I just watched an 80 year old man with a crutch borrow a skateboard from a young man, shred around a concrete wave and do a flip out of a half-pipe, sticking a perfect landing. The video of this feat has been going around Facebook. Maybe you’ve seen it. If you have, then you know the secret of the video: it’s not really an 80 year old man. It’s a professional-level skateboarder in some very serious makeup. It was fun gag and the looks on the faces of the observers as the “old man” did progressively harder and harder moves was very entertaining. I don’t know for sure, but I bet the longer one watched the skateboarding the more suspicious one became that this skateboarder wasn’t really 80 years old and didn’t really need a crutch. His true identity was revealed in his actions.
You might already suspect where I’m going with this. It’s not very subtle. Jesus didn’t say that people would know his followers by the way they dressed or the way walked or the color of their skin or the style of worship they preferred or how well they knew the Bible or if they were good at arguing theology or even whether they worshipped in a purpose-built church building or a rented grade-school cafeteria.
Jesus was very specific and clear about how people will recognize his followers: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35, ESV)
So if you are looking at someone and wondering if they are a follower of Christ in disguise, perhaps you could look for love, just like you could watch an apparently old man skate board and realize it is a young man in disguise.
But what is this thing called “love”? People have done absolutely horrendous things because of their “love.” Parents beat children out of love. People blow up buildings out of love. Clearly we need guidance.
You can thank the apostle Paul for some further clarity on love: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Ah, that’s a little more concrete.
So, follower of Christ… would someone identify you as a follower of Christ in disguise if they followed you around for a while? If that question bothers you, the answer is not just to try harder. You can’t do this on your own strength. The answer lies in the cross and the empty tomb.
On the cross we see God demonstrating love for humanity in the most profound and moving way: one dying for another. Sometimes we act unloving because we feel unloved. Look at the cross and see the depth of God’s love for you. Sometimes we act unloving because we do not acknowledge the value of the other person and the essential equality we share with all humanity. Look at the cross and see that the person you are having trouble being kind to is a) a person who shares the same set of difficulties that all humans face and b) a person for whom Christ went to the cross.
In the tomb we see the power of God at work over the most apparently final of all things we experience: death itself. The power that resurrected Christ from the grave is the same power available to you to raise up your spirit and change your heart, enabling you to grow in love.
Try praying something like this every morning:
Father, in Jesus’ death on the cross, you showed me just how much you love me. And in Jesus’ death on the cross you showed me just how much you love every person I will ever meet. Thank you that I don’t have to be perfect in love to be a follower of Jesus, but let the power you displayed in the resurrection work renewal in me so that today I may grow in love toward every person I meet in real and concrete ways. In Jesus’ name, amen.