I want to talk to you all today about authenticity.  I started looking into our culture and what we classify as “authentic.”  I found lots of images of places overseas called McConald’s or KPC Chicken or even Burger Prince.  I also learned a lot about how to spot a counterfeit Dolce and Gabana purse.  It’s all in what stitch is used to hold it all together.  The same is true for NFL Jerseys. 

In 2013 a study came out and found that 95% of all American flags purchased that year were imported from China.  Thankfully, since that time, as of a new report in 2018 almost 94% of flags are made here and no government agency can purchase a flag for their location that is not from a certified American manufacturer.

So there’s a big world of counterfeit and fake products that people eagerly buy up each year.  Whether those people know that its not a “real” name brand product or not is up for debate, but needless to say, the consumer world is full of inauthenticity.  I want to look at that type of thing in our lives today as we turn to John 13:34-35.

34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Jesus is preparing for the end in this chapter.  This is before the Passover meal that will become the Last Supper, but not much earlier.  Jesus has just washed his disciples feet, giving them some of his last instructions and lessons that he will have the opportunity to give to the people that mattered most to him in the entire world.

This passage is identified often as the Great Commandment.  Other gospels have this same lesson at a different point in the story when Jesus is asked what is the greatest of the Old Testament commandments.  No matter when it happened in his ministry, the words are the same and lesson is not easily overlooked.

Despite this being the Great Commandment, one of the last things that Jesus would ever teach, it is also one of the things that “Christians” and religious organizations have struggled with for centuries.  The Crusades were not an exercise in loving one another.  The Spanish Inquisition was not an exercise in loving one another.  The European expansion to the America’s was not an exercise in loving the native people.  Slavery was not an exercise in loving one another.  I could go on but I don’t to depress us any more than I already have.

So how do we change this?  The first thing that we all must do is go back and hear the words of Jesus again.  “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”  There’s not a lot of wiggle room in that.  We need to love others the way that we claim the Jesus loves us.  That is what the Gospel of Jesus Christ truly is.  Love one another.  This is why I say that if you see any sort of hate coming from a group that claims to be a church then they are not a part of the church that Jesus is a part of.  Love the sinner and hate the sin doesn’t even work because of that word ‘Hate’ that we love to throw in as a qualifier.  Love the sinner WITH the sin.

So what does this have to do with being authentic?  As Christians, we cannot be anything but authentic in who we are and what we are about.  As you know I helped my wife for years in Youth Ministry and I can tell you two things that I learned during that time about young people.  First, they can sniff out a fake in moments.  If someone goes up to a teenager and begins speaking to them inauthentically about anything, sports, school, religion, etc., they will ignore everything that person has to say.  But if you go up and begin by showing them your real authentic face and opinion on things, they will go to war for you.  I still have former players that, if I called them today, would bury an unmarked paper bag in a field with no questions asked.  Why?  Because I was real with them.  I shared my struggles and my shortcomings.  I didn’t put on a mask of perfection or pretended that they didn’t deserve my authentic feelings. 

The second thing I learned about youth is that the biggest obstacle they have to overcome, both with themselves and their peers, when it comes to a relationship with Christ is being hypocritical.  Too many young people have seen church leaders say one thing, then go out and do something contrary to that point.  Its worse when its another youth.  I don’t know how many times I heard that, “so-and-so says their a Christian and goes to Campus Life but I know what they do on the weekend and I’m not going to do that.”  Or “so-and-so pretends like they have everything all together but I know that they screw up so why should I believe what they have to say?” 

Both of these things that I learned about youth can be true of any unchurched person.  They want to know that the person giving them the message is being real with what they are talking about, and they want to know how they can avoid the hypocritical argument about what you’re talking about.  These things are solved by authenticity.  We Christians try to ‘sell’ our faith to the lost sheep of this world and we often do this by dressing up our product, just like any good salesman would do.  We love to point out the best parts of being a follower of Christ without ever mentioning the flaws.  We don’t talk about how we are perceived by the mainstream media.  We don’t point out that we still struggle and fail every single day, just like we did before we had Christ in our lives.  We try to hide that sometimes Christians let us down.

People, we have to work on making our lives, and especially our faith, authentic to everyone that we meet.  We have to showcase our flaws.  Its important that others know where we struggle.  None of us have this life figured out.  We’ve found a map, in Jesus, that we are trying to follow, but we aren’t there yet.  By allowing people to know our own struggles and issues, we make ourselves vulnerable.  By being vulnerable, we show how we are seeking an authentic relationship with others.  These are the types of interactions that foster and grow into something more.

If you are able to share your own story, full of its imperfections and shortcomings, yet point those failures towards glory to Christ, then you have laid the foundation.  The next step is to find out the other person’s story.  Discover their high points in life.  Discuss their low points together.  Develop a shared experience between the two of you.  In that moment, you have established a real, authentic relationship with someone.  After this, its only a matter of introducing God’s influence on your life and how without the love of Christ, you wouldn’t have been able to navigate life as you are now.

Jesus tells us in this passage that the world will know us as Christians if we show love to one another.  If the people around you don’t think that you might have a faith in Christ, then you aren’t showing the world the love that Christ commanded us to show.  If people you meet don’t feel the love that you have for them, not because of what they’ve done, but simply because of who they are, then you are missing the message of love Jesus left for us in this scripture.

I hope that in my time here I have made it clear to all of you that I have never once considered myself perfect or better than anyone.  I’m not above anyone else.  I may be on a higher podium this morning, but that’s more for acoustics and display than any statement of my own faith.  I know where my faults are and where I need work.  I continue to work on those flaws each and every day.  Some days I win that battle and some days I lose it.  Whatever the outcome I know that tomorrow dawns another day and I get the chance to try one more time.  People you cannot hide your battles.  You will do more harm pretending to be perfect than you ever will by showcasing your scars.  Scars are reminders that wounds heal.  They remind us that God has taken us through tough times.  We may go through them again, but we go through them with the knowledge that we have God on our side.  That is the authentic story that the church needs to get out to the people.