Maundy Thursday April 9, 2020
What the World Needs Now!
What was the one thing about the early Christians that made an impression on others? One thing that attracted others to their movement? Why were people, in spite of the fact that they did not like them, frowned upon their lifestyle, sometimes made fun of them, still interested in what Christians had to offer? What made the difference? Maybe it would help to go back to the very beginnings of Christianity to find out what the early church did what resulted in people wanting to join them.
This is what we know about the early church:
Early Christians did not belong to a religion that was on everybody’s mind. And Christianity was not a major concern to the rulers of the Empire. However, those who did take notice of this small, insignificant group of Jesus followers were not impressed by them. They generally viewed the followers of Christ with some suspicion.
They viewed Christians as those people who met secretly at night, the way Jesus met with his small group on this night about 2000 years ago.
There were all kinds of rumors going around about the “people of the way”. They were said to come together after dark to eat the body and drink the blood of Christ. They heard that Christians were drowning their infants.
Christians avoided going to public baths because they viewed public baths as promiscuous. The result was that they were not very clean people. They also greeted each other with a kiss, which fueled the suspicion of those who were on the outside.
Converts were encouraged to abandon their families and become part of a new family. Christians called each other sisters and brothers. And sometimes they caused problems when they tried to convince people that their Lord was the Messiah. We find references to this in the book of Acts.
The bottom line was that they were seen as odd. People did not really like them. They were accused of all kinds of despicable deeds.
And the truth was that they were indeed a strange, secretive and suspicious group of people.
So when, on the night of July 18 and 19 in the year 64 of the Common Era, a fire broke out that over the next 6 days leveled a good portion of Rome it was easy and convenient for Caesar Nero to cast the blame on those Christians.
And it was only then that brutal persecutions started.
And yet, strangely enough, during this time their numbers increased. Why? The answer, I believe can be found in John 13.
On a night like this, a humble carpenter and his friends, who probably smelled like fish for they were fishermen, met in a small room. The leader, a man named Jesus took a basin and a towel and he washed the feet of his disciples and he said: “I have set you and example, that you also should do as I have done to you. I give you a new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
And this was the secret, the one thing why this movement was growing. The reason why the early church attracted new converts, despite those terrible circumstances, was that people saw that they loved each other unconditionally and they became servants of each other!
The early church understood the words of her Lord and Savior and she implemented them. And the results were astounding. People wanted to be part of this movement even if it could cost them their lives! People were attracted to these despised Christians because they could see that they really loved one another!
Many things have changed since those early years when Christianity consisted of a small group of people.
Today we are generally not viewed with suspicion or accused of doing despicable deeds. We are not without power anymore: as a matter of fact, the church has become a very powerful institution. Most of the wealthy segment of the western world is at least nominally Christian. Christians are generally seen as good, establishment people, and churches are generally seen as friendly places. Still, mainline Christian churches are in decline! And some churches that are growing are better known for their intolerance of people who are not like them.
People during the time of the Caesars in the Roman Empire joined the Christian movement because they, like all people wanted to be loved, they wanted to be accepted, they wanted to belong! And they saw that Christians did just that! Today the indisputable fact is that people still need love and acceptance and a sense of belonging!
When Jesus met with his Disciples he showed them that they were loved and accepted. He showed them that they belong! And then he asked them to do the same. “I have set you an example. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples-if you have love for one another”.
We love for God first loved us! This night and what is to follow over the next few days, show us how much God loves us. God’s love of humankind is deeper than we can ever imagine. The Apostle Paul writes: “I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Love is what our world needs now perhaps more than. ever. Amen