I am continuously amazed at how we can take something so simple and make it monumentally difficult and confusing and the writer of the Scripture passage we heard this morning is no different. The Gospel of John lays out the manifestation of God in Jesus Christ. Of all the Gospel writers this is John’s singular focus and is why this Gospel is often referred to as the Spiritual Gospel. For John, the incarnation of God in Jesus happens throughout his entire life from his birth, to his miracles, to his ministry, and even his death and resurrection. For John, and therefore for us, we cannot separate these realities, and we need to continually remember that Jesus was both human and divine.
Jesus starts us off by telling us that his father, God, has loved him and therefore he loves those who were listening and by extension us as followers of Jesus. He says that we are to abide in his love as he has abided in God’s love. What does it mean to abide in something?
We are told that we have to abide by the rules and regulations of the various organizations and societies we belong too. So we follow, we obey, we conform to these rules and regulations, and by doing so, we keep the order of the organization or group. But to abide in God’s love goes a little deeper than that. Yes, we follow, obey, and conform to God’s love but we also dwell in God’s love, we hang around, we sit with it, it becomes a part of us. We do not conform God’s love to fit us; we conform ourselves to God’s love. It is a deep sense of feeling that only comes over time.
Jesus then goes on to tell us how we will abide in his, Jesus’ love, and consequently God’s love; we do this by keeping his, Jesus’ commandments just as Jesus has kept God’s commandments. Now, just so there is no confusion Jesus tells us what his commandment is, also keep in mind that due to our Trinitarian theology, Jesus is God, Jesus commandment is to “love one another as I have loved you.” There it is, it is written right there, my commandment = “love one another as I have loved you.”
Many people struggle with this concept of loving as Jesus has loved us. You have heard me say before, and I will continue to say, that the love Jesus is speaking of is unconditional love and I come to this understanding by reading John 3:16, we all know it, God loves the world, notice the passage does not say the Christian world, those who believe in him world, the Middle Eastern World, the passage simply says God loved the world, the whole world. Because he loved the world and desired that all be reconciled to him, he sent Jesus, not to judge, but to show us the way. This is a difficult concept and hard to understand.
This love concept of Jesus is all about inclusion but we have taken this to mean we can exclude some folks, we can judge them no longer worthy of God’s love, and we can cast them out. It has become fashionable for some to believe they have the authority to decide who gets God’s love and who does not and for those folks I simply will say, you need to read and understand this passage we heard this very morning and if you desire to abide in God’s love then you need to obey his commandments and that is, “to love one another as I have loved you.” Without conditions.
I will admit that it is difficult to love those we have judged not worthy of our love. It is even more difficult to love those who do not love us back or who are our “enemies,” but the bottom line is we have no other choice if we hope to abide in God’s love. The very act of thinking we are doing God’s will by casting people out of God’s love as in fact cast us out, although I believe that God continues to love us no matter what we do. We have placed such a narrow definition of who deserves God’s love and who does not want that often we exclude ourselves.
Back in the 1970’s Coca-Cola introduced a commercial around the season of Christmas. The commercial began with a shot of a single candle burning against a dark background. The shot fades to a woman who begins to sing about buying the world a home and furnishing it with love. As the song continues the focus shifts to different people of different races, an Asian woman a black man. The shot widens, and we get a glimpse of a chorus of people, of all races and nationalities all sitting and singing together about bringing love into the world. The song goes on to say that all of these folks would like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. Harmony requires different parts to make it work. If everyone sang the same note, we would all sound the same, but if we sing different, complementary notes, a beautiful melody will be born. The idea is we celebrate the diversity because when brought together we produce something beautiful. Oh, and we have to buy a coke as well. In other words, we love everyone.
Jesus then goes on to say that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend. Now, this has been interpreted in many different ways over the years, but I would like us to focus on the spiritual aspects for just a moment.
Right after Jesus says that the most excellent show of love to lay down one’s life for a friend, Jesus says, “You are my friends,” and we all know that Jesus lays down his life for us. But he says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” And what is that? Se previous verse, “love one another.” So if we love one another, we are Jesus’ friends, and it is us that he is laying down his life for. But, it goes deeper than that.
If we follow the example of Jesus, and that is the entire point of the Gospel, then we have to lay down our lives as well for a friend, now, keeping this on the spiritual plane, we are to lay down our lives for Jesus. We are to die to self, to self-desire, to self-interest, to using people as objects to get what we want, we have to die to “looking out for number one” and focus on the greater whole of humanity. We are to take up one’s cross and follow him. We have to die so we can live. We have to die to conform our lives to that of Christ. Too often today we try and conform Christ’s life to us, but the way is narrow, many are called, but few are chosen.
In the end, Jesus reminds us that we did not choose him he chose us and he has appointed us to go and bear fruit, not for our own glory, but for the glory of God. Nothing Jesus did was for his own glory but always brought glory to God.
And he finishes off with, “I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” That is it, that is all we have to do, love others unconditionally. That’s the word, and that is the example. Now go, and do.