I think one of the hardest commandments Jesus gives us, is this one which says we are to: ‘love one another as I have loved you.’ (John 15:12)
Jesus’ definition of love given in John’s Gospel 15:9-17 is demonstrated through his love in action – a really difficult action. A radical willingness to die – not for your child, your partner, your chosen friends – but for a fellow follower of Christ, called ‘friends’ by Christ. This is the definition of Jesus’ expression of love and friendship: to give up everything for the other.
You may well ask then, who is your friend? It is everyone whom Jesus has chosen to bear fruit, everyone who abides in Jesus and follows his commandments. We hear each Sunday the two great commandments: to love God and to love one another, without exception.
Today we opened our service remembering those who lost their lives in WW1 and in all wars. Over 100 years later we are still reflecting on this commandment to love another in the face of fear, hate and greed, and its meaning in our lives and for those who take up arms to fight on our behalf. What are we asking them to do and why? Jesus said:
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13)
As we look around the congregation, this question confronts our willingness to die for our neighbour sitting next to you whoever it is, black or white, neighbour, stranger, despised or honoured, as this is the definition of Jesus’ expression of friendship: to give up everything for the other and not to count the cost.
We live for love. We die for love. In joy and in grief. Human love is extraordinary, it is flawed, it is vulnerable, it is transcendent. Love can be broken and it is human.
Love can be twisted and weaponized as experienced in family and domestic violence situations which we have seen again this week. Love is not love when it becomes toxic and bitter, when others are killed, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually in the expression of that love for one’s own purposes and benefits, out of fear and despair. This is not God’s love.
The hatred of the ‘other’ when we can’t have what we want, can become all-consuming. It is expressed as abuse, bullying, controlling, violence and greed. It becomes vindictive, cruel and contemptuous. This is not God’s love.
The refusal to see the humanity and Christ in the other when we are confronted by our bigotry and biased view of the world, is death for the individual and those around them. How hard it is to see Jesus in all of this. This is not God’s love.
There are churches where to be a Christian you own a gun and God is male, dressed in battle fatigues, misogynistic, patriarchal and white; and punishment, possession and control are the hallmarks of a very twisted view of love. This is not God’s love.
In some places, the active expression of racism, derision and contempt of different faiths, other genders and sexualities are seen as ways to describe love. The quality of this love is defined by the very people who are excluded. Let me be very clear, this is not God’s love.
In our world, love is seen as weakness, as vulnerability, naive and unrealistic to expect it in the world today. This sounds a bit like God’s love.
Jesus is very direct in his description of God’s love. He chose us, not the other way round. He chose humanity, not just special sections of it. We don’t get to choose whether Jesus exists or if his love is real or even if he can love us.
We can choose whether to accept Jesus’ invitation and to acknowledge him in our lives. If we do, something extraordinary happens. God’s love is made visible in our hearts and lives, present for those around us whom we are invited to call friends in our church family in God’s kingdom.
Jesus reminds us:
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 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. John 15:10-11
We are not alone, we are not isolated, but we do not get to pick and choose whom we love. Jesus loved everyone, the disciples who betrayed him, the thieves on the crosses next to him, those who colluded to crucify him, and those around him who had followed him, believed in him, trusted him and loved him, friend and stranger alike.
This week, I imagined Jesus sitting in the trial with Derek Chauvin, his family, the jury and judge; with George Floyd, his family and friends; and Jesus was with everyone around the world demanding justice, revenge, punishment, while hating, grieving, feeling frightened and guilty. So much hurt and grief present in the pain. Jesus was hanging on the cross. So much systemic brutality, hatred, racism and contempt. Love is very hard to find, but I found Jesus in these places. I remember the crowd screaming for Jesus to be crucified outside Pilate’s residence. ‘Crucify him!’
I imagine Jesus present in the life of the abuser, the murderer, the bully and the ordinary person who simply does not know what they do in their treatment of others. I know about Jesus’ love in my life, in all its brokenness and grief as well.
When I pray daily for justice, I pray for an end to my anger and grief. I pray for healing, peace and to be reminded God’s love is visibly, actively present.
God’s love has no strings, there are no demands. There are no tests, no down payments demanded for entry into God’s kingdom. There is no meritocracy, no winners and losers.
Peter and the other disciples who betrayed and abandoned Jesus, were reminded again of Jesus’ overwhelming love for them in his post resurrection meeting with them on the beach as he shared their morning meal. Jesus asked Simon Peter three times, ‘do you love me?’ Peter replied: ‘Lord you know everything; you know that I love you.’ (John 21:15-17)
We too are there with Peter, saying the same thing: ‘Lord you know everything; you know that I love you.’ And in response, Jesus simply says to Peter and to us: ‘Follow me.’ Jesus’ forgiveness and his love is overwhelming.
So where does this leave us in this world when there is so much bitterness, hatred and contempt, when sometimes I can see only pain and suffering and not love.
I understand very clearly why God’s love got Jesus killed when we think about what actively demonstrating God’s love means personally. It is a difficult action and something we can only do with God’s love guiding and supporting us. Let me end with the text from 1 Corinthians:
Love is patent, love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. And now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor.13:4-7,13)
The Lord be with you.