Love One Another - John 15:9-17
When I was a kid, probably mid elementary school age, I remember having a conversation with my mom. I think it was a Sunday afternoon after church, and we had heard about unconditional love that morning. So, in a curious, slightly mischievous way, I wanted to test this out a bit. I asked my mom if there was anything I could do that would ever make her stop loving me. She said “No, of course not.” But I wasn’t satisfied with that answer, so I made up hypothetical scenarios and asked, “Well would you still love me if I ran away from home? Would you still love me if I hated you? Would you still love me if I didn’t talk to you anymore?” In response to each scenario she said she would always love me. So I suggested the worst thing I could possibly imagine (which I won’t repeat here) and said, “Would you still love me if I did that?” She looked a little shocked, but replied: “Well I might not always like the things you do, but I would absolutely never stop loving you.”
Reflecting back on it, I think that conversation had an important impact on my life. It’s always stuck with me. I knew she meant what she said. And although I never tested other family members with my scenarios of wrongdoing, I’m sure they felt the same. That day my mom affirmed repeatedly that there was nothing I could ever do that would stop her from loving me. It’s always given me great comfort, reassurance, and groundedness to know she would always love me no matter what. And this love made real the idea that God could love me no matter what too.
I tell this story, not just because it’s Mother’s Day, but because it exemplifies the love Jesus talks about in the Gospel reading today. Jesus said these words to his disciples the night before he died. He wanted to assure them that no matter what happened to him, and no matter how they responded to it, he would still love them. Even in the midst of his own wrestling with what he was about to go through, Jesus had compassion for his disciples and took time to give them reassurance that they would need in the days to come.
One of the things Jesus does to express his love is call them friends. Another way to translate that is “loved ones.” The Greek word here is philous, which comes from the same word as Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. Philous means loved ones, beloved friends—that’s how Jesus sees his disciples. And that’s how Jesus sees us. We are not just servants of a master, or students of a teacher—we are also beloved friends.
Perhaps what’s most striking about this friendship is how Jesus emphasizes the joy of his friendship, the joy of his love. When he was about to enter the most brutal time of his life on earth, Jesus chose to offer words of comfort to his disciples. Knowing he would suffer, he also knew his disciples would soon suffer from great uncertainty and fear, and so Jesus promised them that they would have joy, joy which will be complete. Joy in the midst of sorrow is what God’s love provides for us. God’s love empowers us, heals us, and gives us joy beyond comprehension even in the midst of the pains and sorrow of life.
We may have a hard time understanding how joy and sorrow can coexist. It’s hard to imagine this kind of thing. Especially when the struggles of life keep pounding us into the ground. Especially when we can’t feel God’s love or sense God’s presence because we’re so overwhelmed by the struggles of the world. We may be frustrated when we don’t feel God’s love or see any sign of it. But the truth is: God loves us no matter what we think about it, no matter how we feel about it, no matter what we do, no matter if we can sense it or not. God’s love is there no matter what happens on our end. Jesus’ words to his disciples demonstrate that.
I remember reading a powerful story about God’s love in a seminary class about pastoral care for people with mental illness. It’s a story from John Swinton’s book Resurrecting the Person. Swinton describes:
“An elderly lady suffering from dementia paced the corridors of the nursing home restlessly — repeating over and over just one word. The staff were disconcerted, but no one seemed quite sure how to calm her and put her mind at rest. In fact they were at a loss to understand the reason for her distress. The word she repeated over and over again was “God” — and that was all she said. One day a nurse got alongside her and walked with her up and down the corridors until eventually in a flash of inspiration she asked the lady, “Are you afraid that you will forget God?” “Yes, Yes!” she replied emphatically. The nurse was then able to say to her, “You know even if you should forget God, He will not forget you. He has promised that.” For this lady who was forgetting many things, and was aware of it, that assurance was what she needed to hear. She immediately became more peaceful, and that particular behavior ceased.”
This story is an example of how one nurse shared God’s love with a woman who desperately needed to hear Good News. The nurse helped the elderly woman recognize that God’s love does not depend on our own doing or works or even our remembering God; God’s love is all gift. When we receive this love it is profoundly healing and transformative. And when we offer this love to others, following Jesus’ new commandment, we take part in the healing and transformation of others. Like the nurse to the woman with dementia. Or like my mom to me when I was a boy. People share God’s love with other people and thereby participate in the healing and transformation of the world.
So this week, be intentional about sharing God’s love with others. Make a point of seeking to follow Jesus’ new commandment to love one another, as a spiritual practice. Cultivate your love for others, your love for God, your love for creation, and your love for yourself by putting energy and intentionality behind your love. In this way we cultivate loving attitudes and grow in Christian maturity. We do this not to gain God’s love, but because God first loved us, and God’s love inspires us to love one another, and is calling us to grow in this love and to manifest divine love in the world. Thanks be to God for this incredible gift of love. Amen.
1 - Swinton, John. Resurrecting the Person: Friendship and the Care of People with Mental HealthProblems. Nashville: Abingdon, 2000. Print. (Page 119).