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Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sermon: Love One Another

by Interim Pastor Hollie Holt-Woehl
Fifth Sunday of Easter

John 13:31-35

The first time I read through today’s gospel, I thought the message was simple; love one another. But as I thought more about love and what it really means to love one another, I realized that this is more complex.

Love is a word we hear bantered around carelessly. We love certain foods, fine wine, movies, stories, or events. In advertisements we hear that we will love this new product or feature or deal. Often in domestic abuse cases we hear of the abuser talking about how much they love the one who they abused, or we hear of the abused talking about how much they love the abuser and therefore cannot leave him/her. Love is also often confused with sexual intimacy and they are not the same, you can have one without the other.

When we enter the genre of love songs what do we learn about love? Listen to this list of love songs in which the title starts with the word love:
  • Love Can Move Mountains
  • Love Changes Everything
  • Love Comes without Warning
  • Love Don’t Cost a Thing
  • Love Gets Me Every Time
  • Love Is All
  • Love Is All Around
  • Love Is All We Need
  • Love Is In The Air
  • Love Me or Leave Me Alone
  • Love Me or Let Me Go
  • Love Me Tender
  • Love Will Always Win
  • Love Will Conquer All
  • Love Will Find a Way
  • Love Wouldn’t Count Me Out
  • Love Wouldn’t Lie To Me
Add to this “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You,” “Crazy in Love,” and “Love to Love you Baby,” what do we learn of love from these songs? We hear of effortless love. We hear that we “fall in love,” that there is love at first sight, and that we can live happily ever after with the one we love. While it makes a good story line for songs and movies this effortless love is far from the real love which I think Jesus was getting at in our gospel for today.

If we take a look at the broader context of this passage we will notice that it comes in the larger section of Jesus’ “Farewell Address” to his disciples in chapters 13, 14, & 15 of John’s gospel. The “very narrative in which this commandment is lodged suggests that there is nothing easy about keeping the commandment to love one another” (Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Luke/John, p. 734).

Chapter 13 of John’s gospel begins with Jesus washing the disciple’s feet, a passage which we recently heard on Maundy Thursday. Jesus is washing their feet to show that Jesus is not above the menial task of serving others so that they also ought to serve one another. “Servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (John 13:16-17). But the disciples do not quite understand this service of love, Peter thinks his whole body should be washed, and Judas goes off to betray Jesus before the passage for today. Then right after the passage for today Peter tells Jesus that he is ready to lay down his life for Jesus, but Jesus knows what will happen to Peter. Before the rooster crows Peter will deny Jesus three times (John 13:38).

There is nothing easy or effortless about keeping the commandment to love one another.

What do we learn from Jesus about love in this “Farewell Address” from John? I would like to highlight three things: Love requires effort, love is a choice, and love is a risk.

Love requires effort. Jesus says in John 13, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15). Love requires effort. We have learned from John 3:16 that God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that all who believe in him may not perish but have eternal life. God put forth the effort to love us through Jesus. God knows that our love is imperfect yet God still took the effort to come to us.

Love is a choice. Jesus says in John 15, “You did not choose me, I chose you” (John 15:16). Jesus has chosen to love us. This choice was made freely without coercion. God does not need us, God wants us. Jesus chose you as his own.

Love is a risk. Again in John 15 Jesus says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). And this is the greatest risk of all to give up one’s live for another. God risked his own son for us so that we may be his won. God risked for you and continues to risk loving you.

What does it mean to love one another? It requires effort to follow Jesus’ example as a servant. It is a choice to serve someone who is different. It is a risk to reach out to someone who may not be able to love us back, who may even take advantage of us or take us for granted.

In the gospel passage Jesus says three times love one another as I have loved you. I wonder if it is because Jesus knows that we are imperfect and prefer effortless love so he reminds us three times that he loves us. We need to hear the context of Jesus love for us as we are to love one another.

Beloved in Christ, Jesus call for us to love one another is a challenge which requires effort, is a choice, and is a risk, however it is a challenge we can take on because Jesus has loved us and has showed us the power of his love to work even in the hardest of hearts.

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