Love Never Fails
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
This week was a challenging week for me as I am sure it was for a lot of you. It seemed this week that things started to go backwards. Have you ever had a time in your life where it seemed that you just couldn’t get it right? Have you ever know a season where the things that had been going along so well, suddenly took a U-turn and you were right back where you started? You did some things that you shouldn’t have done. You made some bad decisions. Things just didn’t fall in place just like you thought they should and folks just didn’t act like you hoped they would. Some curve balls were thrown at you in the game of life and this week your batting just wasn’t up to par. And then you want to blame it on somebody else. I felt that this week, and in the midst of it all, in the midst of my shortcomings and wrongdoings, in the midst of placing the blame, I experienced a word from the Lord that cut deep into my own heart. It was not merely a declarative word but it was a commandment. It was not a comfortable word, but it was a commandment. It was not an insinuation but it was an imperative word. And so in the midst of it all, the Gospel spoke: 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
This portion of the scriptures that we have read today is part of what has come to be known as Jesus’ farewell discourse. It is here that Jesus began to prepare his disciples for his ultimate death and so he shared with them a Passover meal, his last supper. During the meal, Jesus washes the disciples’ feet , a task reserved for the lowliest servant –– a task too lowly to be required of a Jewish man. In a few minutes, Jesus will tell his disciples to love one another, but he begins by demonstrating love in action.
Jesus then tells the disciples that "The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me" and predicts Judas' betrayal. How many of us this week have had folks who have smiled in our face and eaten from the goodness of our hearts and supped on the food from our tables and lifted their heel against us in betrayal? If you have, you can relate to the pain of Jesus.
After some discussion among the disciples, Judas "immediately went out. And it was night". The hour was dark both physically and spiritually. And so it is here, and in that moment, that we drop in on Jesus and his crew. And then, Jesus lays it on us. Jesus gives us the mandatum novum, the new commandment, to love one another. And not only that, but you are to love one another as I have loved you. And you must understand that the scripture here is not talking about everybody in the world, but it is talking about how we relate to and love church folks, others in the household of God. Sometimes church folk can be the hardest to love. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks, and I remembered the words of Dorothy Day who said, "I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least."
And so I had to think about love this week. This word love is at once the weakest yet the strongest of words. Yet it may well be the most potent word in human language. Tanks and guns and rockets and armies and nuclear missiles have no power to win over one’s soul, to win the souls “yes”. The power of these things, the power that these words represent may batter and beat us into obedience and force us into external agreement, but none of them even in concert can command an eager willingness, a glad “yes” in our souls. Gardner Taylor says most eloquently that “There is a door marked “private” inside of us through which no armaments of force, government, church, school, social order or whatever can find entrance. It is locked against them when they come with nothing more than their key of authority and power. At that door, that inmost door marked “private,” love needs no key, need not even knock, since the door is flung wide and the heart within eagerly waits.” The word “love” is the most potent word in the universe. What we won’t do for love. What we won’t allow to be done to us for love. Love is the bond between friends. Love is the bond between mother and child. Love is the fire to all of our worship. Love is the bridge which evens unites the church, each one of us on earth in “mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won.” Even death cannot destroy love.
Love. Love in its various forms is used in the scriptures to illustrate God’s interest in us and God’s care for us. Hosea saw God’s love affair with us similar to that of an eager young man who entices a beautiful woman to marry him. This type of love is called in the Greek Eros, or erotic or sexual love. Some of us believe that this is the only love that exists. The Old Testament recounts that Moses spoke to God face to face like one would speak to a friend. This type of love is called philia, brotherly love; the association of mutual interest and appreciation we call friendship. The New Testament word for love is neither Eros, or sexual love, nor is it philia, mutual respect or friendship. But the New Testament word for love is agape. Agapé was a complete love that had no selfishness or conditions attached to it. It is an outgoing goodwill, a drive, an urge toward reunion of the separated, a care without self-interest. It is one of the most frequently used terms in the Gospels. And in the case of God, it is a manifestation of “what is most God in God.” God is love. God’s love has nothing to do with the worth of its object. because God is love despite who we are. Isaac Wattts declared:
Alas! and did my savior bleed and did my savior die?
Would He devote a sacred head for such a worm as I?
