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No One Has Greater Love Than This

Lynn had a special plate which graced her fireplace mantle.

It was given to her at her wedding, and it was inscribed with Jesus’ words from our Gospel lesson today:

“There is no greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

It was a keepsake from one of the happiest days of her life.

One day a neighborhood friend was over to play with Lynn’s son,

And the child knocked the mantle.

Lynn was in the room when it happened, and saw the plate wobbling.

It was one of those slow motion moments, where you see what’s coming,

and you’re shouting in that low, drawn out voice, “Noooooo…”

She lunged at it, clipping the neighbor boy, trying to rescue the plate.

She made it just in time, clutching the plate to her chest, the boy crying out in surprise.

It seemed a symbol of Lynn’s life at the time—a lot plates were crashing to the ground.

The biggest of them was her marriage.

It was as if an earthquake were shaking her life

And everything that she had known was coming tumbling down.

No matter how hard she tried, she could not keep the plates from falling

The quote on the plate seemed particularly ironic:

“There is no greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

She had thought that she and her husband were best friends, and that their love was unbreakable

But here they were, on the edge of divorce.

Jesus talked of a selfless kind of love that conquers all.

He talked about a love so deep a person would even give their life.

She had thought that kind of love was the foundation of her marriage.

Now it seemed a distant, like a long lost dream

All that was left was distrust, resentment, anger, and a whole lot of craziness.

I wonder if there was an ironic note in Jesus’ voice when he said these words to his disciples.

He called them friends, but in just a few hours, they would scatter as Jesus was arrested.

Peter promised to lay down his life for Jesus, but he instead denied he even knew Jesus.

And Judas kissed Jesus, but it was a kiss of betrayal rather than a kiss of love.

Jesus knew that he would be the one laying down his life for his friends,

And that his friends would be unable to reciprocate.

Lynn’s plate was intact, but her marriage was deteriorating, and she was desperate for help.

She turned to her prayer life for strength.

She found that when she showed up in prayer, God was always there.

She found that there was an abiding love that held her

Sometimes it was on the long runs she took, when she got beyond overthinking and worries

And had peace from the turmoil for a short while.

Sometimes it was in memorizing a verse of scripture or pouring out her heart in her journal.

Even though her life was falling apart

there were small graces and opportunities which she took as gifts from God

joy in her children, meaningful work, a few loyal friends who listened without judging her or her husband.

Despite the emotional chaos, Lynn nonetheless experienced God’s faithfulness

She learned to trust God even in the midst of loss and failure.

She learned to abide in God’s love.

In my sermon last week, I talked about how the word translated as, “abide” can also mean to stay or remain

And that Jesus invites his disciples into a relationship with God

that becomes their dwelling place, their mental world.

Abiding in God’s love is the skin to skin contact of parent to child,

The nourishing sap of the vine which sustains the branch.

It’s a love that we, his modern day disciples inhabit and make our home base,

so that no matter what we do or where we go, we know ourselves to as loved and forgiven people.

But there is a second part to this love, and that is that it is not only a free to gift from God to us

It is also a command.

Jesus said, “this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

The word translated as ‘love’ here, is the Greek word agape,

a universal, unconditional love that transcends and persists regardless of circumstance.

Agape is the love that God has for Jesus, and Jesus has for his disciples.

Jesus commands that his friends love one another with this unconditional love; Jesus is the role model.

The love that Jesus commands is not necessarily a feeling—it is instead a practice.

Jesus’ agape love is not something you simply receive; it also something you DO.

Love is making the choice to put aside resentments

It’s putting aside the to-do list and taking time with another person.

It’s forgiving and starting over

It’s being gentle with yourself so that you can be gentle with others.

Since the love Jesus commands is one that persists despite circumstances, in order to experience it

We need both to receive it over and over again, and practice it over and over again.

For a long time, it was all Lynn could do to simply receive and abide in God’s love.

This was very important for her, not only because God’s love got her through several very difficult years,

But also because God was preparing Lynn to be an example of the transforming power of God’s love.

For as she lived more and more fully into God’s love, the unexpected happened: Lynn learned to love again.

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

It turns out that Jesus’ words on the wedding plate were prophetic.

Lynn and her husband did lay down their lives:

They lay down a married life that they each treasured but had outgrown.

They left that marriage behind, and took up a new one, with the same person.

But they also lay down their individual lives for the other.

They gave up impossible dreams and unrealistic expectations,

They learned to accept the limits of their partner and to forgive.

The deeper they went into God’s love for them, the less they needed their marriage partner to be everything.

The more they practiced love without demands,

the more affection and care for each other creeped back into their relationship.

Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

Jesus love is unconditional, but it is not without consequences

The outgrowth of our being loved is that we grow in our capacity to love.

We are all on a journey in this agape business—no one has arrived or loves as fully as Jesus did.

It’s a practice, not a performance. And there is no judgment where practice is concerned.

So whether you experienced an ending and started again with the same person,

Or started over with the new person, or simply started over on your own,

We are all trying to grow in love. There is no judgment.

When we practice loving as Jesus loved, fully and without conditions, we bear the fruit Jesus talked about

Fruit that nourishes us and others

Fruit rooted in the love of God

Fruit that will last.

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