John 15: 9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
The prayer of Jesus for us: That we might participate fully in the life of the Triune Godhead, which life is love and nothing but, as those who receive and share this love, a love more costly than we can imagine, precisely because it is more life-giving than we might ever imagine.
- Love is… God’s way of Ruling the Universe because…
- Love is… the nature of God
- Love is… more costly than currently defined
- Love is,,,, also more generous, extravagant, giving, than we can think or imagine because
- love is our participation in the life and nature of the triune God
- love is the way of joy
Where do these words come from? Why did Jesus say them? They come from that night before his Crucifixion, in that Upper Room during the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples, when the tension had to be so thick you could cut it with a knife. “This is it,” they must all have been thinking. “On this night of Passover week, the time has come for Jesus to stand and deliver, to strike while the iron is hot!”
Peter the fisherman would likely be thinking, “You’re the Messiah; the scriptures promise that ‘the kings of the earth shall lick the dust at your feet,’ and that the son of David with his army will invade the nations, conquer kingdoms and unite the world under God’s Reign, and so rule them forever. Tonight, our hopes and tensions have reached a feverish pitch. So fish or cut bait! If, after the Passover Lamb is sacrificed this week, we just go back home to Galilee and resume business as usual, it will be like starting a joke and never telling the punch line. So, what’s the plan, Jesus?” everyone had to be wondering, foes as well as friends.
Jesus knows this. And he does indeed have a plan for gaining and ruling the world, one already set in motion. In fact, in his farewell discourse to his disciples, recorded in John Chapters 13 through 17, Jesus tells them the plan, along with numerous details, details which include two shocking surprises.
One surprise is that when the Messiah’s kingdom invades the nations, to pacify resistance, conquer kingdoms, and rule the world forever, just as the Bible promises and the disciples expect, Jesus won’t be there. Not physically, at least. The disciples will have to do it without him, that is, without him in the very visible, physical, flesh-and-blood way they have experienced him over the previous three years. After his death, resurrection and ascension, he will, however, be with them, everywhere, all the time, guiding them, interpreting the scriptures to them, strengthening and empowering them, in the person of The Comforter, or the Advocate, whom he will send, his Holy Spirit. But the disciples don’t understand that yet.
The other surprise is the plan itself. According to worldly conventional wisdom, a plan to invade the nations, conquer kingdoms, neutralize resistance and rule the world might go like this: “Let’s show up in the temple courts tomorrow like we always do, but this time with swords hidden under our robes. As soon as Jesus says the code word, we whip them out, kill the temple guards and grab their weapons. That will inspire other Jewish nationalists to join us, with the weapons we just captured. Next, we storm Pilate’s palace. That will get us even more weapons, and allies. Then we storm the Roman garrison. Once the crowds see the imperial banners come down and a menorah or a Star of David installed in their place, that will incite an uprising all throughout Palestine, led by the Son of David who will bring our dead fighters back to life, like he did Lazarus. Then we’ll march on Egypt in a reverse Exodus and seal off the Port of Alexandria, so that Rome gets no more grain. With food riots keeping Caesar occupied, we’ll follow our Messiah as he marches across the Mediterranean, like he did on the Sea of Galilee, and then the empire will fall into our hands like ripe fruit. And Jesus will set this plan in motion when he says the code word, “Pumpernickel,” or “Gazebo.”
But that’s not what Jesus has in mind. His plan for invading the nations, conquering kingdoms, pacifying resistance and uniting the world under the reign and rule of God is mentioned at least 9 times in the verses we just heard: it’s that simple little four-letter word in English, “love.”
That’s it. The plan is love, nothing else. Jesus intends to invade the nations, conquer kingdoms and rule the world only by love. Anything else we might try, or have tried, like Crusades, or Inquisitions, holy war or just war, or political action committees in Christ’s name of the left or the right, are not only alien fire on the altar of Christ’s love, they are obstacles; they are unworthy of Christ, and the world that he loves.
