Sixth Sunday of Easter / May 17, 2009 / Rev. Carol Kniseley / Title: Do Love
Today is what I like to refer to as a double-header. Not only is it the 6th Sunday of Easter on the seasonal calendar, it is also World Mission Sunday on our Resurrection calendar. The displays that you see in our foyer today are there to remind all of us that this business of taking the Gospel out into the world is very serious business. Many have given their lives in the pursuit of making Christ known all over this world…even going to places that would just as soon ban the Bible from ever being read…much less heard in their country. Is it any wonder then that the old adage still rings true today: Christianity is always…just one generation away from extinction.
Which might very well explain…why…on the last evening that Jesus spent with his disciples, the topic of choice quickly turned to how they were going to continue the ministry that Jesus had begun. In the space of just nine verses, Jesus assures them that when all was said and done…and he was no longer to be found in their midst…they would still be able to carry on right where he had left off…if they simply followed his instructions. If ever there was a time for Jesus to choose his words carefully, this had to be it. Beginning at verse nine and continuing with verse 10, we hear:
‘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.’
If I didn’t know better, I would say that Jesus seems to be implying that there is a connection between “doing” what Jesus says…and “remaining” in his love. Now as Lutherans who have been taught from day one that there isn’t a single thing that we can “do” to earn God’s love…there must be something else that Jesus is alluding to. And there is.
First of all, we aren’t talking about just any old relationship. The relationship that Jesus has with his Father is one of deep intimate friendship. The same friendship that Jesus has now extended to his followers. As he states in verse 13:
‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’
In a matter of hours, all eleven of the men who were in that room…sharing the Last Supper and partaking of Jesus’ body and his blood…will know beyond a shadow of any doubt…just how deeply Jesus’ loved them. It is a love…that when given the choice to walk away…or lay down his life for his friends, Jesus chose the latter, knowing that it would be the Father’s love that will sustain him.
The same will prove true for each one of his disciples. What will sustain them on those days when loving another human being seems far beyond their capabilities…especially when love appears NOT to be the answer…will be the one thing that only Jesus could give them. He alone labels them his ‘friends’ and qualifies their status from perceived ‘servants’ to being among Jesus’ closest confidants. What he has heard from God the Father…he has shared even with ‘his friends’. Friends that have been chosen by him…lest they forget, that their standing with him is always a matter of grace.
When it comes to World Missions…there can be no greater encouragement. We go…NOT because we are worthy, or equipped, or attractive, or skilled, or experienced. We go…simply because we have been summoned…and sent. If it sounds like obedience is the name of the game, then so be it. What many in the world fail to understand is that ‘to submit’ to Christ is no hardship. Surprisingly to most, it brings joy (the joy of Christ’s presence) welling up in our hearts. And believe it or not, it is the joy of submission and whole-hearted obedience that is supremely attractive to the non-Christian world. Go figure.
Whichever which way that we slice it, today’s Gospel commands that we love…and that such a love can be willed. The love that is commanded here is more than feeling or emotion or affection. It is a love that is ACTIVE…one that can be willed, for it transcends the level of feeling and occupies the place of doing. It is the same love that is seen in the faces of hospice volunteers, in the eyes of tutors helping children learn to read, and in the hands of those who not only prepare the meals for the homeless shelter, they even go and serve the meals in person. By the way, did you know that our congregation is affectionately called the “Meatloaf” church? (Ask one of the various team members what that means…and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.)
The bottom line to all of this talk about love…is that such a love for ‘people’ (no matter how different they appear to be from us) can indeed be commanded…AND…such a command can be obeyed. But if we were to pay attention to the fine print, we’d soon learn that the command and the promise are not just for anyone. Christ abides with those who abide with him and with those who possess the spirit and love that God commands. The gift is apparent in those who have received it…AND are willing to bear it’s price. Namely, ‘those who are Jesus’ friends are those who are the world’s servants…the ones who see God’s love, and reflect it in their own actions.
As Saint Augustine once wrote:
‘It is love that separates the saints from the world.’
So it is. And that’s the price that all must pay…IF we claim to be friends of our Lord. Go figure.