05/25/14 Sermon (May 25, 2014) "The Love Commandment"

posted Jun 4, 2014, 12:42 PM by David Hawkins

Scripture Reading: John 14:15-21

[Jesus said to them:] “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

Sermon: "The Love Commandment"             Rev. David Hawkins

Today we continue to listen to Jesus along with his disciples as he says goodbye to them on the evening of his betrayal and arrest. I mentioned last week that this part of John, between chapters 14-17 is called the “Farewell Discourse,” and in these chapters we hear some of the most poignant and meaningful words of our Christian faith.

It may seem a little bit weird that during this season after the Resurrection of Jesus we are exploring the words that he spoke just hours before he was crucified, but I think that for us, and for the disciples, a lot of what Jesus says during this night only makes sense in the light of his Resurrection.

In other words, most of what Jesus says in these chapters would hold no meaning for us if he had not risen from the dead. His words would be cliches, nice sounding bumper sticker theology, but with no real meat behind them.

It is the Resurrection of Jesus that is the foundation of what Jesus says during his Farewell Discourse, in the same way that it is the Resurrection of Jesus that is the foundation of our Christian Faith. These words are meant as a comfort, certainly. They are meant to reassure his disciples that in the next few hours and days, they will experience the worst grief and fear and anger and disappointment they can imagine.

But even more than that, these words are meant to ring in our ears long after Jesus rises from the grave. Jesus’ words of love are not the cliches of a well-meaning martyr. They are the words of our Risen Savior.

Jesus is getting his disciples ready for the time, coming soon, in which he will not be physically with them. He knows that they will face persecution from both the Roman authorities and from their own people. They will be hunted down, they will be tortured, they will be scattered  and they will be killed.

But the crazy thing is, there are no defensive strategies being discussed here. This is no pep talk to raise their military passions, to get them ready for war. There is no talk of mounting a counterattack, of going on the offensive, of a pre-emptive strike against the forces they know will be closing in on them. There is no talk of getting even, of leaning forward, of revenge, of building a wall, of doing any of the things we normally would consider to be prudent in a time of impending danger.

As the hours count down to Jesus death, instead of exhorting his disciples to arm themselves, to prepare for battle, he talks to them about love. He reminds them that what he is doing, he is doing for the sake of love. He tells them that the events of the next few days will be a model for what love looks like. Self-giving, sacrificial, love.

Love that’s not reserved for just our friends. But love for our enemies. Love for the Roman soldiers who would taunt Jesus, and flog him, and pin him to the cross. Love for Judas, who betrays him with a kiss. Love for Pilate, who is looking for truth, and fails to see it standing in front of him. Love for a thief on the cross beside him. Love for his disciples who abandon him. Love for a world that destroyed him.

Because when Jesus talks about love, he means it. It’s not an abstract thing, a concept, a feeling. Love is not a noun. It is a verb. Love is action. And it is difficult.

When we consider Jesus on the cross, we begin to see love. And when we worship Jesus risen from the grave, we begin to understand love. This what the love of God for a broken world looks like: the gift of life for a people trapped in death. Love is not a small thing. Love is not an easy thing. The love of God is free, but is most certainly not cheap.

And this is what’s hard about Christianity. It’s all about love. You wouldn’t think this would be so hard. In fact, on the surface, it seems pretty easy. Almost too easy.

There’s something almost too easy for us about the idea that God loved the world so much that he sent Jesus to save it.

There is something too easy about Jesus saying that the law can be summed up into two commandments: Love God, and love your neighbor.

There is something too easy about this way of thinking. That it’s all about love. That we love, because God first loved us. That the love of Jesus comes to us before we even know that we need it. That our salvation is based on a love that we don’t earn, don’t deserve, and don’t even ask for.

And we push back against this, don’t we? Some of us push really hard against it. We want Christianity to be harder, somehow. We want there to be more to it than just love. Surely there is more to getting into the kingdom than just love. There has to be more than the free gift of grace to our salvation. It just can’t be that easy.

But this is the Gospel message: It is that easy. We do nothing to earn the love of God. We do nothing to earn the complete, self-giving love that Jesus demonstrates for us on the cross. We do nothing to earn the love that raised Jesus from the dead, that forgives us our sins, that frees us from our own tombs of sin and shame. This is why it’s good news. The decision is out of our hands. There is nothing that we can do. It is entirely up to God.

And man, that is hard to believe. And it is even harder to accept. There must be something that we have to do in order to be forgiven. There has to be something that is required of us in order to be saved. There has to be something that is under our control that sets this whole process in motion.

But there isn’t. This love is given without our help. It is given, in fact, without our approval or our consent. God saves those whom God desires to save. It’s as simple as that. It’s up to God. Not us, but God.

