Good morning, Friends!
We’ve been doing two things here at worship for the last couple of months. We’ve been spending a lot of time with the gospel of John. And we’ve been moving slowly and steadily towards Easter.
I think it’s good for us to get to know the gospels in depth. I hope you’re all starting to get a feeling for the different way John tells the story of Jesus. For John, Jesus isn’t just a teacher. He isn’t just a travelling healer. Jesus isn’t just another prophet.
When you read John, it’s as though all the time, you’re looking past the human Jesus. And you’re getting glimpses of Christ. For John, Christ has been here since the very beginning of all things. You see the human being. But you also get glimpses of glory. In John, you see who Jesus really is, behind and above and within his day-to-day life.
John, in some ways, is the deepest gospel. And in John, you get the feeling that God has been reaching out to us forever, sharing the Word which is eternal.
The other thing we’ve been doing, for the last couple of months, is moving slowly and steadily towards Easter. Just like all the other gospels, John tells the Easter story. But John puts a different spin on the events of Easter. In John, you get the strongest feeling that Easter is part of an enormous plan. Nothing in John happens by accident.
In John, Jesus says the longest prayers. Jesus gives the most directions to his disciples. John has Jesus reveal the most. You get to see what God is doing. You see the true purpose of Christ – to save people, to love people, to redeem people, to bring people together into one body.
John has sometimes been called the gospel of glory. Glory doesn’t just mean honor or reverence. It means joy. John is all about joy. It’s about beauty. Nowhere in the Bible is Jesus more beautiful than in the gospel of John.
Glory is about praise and singing. John is a singing gospel. It’s about promise and fulfillment. John is where we get the sense that all the promises of God find their yes in Jesus. I know that’s Paul’s line, but John is the one who really drives it home.
So, that’s what we’ve been doing. Learning from John. And getting ready for Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Today we’ve got a familiar reading. It’s one most of us have heard before. It’s also one which is unique to John – none of the other gospels include what we’re about to hear today.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.
– John 15:9-17
This is not something which should be new or unfamiliar to us. I’d be surprised if some of you have never heard these words before.
And it’s consistent with things Jesus says in many other places. Jesus talked about love all the time. Jesus talked about love, and demonstrated God’s love, from one end of the gospel to the other.
Jesus healed people. He reached out to people who were lost. He fed the hungry. He forgave people, and told them all the time about God’s mercy. He loved people who no one else would love – foreigners, the mentally ill, people with horrible diseases, adulterers and tax collectors.
Jesus loved people, at times and places which were forbidden by religious tradition. Jesus broke all the rules about love. Jesus loved people who were poor and weary and broken-hearted. The gospels are a record of how Jesus loved. And now Jesus tells us, “Love one another, as I have loved you. . .”
As we live into the richness of all the things Jesus did, as we try to imitate the variety and depth of Jesus’ love, we become Jesus’ friends. That is what being a Christian is all about. It’s about learning to love. Adventuring in love.
And it’s not easy. William Penn, one of the early generation of Friends – probably there were people who founded this meeting who knew him – William Penn said, “Love is the hardest lesson in Christianity; but for that reason it should be most our care to learn it. . .”
Jesus once said that it’s easy to love people who love you back. Everybody does that! Jesus said it’s harder to love people who don’t deserve it. People who hurt you. People who hate you or treat you badly.
“But you know what?” Jesus says. “That’s what God does. That’s the way God loves. God loves us, even when we make mistakes. God loves us, even when we’ve been unfaithful. Even when we’ve walked away deliberately. Even when we’ve showed God that we don’t care, God still cares for us.”
Paul used to say that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God. Not death or life. Nothing on heaven or earth. No earthly rulers or politicians. Nothing in our past. Nothing in our present. No mountain is too high. No trench at the bottom of the ocean is too low. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And now, today, Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Remain in my love. . .My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you, and so that your joy may be complete. . .”
Love is what fulfills us. Love is what makes us whole. Love is what heals us – not just being loved, but loving other people. Anyone who doesn’t love is a broken human being. Anyone who doesn’t love, doesn’t know the first thing about God. They just flat out don’t know. If we don’t love, we are a million miles away from God. But if we love, Jesus lives in us.
All the lessons of God are love lessons. We know the basic commandment – “Love one another as I have loved you. . .” Everything else is application. Everything else we do is just figuring out how to love in the present situation.
And as I said, it isn’t easy.
Love means learning how to forgive. Not just to put on a smile and be polite and cover it over and keep the hurt buried. We know how to do that here in the South! Love, according to Jesus, means learning to forgive from our heart. It means letting go of the grudge. It means restoring the relationship. Not forgetting. Not pretending. But forgiving.
Love and forgiving takes a lot of time and energy. Jesus once said that if you’re in conflict with anyone in the church, first you try to speak to them privately. You tell them plainly what your side of the story is, and you say that you really want things to be right again. If they listen to you, Jesus says, you’ve gained a brother or a sister. Isn’t that wonderful?
