Authentic Relationships

John 15:9-15 & 2 Corinthians 5:15-21
World Communion Sunday
Elizabeth & Richard Deibert

Elizabeth: When Richard and I had young children in Montgomery, AL, there were days when I was not sure my patience could endure the chaos of an active household and the responsibilities of marriage, pastoring, and parenthood. On those hard days, I called church friends, who got me through those moments of insanity when the thought of throwing children, the congregation or the husband out the window became an appealing though shocking thought. How could I have such terrible impulses? Because I needed support, my cup was empty. I needed friends – real friends.

When we walked through the challenges of our middle adult years here in Florida – job losses, college tuitions, and the worries of parenting teens while caring for aging, even dying parents, we needed the support of friends, and we’ve gotten that support from you, all of you. I remember the women’s prayer group praying with me at Gretchen’s over Emily and Catherine’s misery when we first moved here. I remember the beautiful roses and the delicious meals brought by Emily and Mickey when Richard’s mother died. I remember Grant and Bill Kemp each taking me to lunch to talk about the stress of pastoral ministry. I remember Kathy and Jim Flora listening to us and lifting our spirits. I remember countless emails of encouragement from Gia and cards from Larry and from Betty, when my spirits needed a lift. I remember several of you coming to Andrew’s basketball games, and many of you taking Rebecca on fun outings, and lots of hugs on Sunday mornings. The list could go on. I am so tremendously grateful.

Authentic relationships can be found here, if you invest some time and energy at Peace. Last week we talked about our first goal – inspiring worship, and today we move on. Last week when we polled you on why you stayed at Peace, nearly 70% of you said because of relationships, because of the warmth of people. I hope you’ll spend the whole day celebrating with one another and telling stories about how God has blessed you through authentic relationships, friendships rooted in the love and the honesty of Jesus Christ.
Hear the call of the Lord from the Gospel: John 15:9-15

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.
10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love,
just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.
11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you,
and that your joy may be complete.
12 "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.
14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.
15 I 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.

There’s a lot of talk about relationships. Banks and phone companies and insurance agents all want you to consider them friends. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there. You’re in good hands with All State. But in some ways, those companies have cheapened the notion of friendship, unless they truly are laying down their life for you. I’m guessing that they’re only laying down their time for you when they can get something out of you – some business. Serving you is a means to their monetary end. I’m not faulting them. They are doing their job, but it should not be that way in church. In the church, we are friends, through thick and thin, whether you are useful to me, to the church or not.

Why? Because you are valuable in God’s eyes. Because when we are abiding, dwelling, living fully into the love of God, then we cannot help but love one another, just for the joy of loving and sacrificing for each other. Jesus makes love known to us, and if we are deeply aware of how very loved we are, our gratitude for that love will spill out of our overflowing cups for the world. One of you told me this week, your plate may be full, but remember that your cup is running over, running over with the goodness of God. We are here to fill one another’s cups, so that we go out of here spilling out love for all the world. If today or any Sunday is an empty cup day for you, just pass the word around quietly. We all have those empty days, and if this is a full cup day for you, then keep on pouring the love out, keep on laying down your lives for one another. There’s more deep joy in that than anything else because we are created to be like Christ, to abide in him.

And now I shall turn the rest of this sermon over to the one who replenishes my cup most generously. Over to you, Richard, my devoted partner in Christ. What do you and the Apostle Paul have to add to this Gospel of God’s love in the friendship of Jesus Christ?

Richard: So what makes a relationship “authentic” according to the Apostle Paul? And why is it vital for a new church development — any true church — to seek “authentic relationships” as a top priority? That’s the question your pastor handed me Monday morning when we were discussing today’s worship service. She handed it to me because she knows the Apostle Paul is my hero. And, believe it or not, I’ve spent five years of my life studying Second Corinthians. After five years, I essentially concluded that the loss of an authentic relationship is the very reason Paul writes this letter: “Why, Corinthians, has our relationship lost its authenticity?”

In a little more than one year, the Corinthians had swung 180 degrees from a deep and honest spiritual friendship with Paul to an attack on Paul because of his bodily weakness. What was happening on the outside of Paul had become more important to the Corinthians than what was happening on the inside. It mattered more that Paul was losing physical strength than that Paul was gaining spiritual power. It mattered more that Paul was losing physical attractiveness than that Paul’s inner person was growing profoundly beautiful. It mattered more that Paul’s body was dying than that Paul’s spirit was abundantly giving life away to others.

You see, the outward, visible things of Paul’s body had begun to matter more to the Corinthians than the inward, invisible things that make a relationship authentic — that word “authentic” comes from the Greek authentikos for “author.” The Corinthians were no longer interested in Paul’s true inner self as “authored” by Jesus Christ; they had become obsessed with Paul’s public popularity and status and power — they preferred Paul the outward, inauthentic celebrity over Paul the inward, authentic friend.

Well, Paul responds by writing this long letter, Second Corinthians, in which he defends his mortality as life-giving and pleads with the Corinthians to reestablish an authentic relationship. In today’s passage, Paul is laying the theological foundation for an authentic relationship. I call this Paul’s “Charter for Christian Ethics” — how a Christian MUST regard every other human person. That’s right, to be a Christian — to be ethically, authentically Christian — be able to lay down your life for your friend, according to Paul, means a very special way of seeing in your friend an INNER reality and seeking an INNER relationship. Hear the Word of the Lord in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians:

For the love of Christ urges us on [actually, the Greek is stronger than this: the love of Christ constrains us, controls us, leaves us with no other choice], because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15 And [Jesus Christ] died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view [actually, the Greek reads: we regard no one exclusively as a fleshly, material, human person]; even though we once knew Christ [exclusively as a fleshly, material, human person], we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in [Christ] we might become the righteousness of God.

This is how the Apostle Paul defines an “authentic relationship.”

FIRST, Jesus Christ loves you and me so much not only to die for us, but to include you and me with Him in His death.

SECOND, by including you and me in His death, Jesus Christ sets us free from living for ourselves.

THIRD, as we become free from ourselves we are given the power to see the inner, eternal selves of other human persons — just like we now see the inner, eternal Self of Jesus Christ as the Divine Son of God. We see the inner essence of one another so truly that we are no longer able to focus on externals like body and attractiveness and popularity and power. In fact, Paul says, once we are free from living for ourselves, we begin to see the inner essence, the eternal purpose, of the whole creation — and it appears brand new! Every created thing glistens with God’s eternal glory!

FOURTH — once we begin to see the world as it truly is in Jesus Christ — we are set free to lay down our lives for one another in the ministry of reconciliation. Because we see the inner, eternal beauty of one another and refuse to focus on external things about our person, we are free to seek peace with one another — even if it costs our life.

And that’s what both Jesus and Paul mean by an authentic relationship: the freedom to lay your life down for someone because you see that person as he or she truly is, a new creation, eternally beautiful, glistening with God’s glory. And when you see people like this, you can only seek to be at peace with them — to be reconciled of all conflict.

Peace Presbyterian Church, God has given you and me the ministry of reconciliation — the ministry of authentic relationships. This is our gift and calling, as revealed by all the people Elizabeth mentioned. We are ambassadors for Christ, men and women and youth and children through whom God is making His appeal to Lakewood Ranch to be authentic friends — at peace with one another, free and willing to lay our life down.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.