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Saturday, June 19, 2021

A Different Kind of Love (John 15:9-17, Easter 6 2021)

A Different Kind of Love

There are so many sayings and platitudes about love circulating in the atmosphere, and we have been hearing them our entire lives. So, for better or worse, what are some of the best – and worst – clichés about love that you have heard? Here are some I came up with:

·       It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

·       All you need is love!

·       Love makes the world go round.

·       Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

·       Love comes when you least expect it.

·       Love is blind.

·       Love means never having to say you’re sorry.

·       Love is tender love is true.

·       Love is kind.

·       All is fair in love and war.

·       Love conquers all.

·       Love is not love till you give it away.

Most of these clichés come to us straight from our cultural library – movies, books, poetry, songs, and the like. Some make us roll our eyes, and others make us want to scream. Still others, or perhaps the collection of them together, have integrated themselves deeply into our psyche, no matter how hard we have tried to resist. After all, “love hurts”, right?

Some of us in fact resist relational “love” because of the potential pain of loving and losing, or because of the way previous experiences of “love” that was not love at all has nearly undone us.

Our experiences of “love” can be wonderful, and they can be incredibly, insidiously, painful – because we are imperfect creatures who oftentimes give and receive love imperfectly. Perhaps you have been hurt by love that was selfish, abusive, manipulative, marked by infidelity and betrayal, or unlasting.

Perhaps you have been blessed with love that is enduring, all-encompassing, mutually supportive and mature. Maybe you have experienced enough of both, to know the difference.

There is perhaps no concept, topic or word we talk about here in the church more than “love.” It has certainly been a strong theme in the Scriptures we have read in the past several weeks.

All this talk about love is appropriate because, as John tells us, God is love, and as Jesus commands us, we are to love one another as he has loved us. Further, in today’s Gospel we hear again that word that describes something that is deeply steeped within us, that defines us, that dwells within us to the core when Jesus says, “abide in my love.”

Jesus ties the Old Testament law with the New Testament truth and light when he says, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”

Jesus makes it clear that this commandment and this love are not optional for his followers. Love is the fundamental characteristic, behavior, and commitment that defines his disciples, and Jesus has set the tone for this kind of self-giving love throughout his life, and certainly, in his death. In fact, he states, “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus is our greatest love.

Jesus doesn’t give his disciples (or us) the easy “out” of doing nice things with clenched teeth and resentful hearts.  God doesn’t intend for us to perform actions as hollow as a “loving” act performed lovelessly. 

Rather, when Jesus says, “Love as I have loved you,” – he means it – and the grammatical construction of the Greek is indicative not of an action that is once and done, or in the past, but action that, begun in the past, is ongoing now, and infinitely into the future.

When Jesus says, “Love as I have love you,” Jesus is speaking of real, authentic, honest, beautiful, generous love-in-action. And as we learned last week, this is possible only when we remain integrally connected to God the Father and to Jesus Christ our Lord.

Jesus speaks of true compassion, concern, and care for another that is soul-deep and ongoing, is made evident in behaviors and actions, thoughts and prayers, commitment and service, all enlivened and shaped by his love. It may sometimes feel too hard, perhaps even impossible to carry out that kind of love at times.

But just imagine what the world – what our community – what our church, our families, our schools or workplaces ,and neighborhoods would look like, if we took this commandment seriously and were obedient to Jesus’ intention for us.

How would we have to change? What could Christendom look like if we obeyed orders and cultivated this “impossible” love?

There are places and spaces where these questions might be easy to answer – or so we might think. But there are definitely places in our lives and in our world, where the answers seem few and difficult to conjure, and even more difficult to live out.

Just coming out of such a long period of pandemic, many of us are exhausted and unsure of best practices. Some of us are still extremely cautious and not entirely confident we can trust the experts who have frequently changed course in recommendations while dealing with the new, unknown, and insidious thread of COVID 19. Patience, compassion, honest engagement and love are needed. Let Jesus guide us.

Manipulation of information and the scourge of intentional misinformation has underscored the vast divide in values and ideology present in our society. They have succeeded in their malevolent intent of further dividing us. Let Jesus bind us together.

In this era of heightened anxiety, the reality that the effects of racism, which have abated and been mitigated in some places, are hardly conquered, and in fact still shape the everyday lives of our black and brown and Asian and Native Indian and Latinx siblings in heinous ways and heartbreaking acts. Love calls us to truly invest ourselves in the loving acts of understanding, and changing behaviors we have, for centuries, denied as real. May Jesus heal us.

We are shaped by Jesus’ command, “abide in my love.”

In the face of so much pain, isolation, and death as we have seen this year, God’s love and Jesus’ abiding presence and insistence on defining love dwelling within us, authentically defining us, and shaping our lives is pure gift and grace.

It is that love and that presence, that find their home in the hearts of those who believe in Jesus the Christ.

Jesus has loved us with a power that is so strong, it seeps into our very being and makes “abiding in his love” possible. Through the Holy Spirit, we are given everything we need to truly, authentically, fully love because we know love, real, life-changing love that the cultural clichés cannot and do not define.

We are again reminded that the love God has for us is so strong that indeed he sent Jesus into the world to conquer sin and death and lead us to life everlasting – life that is shaped and defined by holy love.

As Christians and disciples of Christ, we cannot simply treat Jesus as a role model.  We don’t just emulating his love.  In the vine-and-branches metaphor of last week, Jesus’s love is not our example; it’s our source. 

It is where our love originates and deepens.  It is where our love is replenished.  To love as Jesus commands us to love, is different from the culturally-defined, worldly love of culture – rather, it is to abide in him, and to welcome his divine presence and love within our own hearts; then and only then can the fruit of our love mirror of his most abundant and inexhaustible love there is. 

John tells us in our earlier reading today that the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments which are not burdensome, but life-giving. Jesus calls us friends, because he has made known to us the true quality of this godly love, choosing us to bear fruit in that love.

Therefore, Siblings in Christ, may we love with Christ-like love, and live in love that changes the world with fruitful goodness and peace.   Amen.



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