Julie was getting pretty desperate for money. She decided to go to the nicer, richer neighborhoods around town and look for odd jobs as a handy woman. At the first house she came to, a man answered the door and said to her, “Yes, I have a job for you, how would you like to paint our back porch?”
“Sure, that sounds great!” said Julie. ‘Well, how much do you want me to pay you?” asked the man. “Is $35 alright?” Julie asked.
‘Yes, great. You’ll find the paint you’ll need in the garage.” After showing Julie where the paint was, the man went back into his house. His wife, who had been listening, said to him: $35! Does she know how big that porch is?” ‘Well she must, because we walked around to the back!” her husband replied.
About 45 minutes later, Julie knocked on the front door again. ‘I’m all finished’ she told the surprised homeowner. The man was amazed.
“You painted the whole porch?” “Yeah’ Julie replied, “I even had some paint left, so I put on two coats!” the surprised man reached into his wallet to pay Julie.
“Oh, and by the way,” said Julie, “That’s not a Porsche, it’s a Ferrari.”
Jesus says in our gospel reading, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” How good do you have to be if you are going to be a Christian? Do you need to really love everyone? Do you really have to be patient all the time? Do you have to be nice to everyone you meet? When I was a teenager I remember talking with my friends and we decided that it really didn’t matter what we did because God would always forgive us. So we could do whatever we wanted and then later say “Sorry” to God he would simply wipe the slate clean. Even today I hear similar thoughts expressed. People tell me that it really doesn’t matter that much what we do because God will always forgive us. So does it matter? Does what we do matter since God is a God who will forgive us? Every Sunday we confess to God that we have not loved him with our whole heart and we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. Every week we admit that we have fallen short of the standard Jesus has set for us. Every week we tell God that this week we are going to try again. In a little while we will do it again. But why do we tell God this? Are we really going to try again or are we simply saying the words from our prayer book?
In 1991 an Air Canada flight ran into trouble. Passengers were enjoying an in-flight movie on the Boeing 767 when the jumbo jet’s massive engines abruptly stopped. At first only those without earphones on noticed anything. However, soon it was apparent the jet was in trouble. The pilot came on the speaker system and announced that Flight 143 would be making an emergency landing. The people on board were trapped in an agonizingly slow but inescapable descent to earth.
For several minutes a desperate silence hung over the cabin. Then fear gave way to screams of anxiety as the landing neared. All the latest technology could not keep the jumbo jet in the air. What had happened was this. The electronic digital fuel gauge was out of order and at the previous stop they had not gotten enough fuel. Therefore, eight hundred miles short of its destination, that mighty jet simply ran out of fuel and was forced to make an emergency landing. Fortunately no one was injured.
A multimillion dollar airplane was working fine and was headed in the right direction, but it ran out of fuel. That’s what’s happening to a lot of people today. It is what happens to us too. We know what we ought to do, but we simply run out of steam, out of fuel and we cannot or will not do what we should.
Before Jesus came to earth, God gave mankind a series of commands to follow. He showed his people a better way to live. He told them how to live justly and how to behave righteously. But despite this enlightenment from God All Mighty, despite all the words God had given his people, they did not live up to the standards God gave them. They struggled to obey and more often than not were disobedient and rebellious to God. And so God foretold through his prophets that one day it would happen that his people would want to obey his laws. One day God’s people would want live for God and serve him. And then Jesus came to earth. He lived among us and showed us who God is and what He is really like. He showed us how God viewed us and how He regarded us. He showed how much God loved us and that God was willing that His Son Jesus would suffer and die on a cross for us, for his people. God demonstrated His love for us through Jesus and how Jesus interacted among his people over and over again. And He called upon his people to believe in Jesus, to believe in and trust in the God that Jesus revealed. And when people do believe in this God; when people see the love of Jesus and do believe in Jesus, God changes the person. He changes their hearts. And as the hearts are different people act differently; they think differently; they become different people.
There is a story that comes from Germany in the years right after WW2. The Berlin Wall had just been erected. In the early days of the infamous Wall, hostilities were always just below the surface and once they almost flared out of control when the East Germans dumped truckloads of stinking garbage over the wall into West Berlin. Many residents wrote to the mayor of West Berlin demanding revenge for this offense, but he responded in a unique way. He asked the people to gather all the flowers in West Berlin and bring them to a certain place at the wall. Then as a great avalanche of beautiful and fragrant flowers was poured over the wall, a large banner was raised which said: “We each give what we have.”
Does it matter what we have inside? Does it matter why we do what we do? Does it matter if someone paints your Porsche or your porch? Real Christians try to love God and those around them not because they are trying to earn their way to heaven or look religious. Real Christians try to love God and those around them do not because they are trying to impress the people around them or because they are living out of guilt. Real Christians really try to love God and those around them because they love Jesus and they love Jesus because they realize how much Jesus loves them. I am convinced that only as we come to realize and understand how much God loves us will we be able to love him and live for him. It is only as we understand his great love that we are filled with his joy, peace, and Holy Spirit. Trying to love God and those around us without first understanding, without first beginning to comprehend this great love God has for us is like that jet trying to fly without fuel. Without the love of Christ within us what we have to give to others is similar to what the East Berliners had.
Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments, you will want to live for me.” Do you and I love Jesus who loved us? We can tell by what you and by what do I WANT to do. May God help us to be able to begin to comprehend Christ’s great love for us and then to truly love him and desire to serve and obey our Lord. Amen