Let us pray: Holy and gracious God, you know each of us intimately. The love you demonstrate for us is one of selflessness and of compassion. We confess that we use the word “love,” loosely, and we pray for the grace to think of love in the manner in which you offer us love. We pray that we may be transformed by your love, and that we may be agents of your love to others. O God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing and acceptable to you. For you, are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
As I read the gospel text for this morning, a song written by Hal David in 1965, and made popular by Diana Ross kept running through my head. Perhaps, you have heard these words before:
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
No, not just for some, but for everyone.
During the turbulent times of the 1960s, many songwriters and artists released songs whose lyrics and music carried with them themes of love and of peace. In general, people in modern and now in post-modern times have had two different reactions to songs of these types. The first reaction is an affirmation for the songwriter/artist’s words. People affirm these songs and promote the idea of tolerance for everybody in order to bring about a kindom of love, peace, and justice. A second reaction is to think of the theme or idea of peace and love as euphoric dreams that are unattainable unless there is some systematic process in place. Persons who find the ideas of peace and love as abstract work to solve the issues of conflict, war, and/or systemic injustices by creating a policy or by intervening in some manner, often one that involves violence.
“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love,” this command opens our Gospel reading for this morning. This section from the fifteenth chapter of John is a continuation from last week’s lectionary Gospel selection, John 15:1-8. Last we listened as Jan read and as the gospel writer reminded us that in order to live a transformed life through God, with Christ, and the Holy Spirit, then we must remain, we must dwell, we must abide in the love of God. In this section, Jesus—continuing in his Farewell Discourse—specifies what abiding in God’s love means. Interestingly, the words spoken by Jesus in the gospel of John support neither of the ways in which we tend to think and operate when we consider what it means to love.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus repeats to the disciples given at the Passover meal in which Jesus submitted himself before the disciples and washed their feet, even the feet of Judas, who would betray him. The type of love that Jesus is referring to when speaking to the disciples is a love that is concerned for the well-being of others rather than ourselves; it is a love that does not attempt to dominate or possess; it is a love that continues regardless of one’s limited abilities, time, or resources. In Greek, this love is called agape and in Latin caritas, the word from which we get charity. The type of love that Jesus is defining is more intentional that being generally tolerant of the people around us, especially the people with whom we disagree or dislike for whatever reason. This love is a love that offers freedom and that does not attempt to dominate, control, or increase one’s power over another.
Jesus is foretelling what he will do. Jesus freely offered himself up, and emptied himself out to the point of death in order that his disciples and all of humanity might believe that he is the son of God and might experience new life in his name. Jesus, in giving this command, also alerts his disciples that their path, too, will not be smooth, but that they will endure trials, persecution, and even death in order to fully demonstrate the love of God to others. The gospel writer of John is writing in the late first century to a community of Jewish followers of Christ. This community is oppressed by Roman law which states that only Caesar is allowed to be considered divine, and they are outcasts from the Synagogue from leaders who do not follow the teachings of Christ. The gospel writer is speaking to this audience and commanding them to treat those, who would otherwise be considered enemies, as friends—as people whose lives matter so much that this community of Christ-followers would be willing to die in order to fully demonstrate the love of God for another. The gospel writer is speaking to the Church in the 21st century. We are called to educate ourselves on the events of the world, our nation, and community. A couple of weeks ago, on my Facebook newsfeed, I began receiving posts about an uprising in Nicaragua, in the capital as well as in city in which 8 of us from this church and several other members from our annual conference did mission work just 2 and ½ months ago. When I went to find more information, I was disappointed to see that only one news carrier was reporting this story. We are called to more than just tolerate people and/or situations. We are called to be the presence of Christ. We are called to act with love, with grace, with justice, and with peace. We are called to act and to speak on behalf of those who cannot act and speak for themselves, and we are called to silence the voices of fear, of anger, of scarcity that speak falsely against the love that has been made available to all of humanity in God through Christ.
Perhaps, Hal David and his contemporaries were right. Perhaps, what the world needs now is love, sweet love. Perhaps, we need to act as Christ and no longer regard one another as servants, but rather as friends. Perhaps, we need to think more of the other person and less of ourselves; perhaps, we need to practice more hospitality and acceptance and less domination and plays for power. Perhaps, we need to abide in God’s love, trusting in the providence of God to empower us when we are deceived into believing that we inept for the work to which we are called.
My prayer, as we come to the communion table this morning, is that we too will remember that God has chosen each one of us as a friend. My prayer is that we will respond in faith as friends of Christ to love one another as Christ has loved us. May it be so. Amen.