+ 6th Sunday of Easter – May 13, 2012 +
Series B: Acts 10:34-48; 1 John 5:1-8; John 15:9-17
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.
“All you need is love,” the Beatles sang. Sounds good enough. But what does that mean? We say “I love you” to family or friends as easily as we say, “I love chocolate, sports or meat-lovers pizza.” That snarky kid on the playground points out the absurd difference. “If you love it, then why don’t you marry it?” Like that recent Jack In the Box commercial: “Mom, I’m getting married…to bacon!”
Talk about confusing…or worse. Maybe that 80’s song was right…love stinks. Sadly, English only has one word for love. Thankfully the Greeks had four.
Storge. nurturing love. A mother and her child. Mother rabbit with her bunnies. C.S. Lewis called this as “all in a squawking, nuzzling heap together, purrings, lickings, baby-talk, milk, warmth, the smell of young life.” There's no need to command this sort of love. It’s instinct.
Eros. Erotic, passionate, head over heels falling in love. It’s sexual and romantic. It’s is the love described in the Song of Solomon. Again, there’s no commandment for this love, except that it’s expressed the way God intended.
Philos, the love of friendship. Philadelphia. Brotherly love. Think of David and Jonathan. You trust them implicitly. A friend who’s got your back no matter what. This too needs no commandment. It’s easy to love the people we get along with.
And finally, there’s Agape. The word for love in both today’s epistle and gospel reading. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” Sacrificial love. Laying down one’s life for another love. Unconditional love. Love to the loveless and unlovable. Divine love. God is agape, God is love.
This love must be acted upon, willed to be, promised. Storge, eros, philos – those all happen naturally. But Agape doesn’t “just happen” for us, only for God. It must be created, given, bestowed.
This is a before the foundations of the world, from all eternity love. It goes to the very essence of God. The Triune God created the world out of love so that God, who is love, might have more creatures to share His love with.
“God’s love is Gift-love. The Father gives all He is and has to the Son. The Son gives Himself back to the Father, and gives Himself to the world and for the world to the Father, and thus gives the world (in Himself) back to the Father” (Lewis, Four Loves).
Paul uses the same word in 1 Corinthians 13. Although it’s nice for weddings, the original context is the congregation. Agape is patient and kind. It is not jealous or boastful, not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Agape bears all things, trusts all things, hopes all things, patiently endures all things. Think about that the next time you're in any church meeting.
“But I can’t love that way,” you say. You’re right. You can’t love this way. There is only one who has. Jesus loves this way, and you get to remain, abide in that love. That enduring all things, patient and slow to anger love that never fails. That’s why Jesus begins, not with a command, but a promise, with His own love. To abide in Jesus’ love is, above all, to be on the receiving end of His love.
You may claim to return the favor, that you love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind and that you love your neighbor as yourself, but you’re fooling no one, least of all God. You may sincerely believe that you only love the things in this world that are gifts from God – family, friends, the fruits of God’s creation - but you are sincerely wrong. Strip everything away like Job and you’ll quickly find out that behind each one of your loves there is an idol before whom you have genuflected, whether you know it or not. God is love. But try as we might…our love will never be a true god, only an idol, a star-crossed love doomed to a tragic death.
Thankfully your infatuation with your sinful, selfish love is not the greatest love there is. For greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. That’s Jesus. The Vine dies to give life to the branches. Jesus sacrifices himself to bring you everlasting joy. Jesus loves us sinners unconditionally. Jesus lays down his life for you his enemies that he may call you his friends. Jesus takes all that is unlovable and makes it lovable in his cross. He loves you the way you can’t. He loves you to death in His death on the cross. The love you need is the love Christ provides. And once you have that love, all the others are thrown in.
You don’t need to pluck the Tulip with misty eyes wondering, “does God love me, does he love me not?”
For “God…creates the universe in love, already seeing the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is hoisted up time after time, for breath’s sake. If we may dare the biological image, God is a ‘host’ who deliberately creates his own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and take advantage of him…” (slightly paraphrased from Lewis’s, Four Loves). How do you know Jesus loves you? Look to the font and see your sins washed away in love. Look to the chalice his love overflows from the cross to your mouth. Look to the Word where he declares his abiding love for you.
“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love,” Jesus says.
How? By keeping His commandments. Now don’t get confused by the word commandments. Perhaps teaching or Word is better then: “If you keep, cling to, hold fast to, my teaching and Word, you will abide in my love.” What does this mean? “Abide in your Baptism, receive forgiveness, hear my Word, eat and drink my Body and Blood, there abide in my love for you.” These aren’t commands to make God love us, but means by which we abide in His love. For the love that Jesus commands is the love he gives to you.
It’s like parents and their children. We don’t give our children rules in order for them to earn our love; rather, we give them instruction and rules because we love them, so that they abide in love with one another.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Turn it around and it’s clear. “As I loved you, so love one another.” As I have laid down my life for you, lay down your life for your neighbor. Everything begins and ends with Jesus’ love.
We are chosen in love, for love. We abide in Jesus’ love and Jesus’ love abides in us for the neighbor. “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit,” Jesus says.
Notice Jesus doesn’t tell you what the fruit is or how much to produce. He doesn’t give you a grocery list for the Christian life. There’s a simple reason why. Lists are deadly. Lists are law, not love. Your neighbor needs the Gospel and mercy, not a to-do list.
Our old Adam wants lists: Send 5 cards to shut-ins each week. Shake 20 hands before you leave church this morning. Attend one Bible study per week. Take five prayers a day and “Look, Jesus, what nice fruit I’ve produced! What a good branch I’ve been!
The Pharisees acted the same way, keeping fruit inventory. Sure, you see some of the fruit…walking the neighborhoods with Gospel Seeds, making homeless food bags, assisting our seminary student, Jim Toma, in Hispanic outreach, just to name a few. But let God do the counting. Some plant; others water. God gives the growth and his love. Abide in his love. And where there’s faith, there’s love. A good tree, a good branch, can’t help but produce good fruit.
Christ bears good fruit in you through your vocations, fruit that will not rot: the household, church, work, as citizens. There’s no expiration date. It’s ongoing and ordinary. Abiding in Jesus’ love, you are one giant fruit-factory. Faith and love pour out more fruit than you know what to do with. That leaves plenty left over to share with your neighbor. Christ’s love through you for others.
It’s not instinct, not command; it's a gift. Agape is given to you. And in order to give and show love to others you must first receive it yourself. Branches wither and die away from the Vine. But here you, his branches, are fixed to the Vine, watered daily in your Baptism, fed by the Word, nourished in the Lord’s Supper. Living in the forgiving fruit of the cross…you Abide in my love, Jesus says.
It’s true…all you need is agape.
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.