Sermon for Sunday, May 6, 2018 || Easter 6B || John 15:9-17
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus says these words to his disciples during their last meal together. The next day he will walk to the cross, to his death, and so his words in the upper room take on the urgency of someone knowing they will probably be his last words. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
At first we might take issue with Jesus’ words: how can you command someone to love? It’s not like a drill sergeant shouting at his recruits to “drop and give me twenty.” That command can be followed pretty easily. You drop to the ground and do twenty push-ups. But the command to love? The reason it feels weird to us, the reason we might take issue, lies in the fact that we often think of love in terms of an emotion. This is love as “affection.” This is what we mean when we say we are “falling in love.”
While the emotive quality of love is important, I don’t think it’s what Jesus is talking about because you truly cannot command someone to feel a certain way. But like the drill sergeant, you can command action, and Jesus is concerned here with the action of love. He has his own next loving action on his mind when he continues talking: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you…This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
Notice that he doesn’t just tell them to love, but to love “as I have loved you.” Seeing that got me thinking about some of the ways Jesus demonstrates love in the Gospel. He shows love in so many ways, ways that we can emulate in our own lives with God’s help. Let’s look at four of them.
First, Jesus loved the intransigent into new possibilities. When the Pharisee Nicodemus comes to see Jesus, he begins their conversation with all the force of his dogmatic learning. Nicodemus is an arbiter, a man used to dispensing judgment and not having his authority questioned. Over time I think such a position led him to petrification. But from the word go, Jesus calmly breaks down Nicodemus’s presumption of knowledge and invites him to breathe deeply of the wind of the Spirit; to allow questions that lead to new depth; to be okay with saying, “How can these things be?”
Jesus could have written off Nicodemus as a teacher who had forgotten how to learn, but instead Jesus engages him and loves Nicodemus into new possibilities. Are you in need of giving or receiving such a form of love? Is there a place in your life where you’re just stuck? Or is someone you love stuck in a vicious cycle with no way out? Ask God for this kind of love.
Second, Jesus loved across difference and boundaries. When the Samaritan woman came upon Jesus at the well in her own town, they struck up a conversation, despite all the cultural norms that said they should not be talking with one another. Jesus is physically thirsty and the woman is spiritually thirsty and together they quench their thirst. Their conversation ends with Jesus revealing to this woman his divine identity; she is the first person in the Gospel to hear him quote God’s divine “I Am.”
Jesus could have ignored the woman (and judging by his disciples’ reaction, that’s what they expected him to do), but instead Jesus engages her and loves her no matter the fact that her people and his people did not share things in common. Is there a place in your life where you can both give and receive such a form of love, this love that sees difference not as a roadblock but as an opportunity for learning and growth and expansion of our minds and hearts? Ask God for this kind of love.
Third, Jesus loved the grieving with his own hot tears. When Martha and Mary speak with Jesus about the death of their brother Lazarus, Jesus’ own beloved friend, Jesus begins to weep. He weeps even though he’s about to call Lazarus out of the tomb. Why? Why does he weep? Because the sisters were grieving. They were in pain. The loss of Lazarus had torn ragged holes in their chests.
Jesus could have told Martha and Mary to buck up or that their tears were misplaced. He could have recited any number of worn platitudes that people say to the grieving because they don’t know that the best thing to do is simply to cry with them. Or to speak the silent language of embrace. Jesus weeps with Martha and Mary because he loves them, and the reality of death is still full of sorrow even when it is transcended by the reality of the resurrection. Is there a place in your life where you can give or receive this form of love, love that bears and shares grief? Ask God for this kind of love.
Fourth, Jesus loved the denier back into relationship. When Peter brings the catch of fish to the beach, he meets the resurrected Jesus and they have a heart to heart. Ever since Peter denied knowing Jesus three times, he has carried a weight of guilt and shame. But Jesus helps him shed this weight by giving Peter the opportunity to erase the denial with a three-fold profession of love. “Simon Peter, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus could have cast Peter out of the circle of disciples because he succumbed to fear on the terrifying night of Jesus’ arrest. But instead, Jesus loves Peter back into relationship with him. Now some relationships are broken beyond compare and attempts at reconciliation will only lead to deeper pain. But in most broken relationships, there is a possibility for forgiveness and reconciliation, and they take the form of love Jesus and Peter demonstrate, this love that acknowledges the break in order to heal it. Is there a relationship in your life in need of the love of mending? Ask God for this kind of love.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus loved in many more ways, too many for this sermon. Jesus loved the intransigent into new possibilities. Jesus loved across difference and boundaries. Jesus loved the grieving with his own hot tears. Jesus loved the denier back into relationship. Jesus loved his servants into friendship, his followers into family. Jesus loved to the end, through the end, and into a new beginning.