Difficult Love

Pastor Goede Sixth Sunday of Easter 2021


I have lost count of the times that I’ve been in a group of people where we’re
all talking and laughing, very informally, and someone says, that’s a bunch of
shi… – oh, sorry, sorry, pastor!

People do that because they think Christians live by a long list of
commandments, but usually, what they think are commandments are not
really commandments at all. For instance, crude language can be offensive or
degrading, but there’s not a biblical commandment to avoid it. Many people
can’t believe I drink alcohol, because Christians don’t drink, because that’s in
the Bible. Everybody knows that church is all about no drinking, no smoking,
no cussing, no sex, drugs or rock n’ roll. People pull these things out of the
zeitgeist of nineteenth and twentieth century evangelicalism, bits and pieces
from the huge temperance movement in America, from tent revivals with
preachers like Billy Sunday and Billy Graham, with a bit of flourish from the
1960s on top. Most people would be stumped, and then astounded, if they
heard that Jesus’ greatest “commandment” to the disciples is to love one
another. That’s not right, many would say. No, the Bible’s about
homosexuality and abortion and all the things God commands us not to do.
Jesus doesn’t have to command people to love each other, everybody knows
we should be nice to each other, at least those of us who follow God’s
commandments.

But no, it turns out that Jesus’ greatest commandment is to love one another,
and sometimes that does draw on some of those popular ideas of what it
means to be Christian. For instance, long ago, I walked around my house and
gathered up every bottle of alcohol we had and poured all the contents down
the drain in front of my friend Barb, who was just beginning to understand
that she was an alcoholic. She was in crisis and was going to stay with us
overnight, and she didn’t think she could make it through the night with
alcohol around.

So, down the drain it went, for good reason, because we loved Barb, we were
her friends, and so we would do something that might be personally
inconvenient or a bit expensive, to serve her needs.

The kind of love Jesus is describing involves serving others, because we love
them as God has loved us.

It starts with one commandment from Jesus, to love one another, but that
quickly billows into a whole economy of love, with relationships and
decisions and commitments, of serving others and reflecting God’s grace in
every aspect of life.

When we tap into this economy, it directs our everyday lives, just like it
directed my decision to pour out our bottles for Barb. We’re responding to a
command, but you would only obey that command because you want to,
because you feel called, pulled, led, something.

Remember Jesus says, you didn’t choose me, I chose you.
Sometimes this kind of love is difficult, but usually it’s so life-giving that you
want to continue in Christian life. It starts with a commandment, but it evolves
into a choice and a commitment.

Loving others as God has loved us is a different kind of love than what we
hear the most about in media, romantic, erotic love. The kind of love Jesus is
talking about is the kind that keeps a marriage alive after erotic love fades.
The kind of love Jesus is talking about is the kind that keeps family members
in relationship with one another.

You might wish you could divorce your parents or your siblings, and you can
put distance between yourself and them, but there’s no eliminating that bond
between blood relatives. People can be estranged for a long time, but then
something happens that pulls on that familial bond, and suddenly, they’re back
in the role of child or sibling, for good or bad.

The bond that God puts between us in marriage is meant to mimic that
familial bond. The bond of marriage makes us family with someone who is
not related to us by blood, for better or for worse. Jesus would be the first to
bless erotic love in marriage, but marriage also depends on that familial love
that can’t be broken. That’s the bond that can survive time and trauma.

That’s the kind of intentional love that Jesus commands us to have for each
other. It means we serve God by serving each other. We easily learn about
romantic love from the culture around us, but we learn about self-sacrificing
love from Jesus. That’s the kind of love that sustains a marriage, and that
sustains us in every aspect of our lives as Christians.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you,”
Jesus told his disciples. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s
life for one’s friends.” Jesus knows what he’s talking about, because he does
lay down his life for his friends, for us.

“You are my friends,” he says, and when he continues with “if you do what I
command you,” we know that Jesus is not calling us to a series of hoops
through which to jump, to test our loyalty and boost his ego. Rather, we know
that Jesus is calling us to join a divine economy of love as his friend, disciple,
family member.

In baptism, God puts in place a bond that ties us to Jesus as surely as if we
were his blood siblings or cousins. In the church, we say that one of the things
that makes a sacrament like baptism a sacrament is that Jesus has commanded
it. Jesus has called us into relationship with him and with one another. It’s a
command, but it’s so life-giving to be part of this economy of love that what
begins with a command ends with a joyful, lifelong response and
commitment.