Sixth Sunday of Easter
Love. Love is in the air. With wedding season upon us, there's plenty of opportunity to talk about love. But Jesus isn't talking about romantic love here in John 15, but the self-sacrificing love he has for us, and calls us to have for each other.
Perhaps Mothers' Day, too, is a good day to thing about this kind of love. For mothers often sacrifice of themselves for the good of their children. We give thanks to God for the good gift of mothers, and we honor them especially today. But even more important that our love for mom or her love for us, is the love of Christ for all.
There's lots to love about our Gospel reading this morning... as we listen to Jesus' teaching about love.
Love begins with the Father. The Father and the Son, who love each other. Indeed, John tells us in his epistles that God is love. It's such a part of who he is and is part and parcel of his nature.
The Father loves the Son, and the Son, Jesus, loves us. And he commands us to love one another. As your teenagers might say, “how's that workin' out for ya?” Not too well, I suppose.
If your daily life is anything like mine, it's incredibly difficult – no, impossible - to love as Christ loves. Loving others takes a far back seat to the real priority, which is me. Aren't you the same? Call it selfishness, or self-absorption, most of us, most of the time are metaphysical navel-gazers, concerned mostly about how life affects us, first and foremost. We're not preoccupied with what we can do for others, how we can help others, what others need, how we can serve them. No, we're looking out for #1. How I feel. What I need. What I want.
Our culture encourages this self-absorption. Whitney Houston sang that learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all. Advertisers tell us to have it your way, you deserve a break today. We are taught to seek convenience and comfort and fulfillment in all the pleasures of life. And while no one would saying love is a bad thing, all this self-centeredness is the very opposite of what love truly is: self-sacrifice.
We see that, most perfectly, of course, in Jesus. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends”. And Jesus did just that. He wasn't the tragic victim of human injustice, if only he could have gotten away. No. He set his face toward Jerusalem. He handed himself over to his enemies. He laid down his own life. “no one takes it from me” he said, “but I lay it down of my own accord”. He is the ultimate self-sacrifice, the Lamb of God offered up on the altar of the cross. True love. Perfect love. Ultimate superlative, better-than-any-other-love – the real greatest love of all – is Jesus on the cross for you.
And it's his loving death for you that is the antidote for all your unloving-ness.
First of all, to forgive you. Yes, I am an unloving, self-absorbed sinner. What of it? Jesus died for me. Yes, I fumble and stumble and shatter his commandments every single day, but my debts are paid – Jesus died for me. Yes, you too are a poor, miserable sinner, turned in on your own sinful self, too, rebelling, wandering, resenting his law – but Christ laid down his life to forgive you. He loves you that much, even in your unlovingness.
Second, he calls you to abide in his love. To abide means to live in, to make it the center of your existence. To receive, continually, from his loving abundance. Abiding in his love means cherishing the word that he speaks to you – and gathering with others to hear it. Abiding in his love means daily repentance and faith by your baptism, living each day as a new creation in Christ. Abiding in his love means receiving his gifts of body and blood, given and shed for you – the very lifeblood of the Christian – and drawing your life from him alone. Abiding in Jesus' love doesn't mean doing good, so much as it means receiving his good gifts, and trusting in him constantly.
And yes, he calls you to love one another, as he has loved you. And remember what kind of love that is – self-sacrificing love. A love that lays down one's life for another. These disciples of Jesus would know that kind of love first hand, as they would in the coming years, lay down their lives for the sake of his Gospel, that is, for the sake of others. They knew and believed Christ's words and promises. They preached the cross, and lived it. Despite persecution and imprisonment and martyrdom, they remained rooted in his love and his self-sacrifice.
He calls you to love in the same way, with the same love that first loved you. And it's not easy. It means laying down your life for others. It means putting others ahead of yourself, your wants and desires. It means seeing the bigger picture of God's will for you and your life in the little moments and opportunities he sets before you. Love your spouse. Love your children. Love your co-workers, including that really annoying one. Love even your enemies. Speak the truth in love, even when it's a hard truth.
Hard to do, and we do it far from perfectly. We certainly don't die for others. The law convicts us all. But then we return to his forgiveness. And then we recall his promise from last week's reading earlier in this same chapter - “abide in me and you will bear much fruit”. Yes, God works through us to love people, over against our sinful, unloving nature. In spite of our self-absorption, his Spirit accomplishes his purposes.
If you want to love others, the trick isn't to first love yourself. The real way to know love is to know Christ's love. To abide in his love. To receive it constantly, to live and breathe it. Only then can we and will we truly love one another.