5/6/2018 Sixth Sunday of Easter The text is John 15:9-17.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today’s gospel is all about love – the love of Christ and the love that we have for others that is a reflection of Christ’s love for us. This isn’t any ordinary kind of love. It’s not the lust and longing shared between two individuals that are physically attracted to each other. It’s not the love that parents have toward their children or children to their parents…a love that can be fickle and strained. It’s not the love between friends that can fade over time as lives grow apart and people move in different direction. This love is different. For as Frederick Buechner once wrote: “In the Christian sense, love is not primarily an emotion, but an act of will.”
With that being the case, we can love people we don’t like. For, we are not called to like everyone. The old camp song is titled “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love,” and not, “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Likes and Dislikes.” So, if there are folks whom you don’t choose to hang with, it’s okay. There is nothing in the word “love” that says you need to be in unhealthy, unhappy, unsupportive, or unproductive relationships with others. For, we are not called to like, but we are called to love one another as Jesus has loved us.
What does this love look like and what does it do? Our gospel for this day touches on these very questions – as Jesus begins to explain to his disciples that everything he has been doing and talking about comes down to love. Just as God has loved him, Jesus has loved them. And now, the number one commandment they are to obey is to love one another. Of course..
While this sounds nice to us, it would have been a bit more impressive to the guys at the table. There was a very long, long list of commandments for a first-century Jewish man to obey. They covered every possible part of life. Each commandment had points and sub-points and included a similar very long list of penalties for those who chose to disobey any particular commandment. The priests also had a long list of steps you had to go through to be forgiven for breaking a commandment, many of which involved a fairly large amount of money to be paid to the temple. Most people spent a significant part of their day trying very hard to not violate any commandments, because for many of them, it was nearly impossible to jump the hurdles necessary to obtain official forgiveness. And without forgiveness, a commandment breaker was seen as unclean, one who could not participate in normal daily activities. So these guys knew about commandments, most of which dealt with everything except love. Love was now the one commandment that counted. (excerpt from Sermons.com – sermon titled “What a Friend”)
With love being an action word and not an emotion, and love mirroring Jesus’ ministry to those around him, Christian love becomes a behavior and an attitude that we are to have toward those around us. It is not something that someone else does in our stead, it is what each of us does as part of God’s family, and that involves putting the needs of others ahead of personal wants, desires and needs.
It may mean giving up some time on a Sunday afternoon to mow that lawn of a neighbor recovering from knee surgery. It may mean going to the grocery store and spending a little money to buy food to fill the shelves of local food pantries. It may mean visiting the sick or inviting someone who is lonely over for dinner so they feel the human connection. It may mean providing care for an elderly parent who can no longer live alone. It may involve driving a cancer patient to the hospital to receive chemo or radiation treatment. It means putting aside our own agendas in order to help someone else – for as Jesus came to serve and not to be served, so we are to extend care to others without expecting a thank you card, a pat on the back, money in the pocket or a plaque commemorating our good deeds.
Of course, there’s an old saying that tells us that no good deed goes unpunished and sadly, that is often true. It was true for Jesus as his actions challenged the behavior and attitudes of others, and so it will be true for us. While I don’t expect that we will be crucified for our actions, as we extend Christ’s love in the world, we can expect some people to be ungrateful, others to be jealous, and most to misinterpret or not understand the what and why of our actions. It’s not cool to be actively involved in the life and ministry of the church in this age. In this “me” centered world in which we live, it’s not the norm to put the needs of others ahead of ourselves. Love is something we want, and not something freely given without a hitch. So, we can expect consequences whenever we love as Christ has loved us.
In loving others we make ourselves vulnerable, and with our heart open and our guard down, we can be hurt by those who reject us, insult us, disregard us, and mistreat us. When that happens to Jesus, as it often did, Jesus doesn’t back off. He doesn’t fret about it. He prays and he loves those who strike out against him, for another aspect and perhaps the most powerful aspect of Jesus’ love for us deals with forgiveness.
Now forgiveness doesn’t mean becoming a doormat for others to step upon us. It doesn’t mean putting ourselves in harm’s way. It involves letting go and giving things over to God. For when we don’t do that, we can’t move forward…we allow the actions of others and our emotions to imprison us…and that’s not helpful to anyone. Forgiveness involves moving past the guilt, knowing that God is there to wipe the slate clean so we can begin again. With the help of God, forgiveness involves mending relationships, rather than destroying them. We may never like the offense and with the grace of God all can learn from past sin, but forgiveness allows us to love once more – it allows us to love others and love ourselves, as Christ has washed away our sin and loves us eternally.
My friends, there is so much more to the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord than what I am sharing on this day. Explore what it is to love as Christ has loved us and may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.