Sermon text: John 15: 9-17
One of the hardest things to do is to get two people who don’t like each other to get along. Parents, teachers, how do you get children to behave with each other when they just don’t want to?
I am not a parent, nor am I a teacher, but I was a camp counselor. I once had a cabin of elementary boys for a horseback riding camp. In my cabin was the camp director’s son and also the volunteer nurse’s son. Both were bright, both had a somewhat know-it-all attitude, they had very different temperaments, and they disliked each other…a lot. They did not love each other, they did not like each other, they couldn’t even pretend to tolerate each other’s presence. What’s a camp counselor to do?
By our third day together things had grown quite petty, there was constant bickering, and I was on the verge of losing it, so I did what any resourceful person would do in that situation: I tied them together at the wrist using a piece of webbing. I told them that they would have to learn to live with each other and that for the next 60 minutes they would be stuck together, doing everything together. To my surprise, it worked! It actually worked. They didn’t become best friends or anything, but they could at least act like they could stand each other. The bickering and sniping dissolved and there was some harmony.
I would enjoy hearing stories of how you have brought harmony between people, because it’s not an easy task. It can be very challenging, and even if those tactics do work it is done with rolled eyes and gritted teeth. You can’t just make people like each other. So how on earth can we go a step further as Jesus commands us to “Love one another as I have loved you”?
That’s a weird commandment, isn’t it? Can we really be ordered to love? Is love the kind of things that we can simply do on command? Can love obey decrees?
I think most of us would agree that no, love cannot simply be commanded. Movies, television shows, books, they all have molded our collective understanding of love as spontaneous, free flowing, something we fall into. It is the force that directs our hearts and our wills. Think of all the cliches about love: Love breaks our hearts, love is blind, love happens at first sight…and so on and so forth.
But aside from the entertainment-infused notions of love we know that in its genuine form love cannot be coerced, rushed, or replicated. That’s not just for romantic love, it goes for brotherly love, familial love, and love shown through service too. Go back to the story of my campers. I couldn’t force them to love each other—I could barely get them to behave as if they had love for each other.
And yet, when Jesus says “Love as I have loved you” he means it. His love is for real. It is the whole enchilada. His love is cemented in authentic compassion, honest engagement, and generous action. Imagine what would happen if we took this order seriously. How would we have to change? What could the church look like if we obeyed Jesus’ order and cultivated love?
To be perfectly honest, I also wonder if we, as the church, are currently positioned to love each other and the world as Jesus loved us. I think most of us are exhausted right now. It’s been a grating year with so much loss, we are drained, and it takes a lot of effort to love as Jesus did.
Just look at how often Jesus must retreat to pray and rest in the Gospels as he lives out this commandment. He knows that it is difficult to love when we are on empty, so he spends his extra moments communing with God the Father. He finds quiet places to rest and pray. If we are to obey the command, if we are to love…are we in a position right now to sustain that type of compassion, to fulfill this all-inclusive order? Are we in a place to be vulnerable to the world’s pain and apply the soothing balm of loving action?
In order for us to fulfill the commandment to love there’s a second command that Jesus gives, right on its heels. This command reveals the source of our ability to love. Jesus tells his disciples to “abide in my love.” This teaching follows behind last week’s Gospel where we are told to abide in Jesus as he is the vine and we are the branches. We are to rest, cling, and be at home in Jesus—not just in him, but in his love.
As an adult I am amazed that I somehow did not die of dehydration when I was in elementary school. Everywhere I go now I have a large water bottle or a glass with me, filled with water, and I drain them often. I’m drinking all day. But in elementary school—for all of grade school really—I feel like I should have been constantly parched. I don’t remember ever having a water bottle or anything of that nature as I went through the school day.
I have a strong memory of using the water fountain in those days. I remember all of us lining up for the fountain to get a few gulps of water. After recess there would be one long row of stinky, sweaty, dirt-covered kids slurping down every drop of water we could catch out of those water fountains. Ever single day. It’s hard to imagine that being the main source of refreshment, but that’s what we did.
So it is with the love of Jesus. Jesus is more than just the role model of love we try to emulate, he is the source. The wellspring. The fountainhead. Jesus is where our love originates and deepens. In him we are replenished, lifted to new life.
As we replenish ourselves after a season of hell, may the abiding love of Jesus be our water fountain, where we come dirty, sweaty, tired, and exhausted only to be refreshed by God’s grace. Let us make our home in Jesus’ love and use his abundant and inexhaustible source to fuel our compassion. For when we are empty, when it feels like his command to love as he loved us is too costly and too impossible, we will find resurrected life and love in his abiding care. We will find the love to carry out his command in our ministry. AMEN