But that doesn’t mean that there is nothing for us to do but sit around and be saved. And this is where it gets hard. Being loved by Jesus carries with it a tremendous responsibility. Because being loved by Jesus means that in return, we love as well.

And being loved by Jesus means that we love like Jesus. We love in the same way, in the same generous, extravagant, unconditional way that Jesus loved.

And this is what’s hard about Christianity. It’s not that we love in order to get saved. It’s that we love because we are saved. Our salvation is based not on our works, rather our works are based on our salvation. We do not love the world because being loved depends on it, but because the love we have already received gives us the strength and the courage, and the impetus, and the discernment to love the world.

In other words, being loved by Christ is easy. Living into that love is very, very hard.

Loving because we are loved means things. Loving because we are loved makes us think about how, and who, we love. And there’s nothing easy about these questions.

How do we love, for instance, a man on death row? How do we love his family? How do we love his victims? How do we love the community from which he must be removed, and who must be protected from him?

How do we love a son or daughter who has become addicted to drugs, or alcohol, or gambling, or any other of a hundred ways of destroying themselves and their families? How do we love those who introduced him or her to this poison? How do we love a community plagued by these addictions?

How do we love our co-workers, some of whom resort to less than honorable means of self-promotion, or cut corners in terms of honesty and fair dealing in order to get ahead? How do we love an unfair boss who thinks of his or her employees more as tools than people?

How do we love our political opponents, especially when they resort to lies and innuendo in order to influence public opinion? How do we love our friends when we find ourselves in bitter disagreement?

How do we love our enemies, who exploit our freedoms of press and association and movement in order to organize terrorist attacks on our citizens, both here and abroad? How do we love those enemies whom we’ve captured and who might be in possession of information that will help us prevent further attacks? How do we love our nation, and keep it secure without limiting our own freedoms?

How do we love those who are different that us, who act, and talk, and think, and dress, and pray differently than we do?

How do we love ourselves, when we know too well the secret shame we carry, the dark sins of our thoughts and actions, the things we do when we think no-one’s watching?

It’s been popular for several years to pose the hypothetical question, “What would Jesus do?” when we think about these kinds of questions. I’m sure that we’ve all seen the wristbands and tee-shirts.  WWJD?

But I think a better form of this question might be, “What did Jesus do?” rather than “What would Jesus do?” Even better questions might be “Who did Jesus love?” and “How did Jesus love?”

These are better questions because we actually know the answers to them. They’re not hypothetical. They’re written down. Jesus loved the woman adulterer. He loved the enemy samaritan. He loved the dishonest government official, he loved the enemy soldier, he loved the hemorrhaging woman, he loved the rich man, he loved the poor man, he loved the diseased man, he loved the demoniac, he loved the immigrant, he loved the thief, he loved those who tortured him, even as they whipped, and scourged, and nailed him to the cross.

These are the people Jesus loved. And he loved them by eating with them, by talking to them, by hearing their stories, by giving them food, by touching them, by healing them, by teaching, them by releasing them from their demons, by forgiving their sins, and by raising them from the dead. He loved them by walking into their arms to be beaten and killed by them.

It’s not a question of who might Jesus love. It’s not a question of how might he love them. It’s a question of who and how did Jesus love those with whom he came into contact. And we have plenty of examples of that. The hard thing for us to understand is not the fact that he loves us. The hard thing to understand is that he loved the kinds of people we hate.

You see, I think we have it backwards. We worry about who is in and out of the plan of salvation. We focus on what it takes to be saved -- what words we need to say, what beliefs we need to hold, what prayers we need to regurgitate.

We focus an awful lot on how salvation works, especially how it works for other people, but the reality is, we don’t get much of a say in that. That whole salvation thing is way, way above our pay grade.

But maybe we focus so much on what it takes to be saved because it relieves us from the hard work of thinking about what it means to be saved. We focus on what we need to do in order to be saved, rather than our response to being saved.

And that’s what Jesus is talking about to his disciples about in our text today. Those who love Jesus obey his commandments. And his commandments are pretty simple. Love God, and love your neighbor.

Now, the reality is, the words themselves are pretty clear. The ‘how’ is the hard part. And Jesus knows that. He knows that what he’s asking us is pretty much impossible, at least, under our own steam. He knows that we live in a brutal, vicious, dangerous world, under threat from within and without. He knows that his disciples are going to be tested in ways that will stretch to the limit their ability to even consider love, never mind putting love into action.

And this is why he sends us an advocate.

For the next couple of weeks, the Church is getting ready for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is the day which has been set aside for us to recognize that we are not alone in our efforts to love God and love our neighbor.  

Jesus knows that we need him in order to love. He knows that we can’t begin to love in the way that He loved without him. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to be with us, in order that we might be given what we need in order to love. Because love is a difficult thing. And we need every bit of help we can get.

Thanks be to God. Amen.