That is my first answer to the first point in the outline: “Love is ….what?” Love is God’s way of restoring this fallen world and ruling it. Jesus’ plan to accomplish all that was promised by the prophets and prayed for in the Psalms is nothing but love because love is how and why his Father God created the universe, is now recreating the universe, and rules the universe. Love is the plan that Jesus’ friends and foes were most wanting to know about.
And probably least expected.
A young woman in 14th Century England, Julian of Norwich, had a vision about this while lying on her sick bed, nearly dead. There she had a vision in which God “showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, in the palm of my hand, and it was round as a ball. I looked at it with my mind’s eye and I thought, ‘What can this be?’ And the answer came, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled that it could last for I thought it might have crumbled to nothing, it was so small. And the answer came into my mind, ‘It lasts and ever shall because God loves it.’ And all things have being through the love of God. In this little thing I saw three truths. The first is that God made it. The second is that God loves it. The third is that God looks after it.” In love.
The young Julian understood, on her sickbed, what the disciples probably missed at the Last Supper: Love is the Plan. Now, why would that be? Just because people respond better to love? That would make God’s plan dependent upon our nature, which is a pretty rickety foundation. No. God’s plan of love depends upon God’s nature. That brings us to the second stunning and stupendous thing that this passage tells us about love: Love is nothing short of the very nature of God. When Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” we get a glimpse into the innermost nature of God, as a communion of love between God the Father and God the Son through God the Holy Spirit, what we call “The Trinity.” Or as St. Augustine put it, a union and communion of the Lover, the Beloved, and the Love that they share.
So, the second thing this passage tells us about love is that it flows from God’s nature, because God’s nature is nothing but love. And that’s why Love is God’s Plan for recreating and ruling the world, because God’s actions and God’s nature are of one piece. That also makes everyone who loves, whenever we love, viceroys and royal representatives of God.
But here’s the rub. Just what does the word “love” mean? What does it require of us? That was the question the Elders, Jana and I were left with after reading all the thoughtful, constructive comments that were recorded from our congregational conversation a few weeks ago about sexuality. I’m very happy to say that, in response to the first question, about how to relate to all the varieties of sexual desires, experiences and identities among us and around us, nobody said that we shouldn’t love anyone or everyone, nor that we should do love’s opposite: to fear, hate or harm anyone. We agreed on the supremacy of love toward all persons. That’s a definite improvement over past painful experiences that we know about, or have seen, or suffered, of indifference, or of fearing, hating, hurting, condemning, scapegoating and rejecting people. That should make this a safe congregation, and make of Jana and myself safe pastors, for anyone with any struggles, temptations, problems, questions or complexities about anything as personal as sex.
Which is pretty much everybody. For our responses also showed that most of us consider ourselves to be in the same boat of blessedness and brokenness when it comes to sex and gender. That strikes me as loving, too.
But in response to the other questions, which touched on what that love should look like, what love entails, what actions, desires and behaviors the Bible would call us to celebrate or affirm as love, or not, there was much variety. If love, as Jesus speaks of it here, is more than just emotion or attraction, if love means God’s best for everyone, and us wanting and working toward God’s best, of course the most loving course of action won’t always appear the same to everyone. And frankly, I’m okay with that. I’m struggling with you. Fortunately, we also heard a very strong commitment on everyone’s part to love each other despite our differences of belief and practice, and to stick with each other while we work this through. That tells me that we are not working through the question of “if” to love, but how. It shows that we take seriously the call to love, celebrate and affirm all people, but not all things. Hopefully it means that we want God to determine what love means, and how we express it and live it out, and not just the fashions nor the fears of the world. Otherwise, we get held hostage to everyone and anyone who lays claims to the word, “love,” for any thing.
