” Not, “if you shout my name as loud as you can.” Not, “if you build up a great enterprise in my name.” Here, as plainly as possible, Jesus says that love, for one another, is what makes us visible to the world as Christ’s disciples. Without love, we are invisible disciples, which is the same thing as saying we are no disciples at all. Without love, we have no witness to Jesus Christ.

It’s a risky witness. Jesus dies rather than give up his witness to the Glory of God. Your own witness must be willing to do no less. Following Jesus is not a safe business; the Good Shepherd leads us out of the sheepfold into a world where people hurt each other all the time. If we want to be known as sheep of the Good Shepherd, and not just as another group of people part of the way the world always operates, we have to be ready to turn the other cheek, to be driven the extra mile against our will, to follow Jesus even into the valley of the shadow of death.

It’s a risky witness. We Christians are so bad at love, even at loving each other. When a brother and sister come along with a new idea, or a different opinion from our own, we are quick to judge them, to gossip behind their backs, to undercut them in order to hold onto our little possessions. When fellow congregation members struggle in their faith, we write them off as poor followers of Jesus. When friends in Christ hurt us, we leave the church entirely rather than sacrificing our own rights in order to be reconciled with them. Jesus commissioned us to give witness to him through our love, and we have been miserable witnesses.

Or, what’s even worse, we have decided that we can “love each other” by setting up walls between us, the church, and the rest of the world. Then, “loving each other” means we don’t have to worry about how we treat the stranger, the foreigner, the immigrant, or the enemy in the outside world. It’s us against them. But “love one another” is how we train to love the rest of the world. God puts people in our lives who are close to us, who are near and dear to our hearts, so that we can learn how to treat and how to love those who are not. The people close to us, the church, help us train to love the rest of the world. If you can offer Holy Communion in the bond of Love to a brother who, like Judas, has betrayed you, then you can go into the world to love and serve your neighbor who has nothing in common with you at all.

“Love one another” is more than, “the world will look at how you treat each other and your treatment will bear witness to the Glory of God in Jesus Christ.” That’s true—how we love each other is an essential part of our witness. Nastiness, gossiping, backbiting, judgmental attitudes, refusing to forgive each other—all of these destroy the witness our love is supposed to give. But more than that, “love one another” means, “learn to love among yourselves so that you can bear Christ’s Love into the world.”

Jesus was so full of the Holy Spirit, so completely at one with the true Love of God, that he could offer the Love of Holy Communion to Judas Iscariot. The closer our lives and our love is to this mysterious Love of Jesus Christ, the more we can say, truthfully, that we are also filled with the Holy Spirit, that we really are Christ’s disciples. And the more we turn away from this risky witness of love, the more we slide back into the ways of the world, the more our witness to Christ fades to oblivion.

It is daunting to love as Jesus loved, to risk the witness of love. But that is the weight of our call to follow Jesus. That is the weight of Jesus’ commandment to us this day: “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.” Let’s risk the witness of love together here at Centre, to the Glory of God.

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