LOVE, LOVE, LOVE
John 15: 9-17
Five-year-old Johnny Quinn loved his big brother Tommy. The doctor told Johnny that his brother was very sick and needed a blood transfusion. The doctor asked, “Johnny, would you be willing to give blood to your brother?” Johnny gulped hard and his eyes got big, but after a moment’s hesitation he said, “Sure doctor.” The doctor took the blood while Johnny rested quietly on an examination table. A few minutes later Johnny opened his eyes and asked, “Doctor, when do I die?” It was only then that the doctor realized the extent of this boy’s love for his brother. He adored his big brother. And he thought he was giving all of his blood to save him.
Love: a word often lightly used; sometimes loosely used. The meaning of love is all over the map. Should we limit the times and ways that we cast that word around? “Love, love, love, all you need is love,” John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote and shared with the world in a live broadcast on June 25, 1967. That was one of the anthems of the so-called “summer of love.” How naïve it can seem to say that. Love isn’t all we need in life, but it does make life worthwhile. Yet is the same breath we say we love a car or love a movie. And we love chocolate cake and we love money in our pocket and we love ketchup on our fries, in addition to loving a puppy, or a kitten, or a boy, a girl, or a spouse.
In spite of the wide variety of ways we treat the word love, the whole of the Christian life rests on the word. It is described in many verses of Scripture. Here are two of them: Jesus said: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you, so you also must love one another.” Please note that little two-letter word: “as.” This is the hinge as well as the hitch- love as he loved us.- that is, in the same way. “As the Father has loved me,” Jesus said, “So I have loved you.” I think Johnny Quinn probably had a grasp of what love means, but how many others grasp it? Certainly some here who’ve been married for any number of years get it, but some don’t. Sometimes weddings these days focus too much on the ceremony and not enough on the commitment. Years ago a couple who got married here had five previous marriages between them. They picked as their wedding solo: When I Fall in Love, It will be forever.” What irony. Back to God’s love, the Heavenly Father’s love for Jesus did not mean he would be saved from suffering, temptation, or from human limitations. Jesus was not saved from misunderstanding, rejection, humiliation, or from any of the things the world called “failure.” He was not even saved from feeling abandoned on the cross. But he was loved; and there was a plan decided by Father and Son.
What, then, does Scripture reveal about the Father’s love for Jesus? Through it, Jesus received the presence of God, the power of God, of human life, and steadfast love. “The one who sent me is with me,” Jesus would say. He lived out that truth. The praise or blame from others did not define Jesus. The success of his work did not give his life meaning. He was defined by being beloved; he received both his guidance and his grounding in the steadfast love of God. There was nothing he could do to make that love cease.
By contrast, some of the anxieties, the neuroses, and insecurities people have are created by situations assumed to be loving ones, but they aren’t really. They are conditional: “I’ll love you if you don’t disappoint me; I’ll love you if you make good choices. I’ll love you if you make me proud. What strings are attached to that love! Conditional love doesn’t feel like love; and it can be toxic. A teenager may hear a parent say, “I love you so much dear, but you will become a doctor like your father.” You may remember the movie Dead Poet’s Society, when the student Neil discovers a love of acting, auditions for a part in a play and he lands the part. He found part of what he wanted to do with his life. But his father would have none of it. The film ends tragically. Love? Listen to what Dr. Greg Baer wrote in a book he called Real Love.
I was valedictorian of my high school class, finished college in two and a half years, and received the highest honors in medical school. After completing my internship and specialty training in eye surgery, …I performed thousands of operations and taught other physicians locally and across the country. I was a leader in church and in the local Boy Scouts organization. I had everything money could by, and I was a husband and father of five beautiful children. [But] I slowly came to the terrible realization that I had not achieved the happiness I’d been promised. …I found it difficult to sleep at night and began to talk some of the sleeping pills we kept at the office for postsurgical patients. When they were no longer effective I took tranquilizers and before long I was injecting narcotics every night…. [Real Love, Gotham Books, New York, 2003, pp. xi-xii]
Greg did all of that; and yet he was so unhappy that one evening he went to a desolate place and put a gun to his head. He wanted out. Love? Fortunately someone intervened and counseled him until he found true peace, true happiness, and work that he enjoyed-all by finding someone who loved him unconditionally-the kind of love that God offers. “There is nothing you can do,” to make me withdraw my love for you,” God says. “Sure, your actions will bring consequences, but they will not ever make me stop loving you.”
One other example of what is clearly not love. Dr. Scott Peck in his book The People of the Lie tells the story of a teenaged boy whose brother committed suicide with a 22-caliber rifle. His younger brother, named Bobby, started acting out in his anger and grief. In a counseling session a few weeks after Christmas, his therapist asked him what his parents had gotten him for Christmas. “A gun.” he said. “A gun,” the therapist responded, what kind?” A 22-caliber rifle. “Did you ask for that present Bobby?” “No” said Bobby. “I asked for a tennis racket.” His parents had given their younger son the very gun that had taken their first son’s life. [Touchstone Book, 1983, pp.47-51] Sometimes relationships can get sick … or evil. But God’s love is so very different from that.
Jesus said, “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly.” And he meant it. Dr. Scott Peck, in his more uplifting book called The Road Less Traveled, wrote: “Call it what you will. Genuine love, with the discipline it requires, is the only path to substantial joy …. The more I love, the longer I love, the larger I become. Genuine love is self-replenishing.” It is clear that Jesus had a generous heart, a heart that could hold the very love of God in it. He had a kind heart that suffered over a paralyzed man, a stooped over woman, and a blind man. His heart ached for those in moral bondage, and longing to set them free: like the woman caught in adultery; like Zacchaeus- who was rich in things and poor in spirit. Jesus’ love persisted in spite of the blunders of friends who betrayed, denied, or deserted him. His was genuine love, the kind that kept on loving even as he died on a cross. A man named Anthony Padovano once put it this way: We are saved not by the physical death of Jesus, but by the absoluteness of love which did not count death too high a price. ”
In our finest hours, we are called to love others as God loves us.
Love, love, love; all you need is love. With God’s love—real love—those
words make more sense than ever. Experience God’s love today in bread, and in the cup. It is the body that was broken and the blood that was shed. Little Johnny Quinn, who adored his brother, was willing to give all of his blood to show his love. How might you change the way you love if you have been trained in the conditional kind of love? How might you begin a life of unconditional love? Living that way, you will not only change your life, but also the lives of those around you. Love one another.
Jeffrey A. Sumner May 6, 2018