To love as Jesus says and does
Easter 6B | John 15:9-17
All You Need is Love?
We are once again in John 15, which is part of this book’s accounting for Jesus’s final teaching at the last supper. Whereas Mark, Matthew, and Luke have Jesus get right down to the point, giving them a final teaching about sharing food together as family, the writer of John has Jesus go on for several chapters.
We have in chapter 15, however, some of that same territory. Love and friendship and family. How to love one another. Its very similar.
If you remember from last week, we had the first part of this “abiding in Jesus” conversation. We talked about abiding and loving and what that looks like. So now we pick it up, almost mid-thought. As GOD loves Jesus, Jesus loves us, so abide in that love.
But now we have a strange wrinkle. An idea that trips us up and messes with us. Jesus then says
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love,
If you do as I say, then you’re in. It sounds as if Jesus is making his love dependent on following his rules.
How does this fit with everything else we’re told: that GOD’s love, and therefore Jesus’s love, is unconditional? No preconditions. No if you do this, then I’ll love you. But here, it just sounds like that. It sounds exactly like that. I’ll love you if you do what I say. It doesn’t seem to make sense.
Or it doesn’t make sense based on what we know about GOD. It makes total sense based on the world we live in.
Love is Hard
We can think easily about unconditional love when we talk about parents and children. Parents, children: the mutual love isn’t based on circumstances or expectations. We just love.
Spouses and significant others – well…that get’s a little more conditional. While things are going great, we’re all about unconditional love. Besides, that’s long after the big negotiations are done anyway: where do we live? Do we have kids? If so, how many? How’s your income potential? When that’s in the rearview, we’re like I can totally do forever with you! But the second we need to renegotiate one of those conditions. We start to pump the breaks Now hold up. What are you doing to me?
And then when we start talking about friends and coworkers and church people and Rotary club and the words unconditional love don’t even come close to applying. And so by the time Jesus gets to talking about loving our neighbors and our enemies, we can laugh out loud. LOL! You’re hilarious, Jesus!
Love is hard. H-A-R-D. This stuff is not easy. Conditions are everywhere. Starting with “Don’t hurt me.” That’s the big one. I’ll love you, but you can’t hurt me.
Most of us I’m sure saw that video of the Baltimore Mom beating on her son when she was trying to get him to come home from the middle of the protests. And so many people cheered her on. Mom of the year! they said. If we saw her doing that on the subway, we’d call Child Protective Services. Context changes the same action. As Ta-Nehesi Coats pointed out recently, given the culture of violence most young African American men grow up in, the levels of constant environmental violence, that scene should not be heroic, but tragic – another reminder that young black men get beat. A lot.
And I worry about our own love of violence and punishment. What we in our predominantly white community think when we see another young black man getting beaten up. It feels like this one young man was our scapegoat, the one we could all heap our punishment onto.
If only he did what we say. If only he lived by our commandments, then he’d get our love.
Our commandment is to not act up. But Jesus’s commandment is to love. Graciously and exuberantly. Love generously and, yes, unconditionally. His one condition is to love like he does: without other conditions.
Agape – Love
Jesus says to his followers love like me.
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
Jesus love. That sacrificial, give his life for us love. The agape love of friendship and sacrifice. Of camaraderie and togetherness. Jesus says that his followers are to love like that. Jesus love.
And he says to go and do this, not because they’ve asked for the love or because they have asked for anything at all.
You did not choose me but I chose you.
he says. He chose them to go and bear fruit, for he has prepared them. They are ready! So go! This is what you’ve been called to do, why I brought you out of those fishing boats and why we are in Jerusalem.
To share this love.
They were called to love like Jesus. Why Jesus has trained them to love like him. It isn’t a chore or a stumbling block, then, to follow this commandment: it is what they are called to do.
It is like the dean of my seminary said to us every year: I don’t take attendance when we gather each morning in the chapel. But you should want to go to chapel. As trainees, as those looking to serve Christ, we should want to gather in worship.
As followers of Christ, it isn’t hard to want to follow this command: we should want to love like Christ.
Of course loving like that isn’t easy. It isn’t. So often we’re torn, I’m torn, between loving the way Jesus calls me to love and getting revenge, dolling out punishment because that feels so right, so righteous. It feels like it is what we’re supposed to do. And yet, that isn’t what we’re called to do, why we were named his disciples, why we follow Christ.
We follow because we want in. In on the love. In on the sacrifice. In on the bearing fruit and the work.
The image Jesus uses to begin this conversation of love is of GOD as the vinegrower; with Jesus as the vine and we are its branches. An image speaking so much to unity.
Scott Hoezee points out in his commentary that the tending of grapevines is not like farming or growing as we think of it, with combines and tractors and mass ingathering. It is a personal and patient act of intimacy and delicate touch.
Some of you may remember the scene from the movie (often profane but still an interesting movie) Sideways in which the main character, Miles, waxes eloquent on how hard it is to grow the pinot noir grape, how that particular varietal needs constant care, exactly correct weather conditions, and delicate handling given its thin skin.
What a metaphor: such thin skin. Like so many of us. Easily squashed, bruised.
So necessary, then, that love. That love for one another. That caring and support. Not just for us here, but for every person who walks through that door. Every person who leans against that door for support or sleeps in that garden for protection. Every person who comes to get washed in the font or feels washed up and needs another chance.
Such thin skins we have. Such love we all need. Such love we learn from Christ. To receive and to give.