What is Love?
John 15:9-17; 1 John 5:1-6
First United Methodist Church, May 6, 2018
Pastor Toni Carmer
So, what about love?
What is it?
I would say that love is perhaps the most painful, sought after, hoped for, fought over,
sung about, cried over, celebrated and comforting experience that you and I will ever have.
It's defined in all kinds of ways, and probably one of our biggest challenges is to overcome the overuses and misuses of the word. The "agape" kind of love that is spoken about in today's scripture lessons does NOT primarily represent a feeling. It's not a synonym for "like." It has nothing to do with my appetite for Mexican food and diet Coke, or my appreciation for a good novel, Janet Treby paintings, or good music. I may say that I love all these things, but the love we're talking about today is the kind of love that involves being for another…and acting for another—even at a cost to oneself.
I know that not everyone is this room has had the experience, but I still think it communicates. It's the feeling that you have when you look at a newborn child for the very first time. You know you're a goner. Your heart is taken. You fall in love instantly, irrationally, unconditionally. It's there, it's huge, and suddenly it becomes the lens through which you see everything else in your life. You find yourself engaged with the well-being of that child at a level and to an extent that you've never experienced before.
What the Gospel lesson this morning asks us, is to imagine that God sees every person on earth in that same kind of way. God is a goner for us. And God tells us that we are to love others with that same level of depth and commitment.
God tells us that we are to love every starving child, every victim of natural disaster, every person with HIV/AIDS, and every homeless person who asks for spare change. God tells us that we are to love that annoying guy who lives down the street and your former brother-in-law. Even them. Really, even them. That's the love that is revealed to Jesus (by God) and through Jesus to us…the love of God that views every person with the delight and overflowing affection of parents for their tiny, helpless newborn. The text from John 15 is nothing less than an invitation to fall in love with God's people—each and every one of them—and then to live out that love with every breath we take.
That's a pretty amazing kind of love.
This morning's text falls within a series of conversations that Jesus has with his disciples as he anticipates his separation from them. He knows at this point that he's going to die, and there are some things that are so important to him, that he wants to be sure they hear them and understand.
In the part of that conversation we're focusing on this morning, the beginning point is our relationship with Christ. From there, the focus broadens: the way we live and interact with others grows out of that our relationship with Christ, and our desire to be his disciples.
"As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love" (v.9).
The word "abide" catches my attention.
Whenever Scott and I get ready to go on a trip, Scott drags the luggage upstairs from the basement, and he puts the biggest suitcase out for me to begin working on. I have this great big thing that I start putting everything into that I might need while I'm gone. You never know, right? I hate it when I need something in my top right drawer and it's a 1000 miles away, so I pack it just in case. I don't like buying things I already have. I don’t know: maybe it's going to rain. Will it be hot or kind of cool. Decisions. I have a pillow I like to take with me, too. It doesn't add a lot of bulk, just some fluff. It takes up room. So, I need space.
But even when we're gone, even when I pack up everything but the kitchen sink—our house is still filled with my stuff. My presence abides in my home, even when I'm not there.
Jesus uses the word "abide" several times in this text. He says we're to abide in his love as he abides in God's love. Even though you don't see him, his stuff is still all over the place, his teachings, his direction, his influence, his love—all of that is still in you and around you, covering you…Jesus and the love he has for you abides in you, even as he abides in the love of God. Even though he may not be physically here, he's here. He didn't pack up all his stuff and leave completely.
The presence of Jesus abides with his disciples—he wants them to know that he is with them. But he's not simply present because he has nothing else to do and nowhere else to go—he is there because he loves them, and he wants them to love one another, as well. He wants that bad enough—he feels so strongly about it—that he makes it a commandment. Back in Matthew 22 (v. 36-39), Jesus tells the Sadducees and the Pharisees that the first and greatest commandment is to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." And then he says the second one is like that, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love one another. If you love me, then love one another. They go together, Jesus says.
We have seen how Jesus loves us. We know, through the experience of Easter, that he loves us enough to die for us. But what does he want from us?
How do we love him back?
We can see that he wants more than an emotional response. Loving Jesus, feeling it in your heart, being thankful for the experience of the love that we feel is a good thing, but it looks as though Jesus is asking for more than that. It's a good start, but it's only a start. Jesus is asking the disciples for some kind of a decisive, continued action. The disciples need to demonstrate that they love Jesus by keeping his commandments: if you love me, Jesus says, then you will love one another.
The disciples observed first-hand what Jesus meant by those words, and that had to be intimidating to them. They had traveled around with him for 3 years. They had watched him gather children into his arms, telling adults that the kingdom of God could be found in those young, inquisitive eyes. They saw how he boldly entered the most controversial and un-inviting circles…how he touched and healed lepers…had pleasant conversations with tax collectors and prostitutes—not with an air of judgment or condemnation—but he listened to them, listened to their hurts, their wants, their dreams and their goals. He associated with the outcasts of society, not caring what others would think; only concerned with the comfort and love he might bring them. And now, he is telling his disciples: these average, everyday men—these husbands, fathers, uncles and brothers—that the way they're to show their love for him, is to show love for one another.
