love-one-another-as-i-have-loved-you-8-638Bible verses for reflection: John 13:31-35

As the gospel of John proclaims, Jesus loved his disciples and he loved them to the end. Our text for today comes soon after Jesus has washed the feet of his disciples, setting forever an example before them of self-giving, sacrificial love. Then, troubled in spirit, he spoke of a betrayer in his midst, one of his closest followers. Just after our text for today, Jesus reveals to Peter, the effective leader of the band, that he would deny Jesus three times that very night.

Love one another as I have loved you.

In the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus taught that the greatest commandment is to love God, and the second is like it, to love your neighbor as yourself. Several of us had a conversation the other day about what it means to love neighbor as we love ourselves. We concluded that we probably are not able to love our neighbor very well if we do not first love ourselves, if we do not first recognize ourselves as beloved children of God. When we look in the mirror, the first thing that we are to remember is that we are loved. We are loved by God, not because we are worthy, not because we have earned God’s love, but because we are God’s children.
You are chosen and gifted and claimed by God. If God so loves us, then perhaps when we look in the mirror, we can do a better job of loving ourselves, of taking care of ourselves, of seeking and acting on what is best for our long term good.

When persons do not love themselves, they tend to strike out in anger and hate  towards others. Perhaps if persons in our country loved themselves more, as a society, we just might become more loving to our neighbor. We are very familiar with the command to love our neighbor. Perhaps, in recent times, as a people, we have neglected to love self. Love your neighbor as you love yourself, Jesus commanded.

Here in the 13th chapter of the gospel of John, Jesus offers a similar command, but in a different form: love one another as I have loved you. First, we should note the word used for “love” in both John and the synoptic gospels is agapeAgape is not to be confused with phileo, as in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love.

Agape is the highest form of love, the kind of love we receive from God, “that universal, unconditional love that transcends and serves regardless of circumstances.” We are called to love God, to love ourselves and to love our neighbor regardless of circumstances, without conditions!

In order to flesh this out, consider the manner in which Jesus loved his disciples.

First, personal. As I have loved you is a very personal love. When Jesus called his disciples, he called them by name. Calling people by name is important. Soldiers are often taught not to consider the individual name of an enemy. Instead, they are given a blanket derogatory name for the whole group of persons whom they may be tasked to kill – Jap, Wop, Spic, Heathen. It was claimed in one of those television police dramas
that one is less likely to be killed by a deranged murderer if you speak your name to them. If they know your name, if you become personalized to them, they are less likely to harm you.

Being called by name builds relationship, builds human connection, communicates that you value another human being. I like calling people by name, and I am bothered when I cannot remember the name of one of the dozens of children around here on any given Sunday. It bothers me to miss the name of a new member, or one that has been away for a while. Christian community as established by Jesus is meant to be personal. Jesus did not start the Christian movement with 1200 people; he called 12 together to live with him day in and day out for three years.

Sometime on Friday before last, Leah Humphrey’s father, Rick Hoskinson, suffered a massive stroke. Last Saturday afternoon, Rick’s tennis partner stood in the ICU at the foot of his bed, shocked and dismayed at the condition of his best friend. They had just played their weekly tennis match four days earlier. These two men had played tennis together almost weekly for 25 years. For the last 15 years, they had been roommates at an annual guys’ tennis weekend at the beach. In a world where men especially can easily become isolated and alone, these two men maintained a close, personal relationship. They shared life; they shared a common faith; they helped raise each other’s children.

Jesus loved his disciples personally. They hung out together at Peter’s mother’s home.
They crowded onto Peter’s small fishing boat and cooked fish together on the beach. They went to Jerusalem and slept outdoors in the Garden of Gethsemane. Wherever they went, they walked for days and days together, covering miles of dusty roads. Every day was Earth day for Jesus and his disciples. They lived close to the earth and they were close friends.

In a world that can become so impersonal, we are called to love one another as Jesus loved his disciples. In this big city, in an extremely active community, in this medium to large sized congregation, we are called, no we are commanded, to share life with one another in close Christian community, to break bread with one another, to bear burdens with one another, just as Jesus did with his disciples. On the back of your bulletin, you will note that one of the strategies of our bicentennial goal is to intentionally build relationships within the congregation. When we live human life very personally with those around us, we love as Jesus loved. To love as I have loved you will always be grounded in personal relationship.

Second, Jesus’ love for his disciples was proactive. Jesus did not wait for his disciples to come to him. He went to their place of work and said, Come, follow me. He walked up to the booth of Matthew, the local IRS agent, and said, we need you in our group. After teaching a crowd which had gathered on the beach to hear him, Jesus walked up to Peter and said, Hey, let’s go fishing today in your boat. One day near Jericho, Jesus passed under a certain sycamore tree, where the short in stature Zaccheus had climbed above the crowd to get a better view. Though the two men had never met, Jesus called out, Zaccheus, come down, we’re coming to your house for dinner.

What a challenge! for an established church that has been content with waiting on people to come to us! How might we be more proactive in loving the person in the next pew? How might we be more proactive beyond these doors to love others as Jesus loved? Note another of our strategies is to engage courageously new people with our church community. The love of Jesus is personal, and the love of Jesus is proactive.

The love is Jesus is also purposeful. Jesus loved his disciples with purpose, with  intention. He loved them in order to reconcile them to God and to one another.
He loved them so that they would continue his ministry of reconciliation for the redemption of the world.

When Jesus sat down at table with them, he was purposeful in his conversations.
Often, after a full day among the throngs of people, he would gather them together,
to clarify things that he had said or to answer their questions about what they had witnessed. Jesus spoke of deep things to them. He explained his parables. He corrected them when they were going astray. He did not turn his back on them, even when they had different opinions from him, even when they were lazy or slow to understand or unfaithful or selfish.

When Jesus prepared them to be sent out two by two into the villages, he was purposeful in his actions. He gave them specific instructions for their journey and upon their return, they shared with Jesus their experiences and received new insights from his wisdom. Jesus was purposeful in his love for his disciples.

Our friend, Joe Delisle, has begun a tradition of gathering a group of fathers and sons together at various transitions in their sons’ lives in order to have purposeful, intentional conversations. What a good example of loving our children as Jesus loved his disciples!

Finally, to love as Jesus loved his disciples is to love with a price. Agape love does not come without cost. Jesus laid down his life for his friends. The ultimate illustration of loving as Jesus loved is his great sacrifice on the cross. The symbol for our faith is this wondrous cross that came with great price. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends,” Jesus told them, “if you do what I command you.” My command is that you love one another as I have loved you.
We cannot love as Jesus loved without price, without some personal cost, without sacrificing something in our life for the sake of something better.

To love as Jesus loves.
What might this mean for you this week? What might it mean for you to lay down your life for another person, to love someone else as Jesus has loved – personally, proactively, with purpose and a price? “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,’” as I have loved you.

To God be the glory as we receive again in this place the love of God, and as we go to share that love unconditionally with others. Amen.

Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Decatur, Georgia
April 24, 2016