A lot of the time, says Jesus, that’s all you need to do. But if that doesn’t work, Jesus says, get one or two people, members of the church, people who are committed to restoring and building the church, people who love, and take them with you. Try again.
Try again, because the person you’re in conflict with is someone who God loves, too. Never forget that. God loves you both. God has forgiven both of you. God treasures both of you.
If a private conversation with one or two people doesn’t heal the conflict – and, Jesus says, most of the time it does – then it’s time to bring the problem to the whole church. Not just to get everyone on your side. Not just in order to win.
The goal, remember, is to restore the relationship with each other. The goal isn’t winning. The goal is forgiveness and healing. Sometimes that means telling the truth, which can be very painful. Sometimes it means saying, “You hurt me! You hurt my feelings, you hurt my reputation, you denied my faith in this matter. You treated me like an enemy, instead of like a sister or a brother.”
“But I want to start over. I really do. I want things to be right, on all sides. I want the joy to come back here. I want life. I don’t want the poison to stay here. I want real peace, real friendship. I don’t want to pretend. I want the real thing.”
When something can’t be healed in private, Jesus says, it’s time to get the whole church praying about it. It’s very expensive in time and labor, but it’s worth it to be healed. It’s worth it to be whole again.
That is the message of Jesus. And he not only said it. He lived it. And if we want to be followers and friends of Jesus, we need to live this way, too. Don’t pretend. Forgive.
I am a sucker for love stories. I don’t mean romances, though I like those, too. I mean stories of people who love, people who try to live the way Jesus asks us to live.
One story, of one of our church members, who I almost didn’t get a chance to know. I wish I had known her, when she was younger. Call it 50 years ago. Clover Hill.
Clover was a lifelong member of this meeting. Her husband died when she was fairly young. She took over the family business and ran it herself. That would have been enough for a lot of people. Take care of your kids. Keep your head above water somehow. Survive.
But Clover reached out to all the kids in the neighborhood. She had them over for parties and fellowship all the time. She made her home a center of love, for dozens of young people.
She built a swimming pool. But she didn’t just keep it for herself. All the kids in the neighborhood came. And she gave them swimming lessons. She wanted them all to be safe and have fun.
She didn’t give up. She gave back. She gave joy and pleasure. She gave forward. She filled the lives of other people. And she had a rich reward of joy and love.
Another love story. Sometimes love is about persistence and showing up. I remember one lady who taught Sunday School at the first Friends meeting I served. She’d been teaching Sunday School for many years.
When I started there, we had no children. We had some teen agers. We had a couple of babies. But we had no children in lower elementary school, or kindergarden or nursery school.
But Bea showed up, every Sunday, with a lesson all prepared. She was ready. She had craft materials, and books, and markers, all ready in her bag.
And she wasn’t just bringing the same things every week. She prepared a fresh Sunday School lesson, even when there were no children there! She did this every Sunday, for almost two years.
Somebody once said that half the game is just showing up. Just be there. Strengthen the group with your presence. A lot of church life is that way. We’re weakened, when people who belong to the church choose to stay away.
They love the church, they care about the church, but not enough to show up. Not enough to be part of worship. Not enough to add their prayers and encourage other people by being there. Not enough to add their voices to our songs.
My friend Bea was the other side of the story. She showed up, when there weren’t even any children for her to care for. When there weren’t any kids, she spent the hour praying for the kids she knew. She prayed and reached out in love to kids who weren’t even there.
About a year later, we had a full nursery. Two years after that, we had a full lower elementary class. Five years after that, we had a full middle school group. And the kids kept coming. Their parents came with them. The meeting almost doubled in size.
But it really all started, with one woman’s prayers. It all started because she kept showing up. It started because she reached out in love. She prayed and prepared, for people she didn’t even know. She loved, before they even came.
But those are just a couple of examples of love. My point is, that Jesus tells us, today, to love one another as he has loved us.
How we do that is a huge, open field. The whole world is open to new ways to love.
It’s an old message – you’ve heard me say this before, and this won’t be the last time. The world is filled with darkness and hate. The world is filled with lies and greed. The world is filled with all kinds of ways people beat and mistreat each other.
But I believe that there are more ways to love than there are ways to hurt and do wrong. Hate usually gets the headlines, and it sure feels like lies and hate and wrong are on the upswing today.
That doesn’t mean we’re defeated. It just means we need to love more. It means we can’t be lazy. We need to be energetic and creative. We need to find new ways to bring joy to the world. We need to congratulate each other for every little victory. We need to pray for each other. And we need to rely on God.
This is not a new message. It’s the old message. It’s Jesus’ message.
“Love one another, as I have loved you. There is no greater love than this – to lay down your lives for each other. Keep my commandments, and live in my love. I want my joy to be in you, and I want your joy to be complete. There’s no secret here; you know what I’m doing. I’ve told you everything God has told me. I have chosen and appointed you to bear fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. I’m telling you all this, so that you will love one another. . .”
Let’s take this into our hearts for our time of quiet prayer.