a sermon on John 15:9-17 for the Sixth Sunday of Easter
preached on May 13, 2012, at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
Love is all around us these days. We’ve heard lots about love in the news this week, with much conversation about same-gender marriage first from North Carolina and then from our president. People of faith disagree strongly on these matters, and I’m not going to wade into the conversation today! We’re talking about love a whole lot these days, but I’m not sure that the conversation is all that productive. We seem to focus so much on who is allowed to have their love recognized and never talk about what love really is and how we can best live it out.
In our reading this morning from the gospel according to John, Jesus talks at length about what love is and how best we can live it out, and throughout the gospels, he seems far more concerned about these things than about any restrictions on whose love should be recognized by the church or state. So Jesus begins here by telling us a little more about what love is. As is often the case in John, though, he isn’t particularly direct about it – he speaks less in words and more in comparisons. He points us to his own way of life: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” He calls us to keep his commandments and so remain in his love. And he invites us to allow joy to be a byproduct of this kind of love, suggesting that when love is clear and real, his joy and our joy will be complete.
While this joy may be complete with love, Jesus is not yet done describing love until he can help us understand a bit more about how to live it out. In the second half of our text today, even as he continues to define and describe love, Jesus talks more about what happens when this love gets lived out. First, this love gets shared. Just as Jesus loved us, we love one another, and so this sharing continues. But simple sharing is not enough – this love is best lived out when it gives up everything for the sake of the other. And things change when this love gets lived out. We speak to each other differently. We stop viewing each other as servants or masters, and we treat one another equally, without regard for worldly status, because the status we now share with Jesus and one another is that of friends. And most of all, when love is lived out, it is contagious – we bear the fruit of love, and others can’t help but join in!
As this kind of love is set before us and we see more clearly what it is and how we are to live it out, we can start to look around and see countless examples of this kind of love in our lives. On this particular day we are likely to think of those who likely first loved us: our mothers. Mothers are a wonderful embodiment of this kind of love. Since we cannot look directly upon Christ himself, we can look to the love of a mother for her child to help us see more clearly what love is. And when we get confused about how to live out this love, we can look at the wonderful ways that women and men offer motherly care for children of all ages to see how we can live out God’s love for us. The great 14th century English mystic Julian of Norwich recognized this so well:
Our saviour is our true Mother, in whom we are endlessly born and out of whom we shall never come.… We have our being from him, where the foundation of motherhood begins, with all the sweet protection of love which endlessly follows. (Showings, trans. Edmund Colledge and James Walsh)
The motherly love we celebrate today is not just something offered by those who have brought children into this world – it is embodied first and foremost by Jesus Christ himself and is the beginning of the love that all of us, mothers or motherly or whatever, are called to live out each and every day. So this motherly love gives us an incredible and beautiful vision of what love is and how it can be lived out.
However, the love of a mother for her child is not the only kind of love that can help us see how we are called to live out Jesus’ words from John in our world today. The love that has been taking hold over the last two thousand years in our all-too-human institution of the church can also help us as we live out this love. Now we don’t show love in ordering our church government correctly, in how we own property, in having certain kinds of staff, or even in organizing the right programs or creating beautiful worship. As the church, we embody Jesus’ words of love in our life together as we care for one another and then reach out to care for all the world.
I am grateful that I see this love in a lot of what we do together here. There is a wonderful and gentle spirit in this place that shows how much we love one another and how much we all care about the things that matter to each one of us. We reach out to those in need, most recently gathering school supplies to show a bit of God’s love to children facing disaster or distress, and soon we’ll start gathering canned goods for the Grace Church food pantry on the first Sunday of every month. We teach our own children about God’s love in word and in deed and in action. We offer financial support to embody God’s love in times of crisis and injustice. But most of all, we embody God’s love whenever we gather around this table, the table where we see how Jesus poured out his great love for his disciples, the table where we gather with those we love – and those we struggle to love – to share a great feast, the table where God’s grace is not always clear but is always present, the table where the Spirit invites us into the presence of none less than Christ himself, so that love might be shared and our joy can be complete. When we share this holy meal, we remember and celebrate and embody this great love for us as we are made stronger for the work of love in our lives and in our world.
So may love be all around us today – in our celebrations of this Mother’s Day, in our everyday walk of life in the world, in the great call of life together in the church, in our outreach to this community and our world, and most of all in our gathering at this table – so that we may love one another as Jesus has loved us, now and always. Thanks be to God. Amen.