“Made for Love”
Rev’d. Tanya N. Stormo Rasmussen
The Congregational Church of Hollis, U.C.C.
John 15:9-17
1 John 5:1-6
6 May, 2018
Easter 6B

My father-in-law likes to tell the story about the most concise sermon he ever heard.  The preacher stood up, took a breath and said, “The most important thing is never to forget the most important thing.  Amen.”  And then he sat down.

No one’s ever accused me of being a woman of too few words, so you don’t need to worry about my messages ever being so terse.  But really, our scripture lessons this morning are basically pointing in that direction: love is the most important thing.

When Jesus was asked what is the most important commandment in the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures, what did he answer?  Love.  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the entire law—and all the prophets.”  In other words, love is the bedrock on which every other law of scripture is constructed, and it’s the foundation upon which each of the prophets stood in order to communicate God’s will for humankind.

In our Gospel lesson for this morning, Jesus himself gives the command to love, but only after he invites his disciples to the place where he knows every human spirit longs to be.  “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you,” he says first—making the firm, close connection between himself and God.  The love that you’ve experienced from me, Jesus was saying, is the very same as the love of the One whom I call the Father; it is none other than God’s love.  And then Jesus speaks directly to the soul’s deepest longing, saying, “Dwell in my love.”  Abide in my love; stay there, be settled there, lodge, reside, live in my love.

It is what we long for more than anything, as beings created for this fundamental purpose: to know true love, to experience divine love.  And once we’ve experienced it, we can’t help but want to reciprocate and share it; that’s the nature of true love.

So, how do we get there—much less stay there, lodge there, dwell there in divine love?  “If you heed, my commands,” Jesus responds, “If you obey what I tell you to do, then you will dwell in my love.”   After which he clarifies what that entails: “This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you.”  In other words, if you want to know how to live in my love, then love one another—and if you want to know how truly to love one another, then look at how I have loved you.  Follow the example I have made of my life.

Clearly this is not just about warm feelings, as if divine love is as undemanding as the fun, but turbulent, tingly, buzzy romantic sensations we get when we fall in love.  When Jesus suggests that we love one another as he loved us, he’s directing us to a love that is known and experienced not by the way we feel, but rather by the way we act.  This is no fickle, fleeting, erotic kind of love that can get “turned on” or feel “turned off”.  It’s a strong, resilient, determined kind of love that’s not dependent on feelings, not motivated by the fluctuation of emotions.

Jesus-shaped love is all about obedience in faith, and faith in action—action that’s willing to sacrifice comfort, security, power and popularity. . . it’s the kind of love that’s prepared even to surrender life itself.  And not just for people we like or appreciate, but equally for people for whom we have no feelings of affection or attraction to whatsoever; even for people who don’t reciprocate our love; even for people who do the opposite of love, and despise us.  After all, Jesus-shaped love is the embodiment of divine love.  We have no better definition of true love in the Bible than that of Jesus’ life.  Story after story in scripture demonstrates how God’s love and devotion to humankind is stronger and more relentless than human selfishness. But it’s Jesus’ act of living out that divine love as one of us that has equipped us with our best instruction on how constantly to live in God’s love, and how to experience the joy and fullness of life that accompanies that.  Jesus understood that we were made for the express purpose of loving God—and as our reading from the first letter of John pointed out, we cannot love God without being loving toward one another; these two activities are inseparable.

Bruce Prewer, an Australian preacher and teacher whose prayers I periodically use in various parts of our service, contends that, “Loving is indigenous to us.  More so than we would ever deduce from looking at the selfishness of much of humanity.  We are called to be loving because it is the very food of our souls and the purest expression of our spirits.”

In an outstanding sermon on this particular gospel text, he proclaims:

When Jesus asks us to love one another, he is inviting us to participate in God’s characteristic activity. To align ourselves with that Joy which is the ultimate activity in the universe.  The whole purpose of life on this planet is to produce loving creatures.  . . .  The complex, painstaking process of creating humanity, is driven by God’s loving. The immense time scale involved is for the creation of [those who love].  The painfully slow growth in human understanding, all the long travail of humanity in its noble moments, is for the purpose of loving.  The triumph of the human spirit over set-back, calamity, suffering, and evil in multiple forms, is to produce loving persons. . . . The whole purpose is for us to become loving beings; like God. It is as simple as that and as profound as that. . . . Jesus asks us to participate in the fundamental actions of God, and in so doing we will find our fulfillment.”[1]

Which isn’t to say that the path to fulfilment is easy: love, after Jesus’ example, is hard work and requires a lifetime of practice to learn.  The apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians described how Christ-like love behaves: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

These kinds of actions are not just warm-fuzzy, tender words, or  chocolate-and-roses kinds of love.  These are actions of determined, unflappable divine love that reaches out to the poor and the marginalized; that advocates for the oppressed; that challenges corruption and deceits without fear or shrinking from the knowledge that the powerful will seek to undermine those who bear witness to the truth, just as surely as they did with Jesus.  Divine love calmly and persistently speaks truth to power; it cares for the welfare even of our enemies; Christ-shaped love lends without expecting repayment; gives without demanding gratitude or praise; forgives again and again and again.  As Jesus demonstrated, divine love expresses anger when one’s fellows are being exploited; embraces outcasts and welcomes sinners; confronts with naked honesty the hypocrisies of religion, and cleanses the temple when necessary—even if it’s our own temple that needs cleaning.  Divine love is not afraid to accept that in some circumstances, misunderstanding will be our lot, and that rejection and suffering may be the only apparent result of our holiest efforts.[2]

Like I said: this love is hard work!  But we don’t decide to follow Jesus because it’s easy—rather, because we recognize that he shows us the way to the joy, the meaning, and the truly liberated life we long for.  All of us are well familiar with the real internal struggle we face as we are simultaneously drawn both to dwell in God’s love, and to seek first our own comfort, our own greatness, our self-importance and sense of self– centered satisfaction.  God understands too, because as the ultimate act of love, God shrugged off supreme power and glory in order to submit to our human experience as one of us—even to withstand betrayal, rejection, torture, and death at human hands.  But none of it was enough to destroy Love’s power, or sovereignty.

What Jesus understood and tried to make clear by his teachings and his life, is that our greatest comfort and fulfillment is to be found by living into the purpose for which we were created: to know and share divine love: to abide in God’s love, by following Jesus’ commandment to love as he did—honoring God above all others, and loving others as ardently as we love ourselves.  That’s the most important thing.  When we get that, everything else in our world makes sense.  The startling paradox is that, the more we give ourselves over to knowing and practicing self-sacrificial, Christ-like love, the more we experience God’s strength, presence, and the fullness of joy.

And best of all, we begin to discover that the world’s notions of greatness—which are fickle, fleeting and ultimately unsatisfying—no longer hold any sway over us.  That’s because above and beneath and beyond all else, love is what we’re made for.  The most important thing is as simple and as profound as that.  Amen.

[1] Bruce Prewer, “We are Made for This”:  http://home.alphalink.com.au/~nigel/DocB/B060521.htm, emphasis mine.

[2] Ibid., paraphrased and adapted.

© 2020 The Congregational Church of Hollis, UCC