We have faced those hard choices before, like whenever we heard that, if we love our country, or if we love our fellow citizens, we would be willing to kill our enemies. Parents among us faced that kind of pressure when our children were toddlers and if we didn’t buy them that certain toy, or that candy right at their eye level in the checkout aisle of the grocery store (Whose idea was that?), they threw a fit because they thought we didn’t love them. That’s mostly what love means at their age: indulgence and affection. If, as adults, our grown children are making self-defeating choices, affecting not only themselves but even their children, there’s still no question that we love them enough to die in their place, if necessary and possible. But we struggle over how to show that love without enabling or participating in any irresponsibility on their part. If it’s of any comfort, that shows us a little piece of God’s heartbreak over all of his wayward, warring children, whom he loves in ways no human parent can match, however wise or well-intentioned.
When Jesus speaks of love in today’s passage, it is something high, holy and difficult. But in our common usage, the word “love” means so much that it means almost nothing. It’s a cluttered dresser drawer kind of word, into which we sweep everything positive, pleasant, appealing, affectionate, affirming and indulgent, but increasingly without any sense of effort, commitment, cost or sacrifice. Just google the phrase, “as long as our love shall last,” or “as long as our love serves the greatest good,” and you’ll find that those are the newest fads in wedding vows. What pain and fear of abandonment that speaks of.
Advertising makes free use of the word, “love,” in jingles like “We Love the Subs” for Quizno’s Sandwich Shops, or an older one that I grew up with (and this really dates me): “I Love Bosco; that’s the drink for me….” (By the way, I don’t get any product placement fees for my sermons). Such use of the word “love” reinforces our society’s tendency to love things and use people.
Today’s passage addresses our society’s shortcomings in the language of love by saying two more things about love, points 3 and 4 of the sermon outline: That love, as Jesus speaks of it, is more strenuous, sacrificial, demanding and costly of us than the love we hear about in a commercial jingle or a Top-40 song (that’s point 3); and (point 4), that love, as Jesus speaks of it, is also infinitely more gracious, generous, magnanimous and extravagant toward us than the love we hear about in a commercial jingle or a Top-40 song.
About the third point, Love is…… more strenuous, sacrificial, demanding and costly of us than what you’ll learn from popular culture, Jesus set the bar quite high for love when he said, “No greater love has anyone than this, that one lays down their life for their friends,” as did he. There are many ways to lay down our lives, other than on a cross. I’m still waiting to hear a popular song about parents getting up at 2 AM most nights to feed a baby and change its diaper. I’m still waiting to hear a love song about sitting up all night in the hospital waiting room, waiting to hear from the surgeon about how the patient came through, or not. I’m still waiting to hear songs about visiting a friend in hospice care, or forgiving someone a loan that they can’t repay. While the world speaks of love mostly in terms of pleasure, indulgence, affection and attraction, the love of which Jesus speaks, and the love he showed, involve some very costly surrenders of rights, freedoms, possessions, pleasures and powers on behalf of other people’s needs, the laying down of our lives for each other. For that is how the Father loves the Son, and how Christ loved us.
While love is comforting, it may also need to be confrontational. For this Mothers’ Day, and those to come, someone should write a song about the mother from Baltimore, Md., who recognized her teenage son among the rioters taunting police and looting stores, who grabbed him by the collar, dragged him away, rebuked him loudly and publicly, slapped him around the ears some, and chased him home. I’m no fan of corporal punishment, but I can understand why she said that she did it because she loved her son. She knows that as a young black man, he has legitimate grievances against some of Baltimore’s Police officers. But looting and trying to injure people are just wrong, she said, and she didn’t want her son to be the next young black man to die in jail or a police van. Sometimes love means telling the uncomfortable truth and taking the heat, for the sake of those we love.
Jesus also spoke of love in connection to “commandments.” So, another proof of love is in verse 10: “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” That’s not all that different from what other rabbis said then and say now: that the measure of our love for God is obedience to God’s commands. When Jesus goes on to say, “My command is this: Love each other…” he’s not saying that love supersedes and negates all other commands of God. He’s saying the same thing that Paul says in Romans 13: “The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Keeping God’s commands does not earn us God’s love, for such love is always a given. But obedience puts us in the path of experiencing God’s love, and is the expression of God’s love.