Love one another as I have loved you. This suggests that God first loved us. But when we think about God’s love, and the fact that God is Love, we can think of it for a moment and say “He first loved.” That would mean that love was operating before the created world, far bake in the nebulous and indescribable nonregions of eternity. The universe, it seems, is keyed to love. First of all there was God’s love. Love is central even at the farthest outposts of creation; even outer space and past the known galaxy, God’s love touches.
What a moving word it is when we go on to say then that God first loved us. God first loved us, even before we could think of loving God. God fist loved us, before anybody, mothers or fathers, wives or husbands or children. He first loved us. And then let us substitute the word me for us and say “He first loved me.” He first loved you and me in all our unworthiness, in all of our selfishness and in all of our rebellion. He first loved me. Can you say to yourself right now, “God first loved me?” That would be understandable if we were perfect and pure and we merited God’s favor. The truth is that we it is God’s grace, which means unmerited favor.
We would perhaps find it less difficult to believe that God first loved me if we had been models of kindness and godly conduct. Perhaps we could understand if we had been examples of pure thoughts and good deeds. But the truth is that we cannot pass such a test. If I could examine each one of you here this morning, who would pass the test? Could you say no if I asked you have you had any ugly thoughts this week? Is there anyone here who could say yes if I asked if you have had only goodwill toward everybody you have met? If someone here claimed that he or she has done everything right this week, thought only the best thoughts, wished only good to everybody, you would convict yourself of another terrible charge. You would have to be branded the biggest liar in
Yes, he first loved us. How do we know? Well, first of all we are here clothed and in our right mind. There was food on our table this morning. God allowed the sun to shine this morning and privileged us to see another day. How do we know he first loved us? Because there is that hill called
There is the story of a village ne’er-do-well who fell into a raging river. He was the town’s embarrassment and the person that they loved to hate. He fell into the river and standing on the bank with his friends was the smartest and most handsome, tallest and noblest young man in the whole region. Seeing this human being thrashing in the river and about to go under, this brave and talented young man leapt in the water and saved the other, pushing him to shore. In rescuing the drowning man, this heroic young man was pulled under by and under-current and himself was drowned. When they dragged the corpse of the handsome and brilliant lad to shore and laid it beside the reviving form of the town idiot, the lads friends not only mourned his death but also said in their bitter sorrow, “And to think he gave up his life for such trash as this!” My brothers and sisters, this is us.
But a fairer one than any village hero threw himself into death’s awful waters for you and me. Fairer he was by far, for the bible calls him fairer than ten thousand. Christ died for you and for men because he first loved us. There is not much we can do in return except return to him some faint reflection of his great love and say and mean “We love the Lord.” I hope that even though we are not all that we ought to be, we can say that we love the Lord. And how can we show that love for God? We can show that love for God by the care and the interest that we take in one another.
“Love one another as I have loved you.” Love of God demands love of people. It is not optional, but it is a command. And when we disobey a command we are sinning and the wages of sin is death. Not only a physical and spiritual death, but an emotional death. When we do not love, we allow death in our lives. So you may as well get over it and love them anyhow. That is the central theme of the Bible. That is the central theme of the universe. That is the central theme of life. God loved and loves us. It is the simple theme. The new command is simple enough for a toddler to memorize and appreciate, yet profound enough that the most mature believers are repeatedly embarrassed at how poorly they comprehend it and put it into practice.
The little child may lisp in early faith what Karl Barth said was his central word after a lifetime of theological scholarship: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so.” He first loved us. And because he first loved us, we are to love one another. Not talk about one another behind their backs, but love one another. Not secretly store up bitterness and hate, but love one another. Not see one in need and pass them by, but love one another. Not criticize and demean, but love one another. Not abuse and avoid, but love one another. Not pretend and put-on, but love one another. For the bible says how can we say that we love God, whom we have not seen and hate our brother whom we see every day? We, if we are who we say we are must love one another, not just tolerate one another, but love one another.
The church grew rapidly after the resurrection, in part because of the powerful witness of Christian love. "See how they love one another," the pagans said. It is difficult not to respond to the witness of a loving person. Ignoring this new commandment is not an option. Keeping this commandment is the identifying mark of discipleship, ...because it is the tangible sign of the disciples' abiding in Jesus. Paul warns, "If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.... If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
And we love one another because he first loved us. And what a marvelous notion this is, because through all of the stuff of life; through all or the situations of existence, God loves us. And when we lay on our dying bed, we ought to be able to declare with Paul through lips hot with life’s last fever: Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”7No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord