I genuinely believe that love is central to Christian identity. Love is central to the Gospel, and love is the beginning, middle, and ending of human existence. In the end, love is the only thing that matters. I have spent the better part of my adult life reading and studying scripture and theology I can tell you that if we strip away all of the pronouncements by church councils and theologians all that remains is love. Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, says, “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (NIV)
In Today’s Gospel from John, Jesus tells those with him, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35, NIV) Let’s pick apart this verse a little.
“A new command I give you.” I always like to begin with definitions, so there is a clear understanding of what is being spoken of. Command; an authoritative order. The disciples believe Jesus is their teacher, their rabbi this is a position of authority. “The people were amazed at his teaching because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” (Mark 1:22, NIV) “because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” (Matthew 7:29, NIV) So Jesus is the authority, and he is giving them a new command.
Jesus is giving them a command; he is not making a suggestion. He is making this a command so they have an understanding of the importance of what he is saying and how central to everything that he has done, or will do in the future, love is.
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40, NIV)
All of the law and all of the prophets hang on this. Love is the fulfillment of the entirety of the law and all of the prophetic words of the prophets that came before Jesus. That is it, love!
Love is a complex emotion that has so many meanings it would be impossible to give it the treatment it deserves so, for now, we will move to pass the actual word love and towards something else.
Jesus tells them to “Love one another. As I have loved you” so to truly understand we have to look at how Jesus has loved them. There is no better place to start then “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NIV) The outpouring of God’s love manifested itself in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. God’s love for the world and those in it was so profound that God gave everything, including his son so that we might have eternal life. God sent Jesus to show us the way so we would stop wandering in the darkness. God sent his light into the world to light the path of righteousness. This is how much God loves us.
Jesus love for his disciples and those he ministered too was perfect and unconditional. Jesus never put obstacles in the way for someone to have to reach. He never told them that to be saved they had to follow a complex set of rules and regulations, he told them to believe. Hanging on the cross, Jesus turned to the thief and said to him that he would join him in paradise. The thief recognized Jesus for who, and what he is, he confessed and asked Jesus to remember him when he came into paradise. Jesus reassured him that he would be with him. The man was not baptized, he did not say the sinner’s prayer, he was not on his knees, and he never took communion or even attended the church he just believed. The example is that we are to love everyone without condition.
Everywhere Jesus went he healed; he fed, he preached, he reconciled, he forgave all without stopping to inquire if the people he was serving were worthy of his ministry. There was no credit check; he did not ask to see a passport or inquire about their immigration status. Jesus did not care where they had come from or how they got there he just met their needs with love. In his ministry, Jesus set no conditions on those that he would minister too, and he told the disciples the same. The only admonition he gave them was this, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.” (Matthew 10:14, NIV)
Notice, Jesus did not tell his disciples that if people did not listen, they were to go to the Congress and pass legislation to force them to believe. There is nowhere in that statement that tells the disciples that if the people do not believe they are to take them to court and sue them into believing. Jesus told them to present the Gospel, and if they believe great and if they do not, walk away. Apparently, people tend to ignore this passage if history is any judge.
I mentioned earlier that love is a complex emotion, and it is, but to do what Jesus has commanded us to do, we have to try and understand what love is. There is no better definition of Christian love than what St. Paul has to say about it in his First Letter to the Corinthians; I quoted part of it already. It comes from the 13th Chapter and is considered the “Wedding Reading:”
“Love is patient; love is kind. It does not envy; it does not boast; it is not proud. It does not dishonor others; it is not self-seeking; it is not easily angered; it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8; NIV)
Love does not keep people out love finds a way to invite people in. Love does not force one segment of the population to follow one set of rules while allowing another to follow a different set of rules. Love does not hold things over other’s heads, and love certainly does not use people for what they can get out of them. Love does not keep a tally sheet or good and evil. Love does not make fun of others or rejoice when others make fun of them. Love always tells the truth, no matter how harsh that truth might be. Love honors vows and honors all people. Love always protects especially those who are vulnerable or marginalized. Love always hopes and brings hope to others. And in the end, love never fails.
I gave this sermon the title “Imagine” because I wanted us to be able to imagine a world where love is the first and the last, where love and what is good for everyone is how we deal with situations in all of our doings. Imagine if love was the shining example in the laws we passed and the candidates we voted for. Imagine if love was the guiding principle in church affairs, and we did what was right rather than just what we wanted or because we have always done it that way. Imagine if we loved enough that we listened when someone we disagree entirely with speaks and that we love humanity enough that we seek to find solutions to problems that do not including destroying each other verbally or with bombs. Imagine loving so much that we allow people to decide for themselves what is best for them in their situation and their families, even if we disagree and we do not try and pass legislation that takes that choice away. Imagine if we loved each other and those we do not even know the way Jesus loved, without condition. Imagine what the world would be like if we just loved a little more starting with loving ourselves.
“But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now, we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:8-13, NIV)