Lately it seems like Abbi and I are telling our “meeting” story quite a bit. In case you haven’t heard it before, it is a lovely story of boy meets girl, and then girl forgets boy.
The story begins on Abbi’s first day of seminary in 2008. She was waiting for her first class and I was trying to check the computer systems prior to her class. (I worked for the library and was responsible for checking the systems each week.) At the time, I was a very shy guy. I know … shocking. We talked as I worked. As my memory recalls, she found me to be a humorous and charming individual.
You can imagine my joy when I learned we had a class together the next afternoon. Being the kind of guy I am, I made a point to sit next to her and start a conversation. You can imagine my shock when she acted like I was from outer space. She had forgotten who I was. Her explanation has been that on Tuesday I was dressed in nice clothes and was shaved, but on Wednesday I was in a “ragged” T-shirt, gym shorts, unshaven, and wearing a hat. Obviously, I didn’t make as good of a first impression as I had thought.
First impressions are important. Our culture teaches us that a good first impression can determine how we view someone. Much of this takes place in the immediate moments of our initial encounters. The same is true when someone interacts with a church for the first time. Research tells us a visitor makes a decision of whether they will return to a church within their first few seconds inside a church.
First impressions mean everything. Sometimes first impressions are being made when we do not even realize we are making them. As the ongoing witness of Jesus Christ, we make first impressions daily to people who are trying to figure out if Jesus is worth following. There are times when we make great first impressions. We do this in how we care for each other and the world. There are also times when the church, in general, has made some bad first impressions. We do this when we are too concerned about who is right or wrong, when we are not reflecting Christ’s words, or when we are too busy keeping people out than bringing people in.
These types of impressions are scary for me. I hope they are for you, as well. They are scary, because bad first impressions can lead people to no longer consider walking with Christ.
We are the church. As witnesses of Jesus Christ, we are participants in what Christ continues to do in us and through us in the world. This reminds of us of the importance of making a lasting impression upon others of the depths of Christ’s love. How might we make lasting impressions that tells others of the Good News of Jesus Christ? Jesus gives us a guide to this in John 13:35. He says, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciple.” We make lasting impressions by sharing love with one another and the world.
John records Jesus’ words in the midst of his Upper Room discourse, which takes place on the evening of his arrest. The Fourth Gospel does not give us description of the communion meal. It does, however, give us the theological support for the church and its witness. Jesus’ words of love comes as Jesus speaks final instructions to his disciples that will serve them and us in our witness to the Good News.
These words begin immediately after Judas departs from Jesus and the 11 other disciples. Judas’ departure gives Jesus an opportunity to teach on a deeper level. He says now is the time for the Son of Man, Jesus, to be glorified. Now was the time for God to be fully realized and receive all honor. It would come through Jesus’ death and resurrection. This act of self-sacrifice and love for others transformed Jesus’ supposed humiliation on the cross into his greatest triumph. Jesus serves his divine purpose and gives glory to the Father in the process, and by doing so is both Lord and Savior of all.
It is in response to this glory that Jesus gives us a new commandment to love. This isn’t an entirely new command. All through Scripture we are reminded that our response to God is love. Here, though, Christ reconstitutes the command to love God and others as a response to the resurrection and Jesus’ glorification. In essence because Jesus has fulfilled the mission to be the atonement for our sins and because he lives truly today we are called to a life of love.
How are we to love? Jesus says we are to love in the ways he loves us. Our love is to mirror the same love Jesus expressed in his earthly ministry and continues to do today. This type of love is an agape kind of love. Agape is one of four Greek words used to describe love. It is the word used to describe the kind of love Jesus expresses. An agape love is a self-sacrificial and unconditional. Jesus continually showed this love throughout his ministry in the way he fulfilled his mission and in how he cared for others. Jesus continually loved others with a love that saw the person for the worth they had as a child of God.
We express this love in a couple of key ways, especially in how we care for one another. As a community of faith, we are called to show a love for one another that reflects an agape love. Jesus looks upon the disciples and calls them, and us, to care for each other as Christ has cared for us. Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk from the Abbey of Gethsemani, articulated what this looks like. He wrote, “If the deepest ground of my being is love, then in that very love and nowhere else will I find myself, the world, and my brother and my sister in Christ.”
Essentially what Christ calls us to is a family. The church should look like a family that cares for one another and looks after each other in the ways Christ does for us. We are not a family because we might be related to each other or live in the same community. We are a family because we seek to reflect God’s love in how we walk with and care for one another. We do a good job of this, but, as with any thing, we can always grow closer to this image of loving others in our community of faith in the same manner Christ has loved us.
When the church is a community that seeks to live as a family we make a lasting impression to the world that says we truly care for one another. This is the impression that reflects Christ’s love in ways that can influence others to take a chance and seek Christ. It is a holier impression than the one the church, in general, sometimes gives to a world when we argue over whose theological ideas are right, or which worship style is closer to the kingdom. There are times and places for those discussions. However, we must let the world experience that we truly care for and love one another. That is how we make a lasting impression.
We also make a lasting impression by loving the world unconditionally. Agape love to the world loves the world as Christ loves the world. It is a love that does not seek to create walls between us and the world. It is not a love that disconnects the church from our neighbors and communities. It is not a love that tells others, through unintentional actions, that you must fit a certain demographic before coming in.
Instead, an agape love of the world shares the same love of Christ with others. Agape love to the world welcomes all people to the table of fellowship with the Lord. Agape love to the world sees every person as someone of worth to God. Agape love to the world reflects these additional words from Merton. He wrote, “It is only in assuming full responsibility for our world, for our lives and for ourselves that we can be said to live really for God.” Agape love is to love God first and to allow our love of the Lord to influence how we care for our neighbors, communities, and the world.
An agape love to the world makes a lasting impression that tells those who are not in our communities, who need to hear that the church is there for them, that we love them and they are someone of worth. When we break down the walls of distance between us and the world, and share love with others, we truly make impressions that God’s love is real. For if the church is truly living in loving ways to others, then how can anyone deny God’s love for them?
Every day is an opportunity to make a lasting impression of love in our communities and world. We have the choice of how we will take Christ’s love and allow it to impact how we care for each other and our communities. The choices we make in how we live in response to God’s love for us will impact how others see Jesus working in their lives and if they want to consider following the Lord for themselves. It matters how we take our love of Christ and allow it to guide how we live each day of our lives.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, gives us some assistance in this. In a devotion on love, Wesley wrote several questions in response to how he lived his day. One question is appropriate for us as we seek to go out and share love to others. He wrote, “Has goodwill been, and appeared to be, the spring of all my actions towards others?”
Yes, the love Christ calls us to is difficult and challenging. At the same time, it is the most rewarding kind of love that we give of ourselves in response to what Christ has done in us. We can make lasting impressions of love in how we live each day and each moment.
We are witnesses to the Good News of Christ’s love. We are the people our communities look to to see if there is any truth to Jesus’ love. Who do you need to impact for Christ today and this week, so that they may know that God loves them and so do you?