On the night of his arrest, Jesus delivers a final testimony to his disciples to help them in the days ahead. Here, he repeats the most important of all his commands, that they love one another.
9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
12This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
Grace and peace to you, people of God, in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Have you ever been around someone, whether a family member, friend, or casual acquaintance, who tells the same stories over and over? Now, I’m asking this, but please think of someone other than your mom. It’s Mother’s Day, after all. The story is usually a defining moment in their life as they see it. It might usually a fairly benign little story with some memorable characters and unlikely circumstances, like seeing some A-list celebrity in a fast food restaurant. It might be retelling the family history, filled with hardships, victories, and important lessons that brought the family to where they are today. In some cases, it’s a traumatic story, filled with anger or fear that has, in some way, altered their life. At first, the story is met with an appropriate reaction – interest, empathy, laughter, or, at the very least, some harmless ambivalence. Eventually, though, after hearing it enough times, it’s easy to lose your cool – interest turns to disinterest, empathy to resentment, laughter to groans, and ambivalence to downright hostility. At the very least, after enough times, you might just want to interrupt and say, “Yeah. You said that already. I get it. Can we move on to something else?”
If I’m honest, sometimes I want to say that to Jesus. Here we are in John again and Jesus is saying what he’s repeating himself all over again – “Love each other.” As a listener, hearing these lessons over and over can be maddening. However, imagine being the speaker, giving lessons, and seeing people not quite get it. That has to be a whole new level of frustration.
You don’t need to look too far to see that, sometimes, people aren’t very good at loving people. You can’t turn on any news outlet these days and ignore the fact that people aren’t always all that nice to each other. We experience oppression while sometimes being the oppressor. We experience violence and pain while sometimes being the reason for it. Despite being told over and over to love one another, we aren’t always that great at it.
Now, I know this isn’t exactly a great Mother’s Day message so far, but let me get to that. You see, despite our brokenness or unlovingness toward each other, Jesus tells us that we are, in fact, still loved. Jesus tells us that his love for us is as strong as God’s love for him. Jesus calls us his friends and loves us so much that, right after telling us that disciples what true love looks like – “laying down one’s life for one’s friends” – he actually goes and shows us! Sometimes, we need that example and this is one of those times. Jesus chose us, calls us, and chose to die for us. Jesus had a choice and Jesus chose you. Jesus. Chose. you. Before anything else, above anything else, hear that today. Jesus chose you and loves you. Right now.
Now, of course, it seems crazy to think about saying “Yes, Jesus love me” and then going out into the world and not doing anything with it. How could we? Jesus says that we have a job to do – not to earn his love but to make our love complete. You see, love is not complete until it is shared. That, my friends, is our mission. Last week, in 1 John 4:17, we read that we have boldness in love because just as Christ was in the world, so are we. First John 4:19 says that we love because God first loved us. This command is not so that we can earn love, it’s because we are loved and God is love.
So, how’s that work, huh? It’s not like Jesus gave us an owner’s manual or an instructional video on YouTube to follow. We have to look between the lines a little bit. Certainly, the whole Bible is filled with love and examples of love, but if you look in the Bible, you won’t find a single mention of cyber bullying, the Islamic State, or global warming. There is no handbook here that tells us the step-by-step directions to deal with every single situation that we encounter today. The only thing we get from our gospel read today is this – “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Huh. That seems simple enough, right? Yeah right! That’s incredibly difficult thing to actually do. I mean, sometimes I have a hard time saying yes if a friend asks me to help them move on a weekend! But that’s what we are called to do. Love and friendship requires some sacrifice – time, energy, and passion.
Yes, it takes commitment, but do you know what happens when people commit to love and friendship? Community happens. It takes root and we suddenly find out what it looks like when love it made complete, even if it’s just a little bit. Showing love, when love is made complete, means that we are all built up! Community, which finds its start in Jesus, begins to multiply and grow stronger and the effects from that sense of community can change lives. We are called to sacrifice for love, seen in the example of Jesus whose sacrifice has given us new life, and we are called to bear fruit. But the funny thing about fruit is this – that we all enjoy it together.
We are called to build up community and, as the family of St. James, we want to encourage that. This summer, we’ll be having a number of community groups that we would love for you to join. I would encourage you to go to the website (www.stjamesmc.org) and let us know what you’re interested in! We’re already talking about community groups for couples, youth, volunteers, women, men, and we’re not opposed to adding more. Don’t see a group listed there but have an idea? Let us know! Interested in leading one? Let us know! Don’t think you have a schedule that would work for a group that meets regularly? Don’t worry! We can meet online! Maybe you just want to meet and help out with some special events. We’ll have plenty coming your way! If you’re already involved in a community group, that’s great! Help us set an example!
You know, sometimes we hear the same things over and over again and we can just tune out. But there is a drastic difference between hearing a story over and over again and getting involved in the story that’s being told. When you become a teller of the story, when you are involved in making the story a reality, your whole perception changes. There is no better way to be involved in the story of God’s work in the world, God’s incredible love and devotion to us, than to engage in the story by showing love. And there is no love greater than God’s love for us and sometimes God shows us that love in a tangible way through community and love for each other. So, maybe, the next time we want to tune out or interrupt the story and say, “I know. You’ve already told me,” we should say, “Where can I sign up?”