Love … as a verb

Slide1I shared this sermon with the morning congregations at Indooroopilly on 17 May, drawing on some thoughts from Elaine Huckett (Upper Room Disciplines, 2009) and Kate Huey (Weekly Seeds, United Church of Christ).  I share my reflections with you to, on the theme – based on John 15:9-17Love … as a verb

What is love? How would you answer that question?  What is love?  “Love” is all over, under, around and through our gospel reading for today. In fact, “love” or a version thereof features nine times.  Nine times.  And guess what?  For all but two of these instances, “love” is not featured as a word naming the encounter … the interchange. No; in John 15:9-17, love is not a noun … “love” is a verb.

For millennia, “love” has been talked about, written about, intellectualized about, “psychologised”.  Love … a noun. We in the church do a lot of that too … we implore each other to love, we pray that we might be a people of love … we hold Bible studies about love … we consider how we might show love to our community … we sing songs and hymns about love.  Some of us even write songs … create works of art – all around the theme of love.

The call of Christ is to go beyond this … to actually “do” love – to love one another … love as a verb. On the surface it sounds simple, but you know and I know it is something difficult to do.  We know how to be in love.  We know about the deep feelings of love connecting us with family and special friends.  We know, many of us, the pain of losing a love.

But when love becomes a verb, a command requiring action, the challenging aspects of loving another come sharply into focus.  Now I tell you to love each other, as I have loved you – says Jesus Christ.  What does it mean to belong to God’s human family in ways that bear witness to God’s love for us?

John suggests it has something to do with dying … with giving up to God … with letting go.  In John’s gospel this is the model.  Jesus demonstrates his love for the world by offering his life.  Writing for the Upper Room, Elaine Puckett makes the thoughtful comment:

His [Jesus’] response leaves us with a task to accomplish and a question to ponder, “How shall I love my neighbour when love cannot be limited even by death”

She goes on to say:

Life is so much more than simply drawing breath. It’s the way we spend out time, use our resources, measure our words, do our work and tend our relationships. Like the branches on the vine, our lives are intimately connected to Christ and delicately entwined with one another. And every day is filled with opportunities to have a positive impact on someone we meet along the way … it is the work of the Spirit to empower us as we seek to lose ourselves in acts of loving-kindness and sacrificial living.

Lose ourselves … give our life away … die to self … all of these are themes we come across time and time again in the teachings of Jesus.  In the losing ourselves … in the giving … we find life.  I have come that you might have life … life in all its fullness, says Jesus a few chapters back in John.  I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete … may be full – Jesus’ words from John 15:11.

What is the secret … the clue to this fullness of life … this life of love and grace and giving?  Well … remaining faithful to God’s love for us in Christ – a love that loves us, before we can offer anything in return. And when we offer something in return, what is our attitude … our response to be?  It’s one of obedience.  Jesus reminds us: If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. (15:10)

This connectedness with Christ – at the heart of our life as Christians is all bound up in our obedience to the command to love … to live out that word “love” as a verb, and to do so in every part of our life … in every part of our being.  I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another, says Jesus.

We sometimes retreat, as we reflect on the scriptures of words like “commands” and “commandments”.   We (I) don’t like being told what to do.  We like to be in the centre … not God.  Yet, Jesus here calls us … no, commands us to love.  “Love” … verb is a requirement of being in communion with God through Jesus Christ.  John’s theme, as Kate Huey points out, is the “requirement” of love – and to obey is to love.  Writing for the United Church of Christ in the U.S., Huey comments:

His command is not the “but” in “I love you, but….” Rather, it’s the “and,” as in, “I love you, and I want you to love one another.” Or it’s the “so,” as in, “I have loved you, so you must love one another.” This unselfish love that binds us together in community even as it binds us in relationship to him, he tells us, is the path to true joy, the kind of joy we can abide in.

Huey goes on to say:

Jesus’ commandment to love provides a clear, comprehensive framework for forming values in every age and every situation, no matter how different our cultures, our technologies, our “sophistication.” We ask ourselves then about every decision and choice and plan and vision: Is this rooted in love? Does this bear fruit for the kingdom of God? That’s the true test.

The late Oscar Romero, Catholic Archbishop of El Salvador seemed to understand that.  Archbishop Oscar Romero was an example of this love, as one who knew how to be both prophet to the rich and pastor to the poor and oppressed people of El Salvador. Once a comfortable and respected son of the institutional church, Romero went to the margins (a dangerous place) to champion those who suffered there.  Romero didn’t turn away from the setting in which he preached, or the people who needed a word of hope about their lives, then and there, not simply “pie in the sky” promises of heaven while their loved ones were disappearing into the violent machinery of a corrupt state. In astonishing and bold faithfulness to the love of which Jesus speaks in this passage, Romero ultimately laid down his life for those he loved. Says Huey some more:

Jesus knew it wasn’t going to be easy for his little band of disciples, or for the church that followed them, for the Romeros of this world and for each one of us, struggling to live out our faith in the face of everything that challenges it. In this farewell address, he reassures us that we face these things not as servants, but as his friends, as the ones in his circle who have been let in on the big picture, the reign of God, and given our role in bringing it in.

Friends, you and I … disciples of the suffering, dying yet risen Christ as Kate Huey reminds us are among those who have been let in on the big picture.  We are among those with a role in bringing in the reign … the kingdom of God.  Let us be partners with Christ – Kingdom-bringers – through our Circles of Care, our networks with family, friends, work and study, our church community … the world of which we are a part and to whom we are called in mission.  Signposts for the Kingdom … people committed to that verb that is “love”.

I invite you to reflect on this question:  What are some concrete ways in which I can set myself aside in order to love another this week?

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