Archives For February 2005

Famous Last Words

February 20, 2005 — Leave a comment

I Peter 4:7-9; John 15:9-17
Olivet Covenant Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, PA
© Andy Campbell, 02/20/2005

On September 17, 1796 George Washington said farewell as the country’s first president. He’d served two terms, and despite the pleas of many, decided not to serve a third. Knowing he had the attention of the nation, Washington left his post by penning some last words, instructions to those whom he’d led the past eight years. Among exhortations to build strong foreign alliances and guard free enterprise, Washington said, “Observe good faith and justice towards all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all…” His hope was that the words of his farewell would be remembered and acted upon long after he was gone.

One of my favorite books is by author Bruce Wilkinson, Secrets of the Vine. In it he writes:

Have you ever been with someone very close to you who is about to die, someone who loves you and wants to leave you with a final word?

“Come closer.” You lean close, straining to hear.

“I want to tell you something. I’ve waited until now… but I can’t wait any longer.”

You know that you’ll remember every word for the rest of your life.

Now imagine that the person who is about to speak is Jesus. How closely would you listen? How long and hard would you ponder your Lord’s last words to you? …Jesus’ words in John 15 [are] the heart of His final message to His disciples on the night He was betrayed. By dusk the following day, Jesus would be stretched out on a cross, His body stripped and pierced, His life ebbing away.

Jesus knew the words He spoke that night would echo in His friends’ memories for years. In time, the truth of His “deathbed conversation” would lead them to a whole new way of thinking…

Eleven dejected men follow Jesus down the stairs [from the upper room] and out into the cool night air. Some of the disciples carry lamps or burning torches to light the way. Perhaps Jesus tells them where He is heading – to a garden on the Mount of Olives where they often spent time. Perhaps they already know. But I believe that as their footsteps echo through the narrow streets, not a word is spoken.

The disciples follow Jesus down the hill, through the winding streets of Jerusalem. Avoiding the temple mount and its noisy, celebrating crowds, Jesus turns right and leads them out of the city. Then they turn sharply left to follow the Kidron Valley up toward their destination.

Along the terraces that follow the curve of the valley, they pass through ancient vineyards. They walk in single file between rows of neatly tended grapes, plants that have been bearing fruit for generations. To the left above them tower the city walls and the ramparts of the temple. Ahead and to the right rises the Mount of Olives, where Gethsemane and betrayal await.

Here Jesus stops. Hemmed in by rows of vines, the disciples gather around. Lamps and torches sputter in the night air and flicker in their eyes.

Jesus reaches for a grape branch. Showing signs of new spring growth, its woody stem lies across His hand in the golden light. Now He begins. “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser” (15:1).

In the next few minutes Jesus talks quietly about branches and grapes and how a vinedresser cares for his prize vineyard. It certainly isn’t what His disciples expect to hear. But this is the moment when Jesus chooses to reveal their surprising destiny.[1]

Wilkinson then takes an in-depth look at the first eight verses of John 15. I want to pick up where his book leaves off. Jesus begins to talk of love. He talks of the Father’s love for him, his love for the disciples. He tells the disciples to remain in his love. How are they to remain in his love? Jesus says that by obeying his commands, they will remain in his love, just like Jesus obeyed the Father’s commands and remained in the Father’s love. And what command would Jesus have them obey? To love each other as he has loved them. Then, in a statement that must have haunted the disciples for the next three days Jesus told them that there is no greater love for a person to have than to lay down his life for his friends.

This moment would have lasting impact on the disciples. Later, they would preach, teach, and write about the words Jesus spoke to them that night in the vineyard. Peter, in our first scripture today says, “The end of all things is near… Above all, love each other deeply… (1 Peter 4:7-8). Paul, writing to the Colossians said to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience… And over all these virtues put on love which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:12, 14). To the Ephesians he wrote, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).

This conversation with Jesus in the vineyard was so poignant that years later John was still encouraging others to take up the banner of love. He wrote to the churches in the province of Asia, saying, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us… And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:11-12, 21).

This lent, Linda and I are preaching about being ready, prepared for the return of the King. Last week Linda preached about getting your house – your life – in order. The living room of your house is your heart. We need to start there. Our actions will always betray the condition of our heart. Jesus said that “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34).

If we take a closer look at what Jesus was saying to his disciples – and to us – when he commanded them to love one another, we find that Jesus wasn’t talking about feeling good about one another. You see, there are two different words used in the New Testament that are translated as “love”. One of them, phileo, is how we usually think of love. It is that feeling, that emotion that we have when we are in love. It encompasses those butterflies that you feel in your stomach whenever that person is around. Our city, laid out like the European city of love, Paris, takes it’s name from this word phileo. The other word, agapao, is the love that God has for us and that God asks us to have for him. It is a steadfast love characterized by a determination of will. It is that “I’m gonna love you no matter what, even if you hurt me” kind of love.

A great example of the interplay between these two words can be found in the exchange between Peter and Jesus after Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus was asking if Peter loved him with that divine, undying love. Peter was answering that he definitely felt affection towards Jesus. John recorded the conversation and it went something like this:

“Peter, is your love for me really more determined, more strong-willed than anyone else here?”

“Of course! You know how I feel about you, Lord!”

“Peter, really, do you love me no matter what?”

“Yes, Lord. I’ve told you all along how I feel.”

“Peter, are you in love with me?”

“With all my heart, Lord, yes.”

At this point, Peter was speaking out of his feelings for Jesus. Later in his life and ministry, Peter would come to know firsthand what it meant to love Jesus in that divine sense, to love him through pain and persecution.

That type of undying, strong-willed, determined love is the love that Jesus commands us to have for one another. It is love as an action, not just a feeling. So how do we apply this? How can we love others even when they might hurt us?

As you might expect, it is through our actions and our attitudes. Now, at this point a sermon like this often degenerates into a list of good works that we can be involved in: feeding the homeless, clothing the poor, volunteering at the youth center. However, I’m not going to go there. I know that you’ve all heard that sermon before. Instead, I want you to take a moment and think of someone who you don’t feel love for. Got that person in mind? Now, and this may be really hard, think of something you can do for that person this week to show them that you love them, no matter what, no strings attached.

Now we’re going to pray for that person and the opportunity for you to show him or her your bullheaded love for them. This is your opportunity to start abiding in Christ’s love by obeying his command:

Abba, Father,

I know that you love me, no matter what. Oftentimes I mess up and yet you still give me one more opportunity to be loved by you. I want to show you how much I love you by obeying your commands.

I admit that I don’t feel love for [name]. So, I know that [name] is the perfect person for me to show love to. I think I know how, but I need your help. Help me to see him/her through your eyes. Give me an opportunity to show [name] love like you’ve shown me your love.

You said that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend. You literally laid your life down for me. Though I may not count [name] as a friend, help me to lay my life down for him/her. Show me ways that I can love this person by putting their life, their well-being before my own.

I want nothing more than to abide in your love. Thank you for showing me how.


Christ said that his return will be like the coming of a thief in the night. Unexpected. We can prepare for that moment by giving him an opportunity to catch us doing good.

[1] Bruce Wilkinson. Secrets of the Vine, (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Pub. Inc., 2001), 7-8, 12-13.

it’s been a while

February 10, 2005 — Leave a comment

alright, so far i haven’t been very consistent with this blog. it’s been a year since i started this and i’ve only posted twice! well, gonna try this again. the christian fellowship group that i lead at university of the arts in philly is taking a look at spiritual disciplines this semester. the first one that we’re looking at is bible intake. we have committed to daily reading of scripture, primarily just to get into the habit of reading daily. we are reading through the words of jesus – matthew, mark, luke, john, acts 1, revelation 1-3. just a chapter a day.

i’ve chosen to use eugene peterson’s the message. normally i don’t use this particular version because it’s not a good study resource. however, it reads very smoothly. anyway, today i was reading matthew 7 and a couple of things jumped out at me.

“don’t be flip with the sacred. banter and silliness give no honor to god. don’t reduce holy mysteries to slogans. in trying to be relevant, you’re only being cute and inviting sacrilege.”

“i can see it now – at the final judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘master, we preached the message, we bashed the demons, our god-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ and do you know what i am going to say? ‘you missed the boat. all you did was use me to make yourselves important. you don’t impress me one bit. you’re out of here.'”

“if you use my words in bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpneter who built his house on a sandy beach.”

familiar passages retold in an unfamiliar way. the scholar in me winces at the liberty taken with this version of the bible, but somewhere else inside i feel the mystery and awe of the living word from our living god.