“When God Planted The Church”

April 17, 2016
Jonathan Rumburg
John 13:31-35


For her career, my mother was an administrative assistant.  This meant that she had to be, and was, rather proficient at typing.  She of course didn’t have the luxury of a computer for the majority of her career, but instead used a typewriter.  She had one at her office, but she also had one at home, which meant that for the occasional school project I had my mom type out my work for a more professional look—although it never seemed to help my grades as I was certain it would.  I can still hear the thundering rumble of her seventy words a minute, along with the sight of the arms of the keys flying up and down in their chaotic furry, but still with grace and precision.  Whenever I tried to duplicate her speed and rhythm the arms of the keys just ended up all jammed together.

Eventually the computer replaced the typewriter, but typing away on a computer keyboard gives neither the satisfying clack nor the same physical sensation of a typewriter. Still though, even on a computer, there’s a slight sound, and you can feel the keys move beneath your fingers.  But what about on our smartphone or tablet?  Its “keyboard” is a smooth sheet of glass.  The keys—if we can even call them “keys”— give our fingers no tactile response, leaving us to wonder if we’re even doing anything.  Phone designers realize that most users want, or even need, some sensation when they touch a button— something to tell them that they actually did something.  So designers added a feature called “haptic feedback.”

“Haptic” means, “of or relating to the sense of touch, in particular to the perception and manipulation of objects.”  With “haptic feedback” when you tap a button your phone might vibrate or make and audible sound thus assuring you that you have, in fact, done something.  This technology was actually used first in video game controllers that would vibrate when something in the game happened.  For instance when I’m playing NCAA College Football on my PlayStation—I mean when someone plays NCAA College Football on their PlayStation— and you make a big hit on the running back from that “Team Up North”, the controller will reverberate and shake making the satisfaction of smashing your opponent even more satisfying!

Haptic Feedback is tangible.  It’s real.  It tells us, and others, that something has actually happened.


          The concept of haptic feedback—the senstation that something has actually happened—comes to mind when I read Jesus telling his disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another…  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  The phrase “everyone will know” suggests that the love for which Jesus is calling us to share is to be a kind of haptic feedback— something substantial that lets not only the recipients of the loving action, but also those who witness it, know that something has actually been done to show the presence of Christ.

Move 1

In our text for today, Jesus is with his disciples, and he is telling them that when they act in loving ways toward each other, they will reflect his love for them.  But there is actually more going on here than Jesus’ teaching.  He’s doing something.  He’s creating something by planning seeds that he will nurture and grow into being.

This is Holy Week and Jesus is nearing his crucifixion and so with this instruction and command Jesus is creating a group, an entity, a community, a body—that will later be known as the Church.  That’s what he’s doing—right here in this text.  Jesus is giving instruction on how to be Church, where the primary identifying characteristic is that those who are in this body, love each other, expressing that love in service to one another and others.

Now beyond this instruction Jesus puts no stipulations.  The group, the community, the body, can be widely diverse in ethnicity, gender, language, nationality, age, political persuasion and all the other things that we use to label or identify people today.  The Church can be such a diverse concoction because the only true identifying and essential marker of this body, says Jesus, is love for one another.  That’s it.  Love.  Love is the haptic—a cognitive feedback that tells us, and others, something has actually been done to show the presence of Christ—love.

Move 2
So how does this play out with us who are disciples today?  How is the presence of Jesus recognizable in the ways in which we love one another?  Unfortunately, there are plenty of tales of church life that illustrate the opposite, starting with silly accounts about church members who behave poorly when visitors sit in “their” pew.  There are also anecdotes about newcomers not returning to a congregation because they didn’t feel welcome.  There are narratives about women’s groups who put locks on the kitchen cabinets so other groups would not use the kitchen and mess it up.       And this is to say nothing about church fights, toxic members, malicious gossip and the branding of some fellow attendees as not “real” Christians because of doctrinal or social-action differences.

While this can be true, I believe such displays are the exception and not the rule.  More often than not congregations manage to work with disruptive members—something most businesses won’t bother doing.  This shows that we’ve learned something about loving one another, even loving some of our fellow worshipers who are harder to love than others.

But loving difficult people is not where the church stops.  We would do well to remember, because of a loving church… Children get their first real understanding that they might have something to offer to the world when we praise them for a role they had in the Christmas pageant, or a solo they sang in a service.

Because of a loving church…Teenagers heard their calling to be disciples of Jesus through the example of a youth leader, during a mission trip, while attending church camp on a congregational scholarship, or because of the acceptance they found at church when things weren’t going well at home or school.

Because of a loving church…There have been people who agreed to participate in mission trips or in some effort for the good of the whole community because a church friend asked them to, something they probably never would have done unless a church person invited them.