In fact, Jesus even calls love “a new commandment.” Love itself is not new; earlier this morning we recited ancient biblical words about love for God and people. What’s new is the way that Jesus measures love. The old command, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” is already quite strenuous, costly and demanding. What an amazing world this would be if we could attain just that level of love more consistently. But Jesus upped the ante when he said, “Love one another [not just as you want to be loved but] as I have loved you.”
As for our discernment and disagreements about what love God blesses in sex and marriage, I wonder if that does not serve too conveniently to distract us from the hard work of loving each other that is ever and already before us. I wonder if we are not avoiding the biggest problem, not, Do some people love each other too much? but Do we love each other enough? How, in our prosperity, our lives are too privatized and self-sufficient, how we have bought into the world’s notion that our relationships are more like contracts than covenants, and that sex is the ultimate expression of love, rather than carrying a cross. That question applies to everyone, whatever stand they take.
But when Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you,” He means, “as when I was sharing my life with God so intimately with you for three years of discipling, as how I shall love you when the mob comes to arrest me in the Garden of Gethsemane, and I stand between you and them and say, ‘Let these ones go!’ and then again when they crucify me at Golgotha, where I offer up my life for the sins of the world.” Jesus and his sacrificial death are the new gold standard for love, one which challenges all of us, and places all of us at the same level of the foot of the cross, at the throne of mercy, needing the same amount of grace and strength if we are to obey his commands and live in his love.
But that’s good news, actually. Because of the fourth point, that Love, in Jesus’ way of speaking, is also infinitely more gracious, giving, generous, magnanimous and extravagant than anything our commercialized culture can conceive. Jesus’ words, “As the Father has loved me, so do I love you,” are not just an explanation about God; they are an invitation by God, into the very life of God, which is love. What makes Jesus’ Love so magnanimous and extravagant then is that it is our inclusion into the union and communion of the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit. While we of course must discern the answers to questions like, “Who is included in the church?” and “What actions are included in God’s blessing through the church?” again, do those questions not distract us just a little too conveniently from the stunningly, outrageously greater invitation to inclusion in God? “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you,” is our inclusion into nothing less than the infinite and eternal life of God’s Trinitarian nature, to take our place with Jesus, as the Beloved of the Father, in the Love that they share in the Holy Spirit. It is a love that the Son offers to the Father in trust, obedience and adoration, and a love which the Father offers the Son as truth, honor, care and power.
Another reason why this love is so much more gracious, generous, extravagant and magnanimous than the world’s version of love is that it is the way of joy. Songs and commercial jingles associate love with pleasure and happiness, but Jesus says, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” C.S. Lewis said that “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” Jesus here does not bribe us into obedience with pleasures, power and possessions, but draws us toward himself with foretastes and promises of joy, the joy that Father Teillhard de Chardin said is “the infallible sign of the presence of God.” My prayer for us and myself is that, through all the distracting voices of the world, calling us every which way, God and the joy of God will draw us and drive us toward heaven and into the bosom of the Father, on the path of Christ-like love.
In summary, love is God’s plan, God’s way, of creating, recreating and ruling the world, until the day when all shall be love, and only love. That’s because God is love. We cannot measure the success of our part in God’s plan by how many people we convince, nor how soon the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ. We should not expect everyone to be equally excited about what the extravagant magnanimity of God’s love offers, nor will everyone want to shoulder the costs and challenges of such love. Jesus’ own disciples have enough confusion, mixed feelings and failures on that score. Or am I the only one?
The effects of God’s love in God’s world are by God’s power, and are God’s responsibility, not ours. Our success is measured only by the height and depth, the quality and the quantity, of the love we share as it comes to us from heaven. However others might receive such love, or not, we never have an excuse not to love; Jesus’ disciples still always have each other to love, for he says, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Sounds like a plan, don’t you think?