THAT ELUSIVE THING CALLED LOVE
John 13: 31-35
A father tried to teach his seven year old daughter the meaning of sacrifice. He explained that the finest gift a person can give is some cherished possession, one that the person values very much. On his birthday the father found pinned to his coat a large sheet of paper on which his daughter had laboriously printed with red crayon: “You are my faverit Daddy and I luv you heeps. My present to you is what I likes best. It is in your poket.” In his pocket he found a strawberry lollipop [the kind she liked the best.] He had given [it to] her the week before. It hadn’t even been opened.
If part of love is sacrifice, we have examples of it all around. The man who unselfishly tends to his failing wife; the mother who gives a kidney to her diabetic daughter; the girl who saves all of her allowance to help give God’s house a new roof; or the 18 year boy who lets a special girl drive his new car. When it comes to devotion, we find dogs that are devoted to their masters and masters devoted to their dogs, or a grown man who can hardly get through a eulogy because he was so devoted to his grandfather. We find it also in the promises people agree to keep for people they love.
Love; that’s the key word for today. If we want to find love in Christian history we might find it in some of historic people of our faith. There are examples of people who loved God and loved others. Among them: Julian of Norwich, Henri Nouwen, Clare of Assisi, and Francis of Assisi. One would think we could go back to the Apostles and find examples of love. But time pouring over the Gospels reveals little to commend the Twelve in the area of love. They learned, they did, they debated, and they questioned, but in the area of love, even Simon Peter had to profess his love three times for Jesus after he betrayed him the same number of times. Who loves someone who betrays him, or her, time after time? Jesus raised that bar. He knew that his disciples knew the 10 Commandments, but those commandments did not produce love. Even his reinterpretation of the commandments—you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself—even that commanded love. While someone in the armed forces acts on command, commanding someone else to love does not guarantee it will happen. And if it does, is it just offered under duress? No; love is something intended to be given and shown freely, and our Lord knew that. So he said to his disciples: “A new commandment I give unto you: that you; that you love one another as I have loved you. By this shall people know that you are my disciples: if you have love one for another” (John 13: 34-35) Now it is true that Jesus said “commandment” and not suggestion! But I hear that sentence as sounding much more inviting than “You shall love.”
Where do we learn how to love? Doesn’t it come from examples around us, either those we have seen or have known or have read about? And in each case, has the person who has shown you how to love shown unconditional love, or has it been conditional love? I will love you “if do as you’re told,” or “if you don’t run away,” or “if you don’t betray me.” Those are conditional loves and many of us love in that fashion. Even in marriage, for many couples infidelity is a deal breaker and the well of conditional love quickly runs dry. There are examples of great parents in our world and of horrible parents; in many cases love dries up along with patience or love dries up when rules are broken. But what if we tap into a spring of water that will not run dry? When we lived in near Hot Springs Arkansas several times we stopped by one of the actual hot springs that made the town so famous. It poured continuously from a pipe and people could fill jugs from it. Out of the ground came health giving, life giving, warm water; people could actually drink it, or bathe in it, and some believed it actually healed them. In our own state Zephyrhills Water Corporation counts on and nurtures its natural springs to keep producing healthy water. You might remember another time when Jesus was teaching. He was at a well in Samaria. A woman came there to draw water, and he had a conversation with her. Eventually he said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give them will never thirst; that water that I shall give them will be a spring of water, welling up to eternal life.” [John 4: 13-14] The only way a Christian can continue to love like Jesus loved is to stay connected with Jesus. And the only way he had that living water was because, as John describes it, he had the fullness of God abiding in him. We cannot give others what we ourselves do not have. If your example of love is conditional and human, than it could also dry up and you could become a person who can no longer loves others. Such people become reclusive, or bitter, or both. But if you stay connected to Christ, not just through prayer, not just through Scripture, not just through a fellowship of Christians but all three, then you can carry out Jesus commandment; you can do what he has
told you, and me, and other followers to do: we can love one another like Jesus loves us—unconditionally. Remember the way the Apostle Paul put it in Romans 8:“I am sure that neither death, nor, life, nor angels, nor principalities, 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.” And the simple children’s hymn says it perfectly: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Jesus loves you; if you stay connected with him your cup of love will run over; you won’t just have enough love to bring joy and peace to yourself; you’ll have so much love that it will overflow, so that you’ll want to share it with others! Many in the world may have gotten burned by different forms of conditional love, or conditional covenants or contracts. Those people can be most suspicious and even unlovable. But Jesus loved unconditionally; and Jesus loved even the unlovable: tax collectors, lepers, prostitutes, hard-headed disciples, and even though he tangled with them, he even loved the Scribes and Pharisees. What would it take for you to change the way you love; love with conditions; love that no longer says “I’m done” when lines are crossed? And if you were asked to love across party lines, color lines, or religious lines, could you do it? Jesus showed that kind of love; it’s the way that Jesus told his disciples to love too. Can you hear Jesus saying this to you as well: “love one another, as I have loved you.” Conditional love has produced broken marriages, broken families, and broken hearts. Can we try, instead, to love like Jesus loved? In some cases that will be so hard to do. But our Savior tells us to do it. What will you do?
I’ll close with this story. One night a woman suffered a heart attack. After she was admitted to the hospital, she asked the nurse to call her daughter. She explained, “You see, I live alone and she’s the only family I have.” One nurse went and called the daughter, while another nurse stayed with the woman. When the daughter was contacted and got the news, she exclaimed quite loudly to the nurse over the phone, “You can’t let her die! Mom and I had a terrible argument a week ago. I haven’t spoken to her since. Each day I wanted to tell her I was sorry but I just didn’t. And the last thing I screamed at her was ‘I hate you!’ It’ll take me two hours to get there but I’m coming.” Well, the mother hung on for an hour but then she took a turn for the worse and she slipped away. The second nurse was there and prayed that she would hang on but she could not. She died before her daughter arrived. The nurse who had called the daughter met her in the waiting room, sadly shaking her head. The daughter wept. The nurse said “I’m sorry for your loss.” And the daughter said through tears, “You know, I never hated her. I was just mad and then I kept putting off calling her. I really loved her, and tonight it’s too late to tell her.” She paused. “Can I see her?” The nurse nodded and led her to the room. The daughter went in and buried her face in the sheets and said goodbye to her lifeless mother. The other nurse that had stayed in the room gently came close to the daughter and said, “Before your mother passed away, she asked me to write something for her and set it on her table. I think you’ll want to read it.” Through tears, the grown daughter became a young daughter again as she read the last words of her mother: “My dearest Barbara, I forgive you and I pray that you will forgive me. I know that you love me. I love you too. Mom.”
Let us pray:
Like a love not from a parent, O God, speak to us of your love for us; not because we deserve it because sometimes we speak before we think; but because you want to love us, do love us, and always will. May your love overflow into the lives of others we encounter, the way Jesus loved others.
In His name we pray. Amen
Jeffrey A. SumnerApril 28, 2013