Showing love for one another is showing love for God.
- That's what we're doing when we give our tithes and offerings to the church—when we give to the basket offerings and others for specific projects and activities…
- That's what we're doing when we give to the Neighborhood Center, Link to Hope, Heminger house and others...
- That's what we're doing when we go to the Midwest Distribution Center, to Henderson Settlement, to Guatemala…
- That's what we're doing when we gather gifts for children at Christmastime, put together hygiene kids or help with food or meals at community suppers.
- That's what we're doing when we teach Sunday school, lead a small group, work in the nursery or volunteer for Vacation Bible School…that's what we're doing when we serve on a committee, clean up around the church, work with the scouts, sing in the choir and set things up so they're just right…
Showing our love to one another is showing our love for God.
It's seeing one another as a child of God. Recognizing our relatedness…as a brother…a sister…a parent…as a child. Loving God's people in this world—feeling that same kind of love that you experience when you gaze upon that newborn child.
A number of years ago, a reporter was covering the conflict in Sarajevo, and he saw a little girl shot by a sniper. The reporter threw down his pad and pencil and stopped being a reporter for a few minutes. He rushed the man who was holding the child, and helped them both into his car.
As the reporter stepped on the accelerator, racing to the hospital, the man holding the bleeding child said, "Hurry, my friend, my child is still alive."
A moment or two later, "Hurry, my friend, my child is still breathing."
A moment later, "Hurry, my friend, my child is still warm."
Finally, "Hurry, oh God, my child is getting cold."
By the time they got to the hospital, the little girl had died. As they washed the blood from their hands and their clothes in the bathroom, the man turned to the reporter and said, "This is a terrible task for me. I must go to tell her father that his child is dead. He will be heartbroken."
The reporter was puzzled. He looked at the grieving man and said, "I thought she was your child."
He replied, "No, but aren't they all our children?"
They are all our children. And they're God's children, as well. He's entrusted us with their care, whether they live in Sarajevo, Afghanistan, New York, Las Angeles or Plymouth. Whether they're cute and clean and little, or all grown up, messed up, and not so easy to be around. They're God's children—they are our brother, our sister, our children.
When we do what God commands, he says that we are his friends. Not his slaves. Not simply students. Now there's nothing wrong with being a student, honest—and I hope that we're all students—always learning what God wants us to do, but you know? Students often step back and wait…they don't have the confidence…they hope and trust that someone else will deal with a situation and take charge, they'll do that later, when they're feeling stronger and more confident. But Jesus wants us to respond now…to act now…to recognize that the relationship we have with him and one another is what empowers us to act…to respond...to take the action needed that will make a difference.
We're his friends. He loves us. He's included us in the Grand Plan. He's chosen us. In that day, students who wanted to learn the Torah chose a rabbi whose teaching they wanted to live by. The choice was theirs. But Jesus reversed that order, and made the decision himself. He chooses his followers.
He has chosen all of us. He loves us and wants us to know that and asks that we respond.
Our lives are different when we realize we've been chosen. When we know how loved we are. Children grow up more confidently when they know their parents love them unconditionally. A marriage thrives when the man and woman believe—have confidence—in the love of their partner.
Brennan Manning was a priest, recovering alcoholic, speaker and writer who died about 5 years ago. I read a number of his books before his death, and I've been picking them up again recently because he's such a good story teller. If you haven't read him, a couple of my favorites are The Ragamuffin Gospel and Abba's Child.
Manning would often say, "I am the one who Jesus loves," which might sound a little different to us, but it's straight from scripture, and not a bad way to describe oneself. Remember the disciple whom Jesus loved in the Gospel of John? Manning once said, "If John were asked, What is the primary identity of your life?, he wouldn't reply: I am a disciple, an apostle, an evangelist, the author of one of the four gospels. Instead, he would say, "I am the one Jesus loves."
I wonder how our lives might be different, if we, too, came to the place where we saw our primary identity as "the one Jesus loves?" How would our lives be different? At the end of the day, what would have changed?
I remember learning in college the concept of the "looking glass self." You become what the most important person in your life thinks you are (whether it's your parent, spouse, boss, child).
How would our lives change if we truly believed the Bible's incredible words about God's love for us? How would our lives change, if we look in the mirror and see what God sees?
Brennan Manning tells a little story about an Irish priest, who on a walking tour of a rural parish, sees an old peasant kneeling by the side of the road praying. Impressed, the priest says to the man, "You must be very close to God." The peasant looks up from his prayers, thinks a moment, and then smiles, "Yes, he is very fond of me."
The Father is very fond of you.
He's chosen you.
Calls you friend.
So love one another, Jesus says.