Because of a loving church…There have been funeral dinners; visits to the shut-ins from laypeople; emergency, but quiet, gifts of financial support to members with sudden need; prayers for one another during times of illness or grief or concern; strong friendships between some members who wouldn’t even have met if they hadn’t come to church.

All this, and more, is what we can call “haptic” love—a cognitive feedback that tells us, and others, something has actually been done to show the presence of Christ.  Because of a loving church these things happen.  But when the church forgets or fails to be loving, or puts conditions on that love or only wants to love itself, then something else happens.  The church actually stops being the church.

Move 3

In his book, “Why No One Wants To Go To Church Anymore” Thom Schultz, the same guy who made the film, “When God Left The Building” asks, “Have you ever awakened and realized there was something so fundamental, so basic, that you missed it all these years?  Maybe that’s what’s happened to the church.  When we take a hard look in the mirror, we must confess: Our churches ‘talk’ love, but we don’t really ‘do’ love.  But regardless of age, income, education, gender, or ethnicity—humans need love.  We were created out of love to love, to be in relationship with our God and with each other.  When we experience love, we experience God.


          A tangible truth of such an experience was talked about in an article entitled “How to show love and respect to others” by Rick Ezell who tells about Ira Gillett, a missionary to East Africa.

Early in his service Gillett discovered that many of the people he worked with would walk past government hospitals and travel many extra miles to receive medical treatment at the missionary compound he served.  Eventually, he asked a group why they walked the extra distance when the same treatments were available at the government clinics.  The reply was, “The medicines may be the same but the hands are different.  Yours are warm with compassion, hope, and love.”  That’s haptic love—a cognitive feedback that tells us, and others, something has actually been done to show the presence of Christ


          Haptic love makes a difference.  Haptic love is action.  Haptic love is so fundamental and so basic that the church should be the model of it because that is what Jesus commanded when he created the Church.

To go back to Tom Schultz, he says, “Our churches ‘talk’ love, but we have forgotten that what we ‘do” is more important than what we ‘say’.  Actions always speak louder than words.”  These are words of truth, and they call us to look into the mirror and ask ourselves what we see.  And that’s what we did throughout Lent and now into this Easter season.  It’s what we did yesterday at our Congregational Conclave—which we will talk more about next Sunday.  Actions of love always speak louder than words.


It’s worth noting earlier in this chapter, earlier in this same evening of our text for today, before Jesus launched this discourse; he washed the disciples’ feet.  He washed the disciple’s feet to show them that loving someone means humbling serving one another.  But what we must remember is that today, Christ has no hands, but our hands; no feet, but our feet.  We are his ambassadors, representing him and his love to the world.


          Jesus said this was “a new commandment,” indicating that this is not optional for Christians.  Followers of Jesus are commanded to express their love for one another through service and support.  When we as a church live out this new commandment we are living out a “haptic” love— a cognitive feedback that tells us, and others, something has actually been done to show the presence of Christ.

So may we, as Jesus commands, work to make sure that everyone will know that we are the Church, planted by Christ, and commanded by Jesus to live as those who share the love of       God—who is love—through actions of love.  For when the Church expresses love in ways that lets others know that something has actually been done…

When we love as Christ loves us… then people will notice.  The world will notice.  Because love in action reveals to the world that the Church is different—that we may be in this world, but we are not of this world.  The love of God, revealed through the love of Jesus by his followers—the Church—has the power to change everything through haptic love—love in action.  Amen.

Pastoral Prayer, April 17, 2016

God of us all, we thank you for your constant and abiding love.  You revealed yourself to us in the pages of Scripture and have shown us that you are a welcoming and inclusive God who directs us to love one another.  But we admit that command to love one another just as you have loved us, is beyond tough and daunting.  You challenge us to accept people who are different from us, but we are not at all interested in even associating with them.  You command us to love one another, but we have determined some people are not lovable.

Holy God, melt our defenses and help us accept your love and let it flow through us.  Grant us courage to embrace newness and differences.  Then, just as Jesus loved us, help us to love one another, for by this everyone will know that we are His disciples.  Then, just as Jesus went, send us out into the world in love, challenging us to base our actions on the principle of love.  And though it will be tough and daunting, remind us that you, loves us, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, you will be with us in all the ways we seek to live out this command.

And because we are called to love O God, we seek to extend such love now, as we pray for those in need of your love today.  We pray that through us you meet those sitting on the fringe of life.  Let our love be so apparent that we draw in those who sit in pain.  We pray for those who feel they have lost their way.  Let our love help them somehow find their way back to you.  We pray for those who have abandoned you.  Let our love show them a truth that this world has convinced them is untrue.  In these moments of stillness, we pray for those we name in our hearts, that they may come to know that you are there for them with love and open arms to welcome them home with unconditional love.

We pray you will now hear the prayers we have to offer from our hearts to yours in this time of Holy Silence.

All this we pray in the name of our risen Lord, Jesus, who taught us to pray saying, “Our…”


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