No Greater Love

Preached FCCW May 13, 2018 (Mothers’ Day)

John 15:9-17

A young woman – who had just graduated from college – was going on her first interview to try and launch her new career, when her mother called her to wish her success on her interview. Before she hung up she asked her to be sure to stop over on her way home.

The interview went well and the young woman got the job. She went right from the interview to her mother’s home calling her on the way to tell her the good news. When she got there she saw that the table was set with the best china, and her mother had prepared her favorite meal. Next to her plate she found a note. It read: “Congratulations! I knew you’d get the job! I prepared this dinner to show just how proud I am of your accomplishments!”

After dinner, the daughter was helping to clean up, and as she went to scrape some leftovers into the garbage can, she noticed another note lying in there. It was written on the same stationery as the letter by her dinner plate. She reached in to retrieve it. It read: “Don’t worry about not getting the job! You will find the right position and will make a great employee. I prepared this dinner to show you just how proud I am of you even though you did not get hired.”

Suddenly, she realized the truth about the dinner that her mother had prepared for her. It had nothing to do with whether or not she was successful at getting the job. It was an unconditional expression of her mother’s love for her. Regardless of whether she was a success or a failure in the eyes of the world, that same dinner would have been waiting for her when she got home.

It’s sentimental stories like this that make the case for there being no higher love, than the love of a mother for her child. On the last night of his life, Jesus talked about another gold standard of love. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” he told his disciples.

Remember that he said these words knowing that the next day he would do exactly what he was describing. He would lay down his life for them. Not just lay down his life for them, but for the whole world. Even for those who would despise him and reject him.

But Jesus also seems to be thinking about something other than his sacrificial love for us when he speaks about the greatest love of all. He was also setting a bar for how we are to love one another. Jesus isn’t talking about the kind of love that we instinctively feel, like mother love; or the kind of love that we romantically fall into. He’s talking here about a love that sometimes takes effort – even sacrifice. A love that is as much an act of the will, as an expression of the heart. Because even the love of a mother for a child, or of one spouse for another, sooner or later will involve conscious choice – not just emotion.

We may love someone for all that makes them attractive and lovable in our sight. But loving them still, when they disappoint us, or reject us, or hurt us, is something that asks us to consciously choose if and how the relationship should continue.

Someone once asked Jesus what was the most important commandment. The answer he gave was that the most important commandment was actually two commandments that were so intimately interwoven as to be inseparable.

Love God with all your being. And, love your neighbor as you would love yourself. As if loving God and loving others must go hand in hand.

On that last night with his disciples, Jesus said, “I am giving you these commandments so that you may love one another.” Some forms of love – the kinds of love that don’t come to us as naturally as mother love – the kinds of love that ask some sacrifice – some form of laying down our life for another – those are types of love that need to be learned. They aren’t spontaneous or instinctual.

Jesus knows that, for better or worse, our greatest teacher of how to love others is our own experience of having been loved. The commandments to love others show us how to love as Jesus loves us. But to be able to love in that way, Jesus first invites us to experience that love for ourselves. Abide in my love, he tells us.

To abide in something is to make it your dwelling place. Your home. Jesus is saying, if you want to learn to keep these commandments about loving each other, first you must make your home in my love for you It is through receiving Jesus’ love first, that sharing that love with others seems less of a sacrifice.

Jesus said there was no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Jesus’ disciples seem to be massive failures as friends. They would betray, deny and desert him. Yet we hear Jesus say, “You are my friends; no longer do I call you servants, but I have called you friends.”

I’m glad he said “called.” I have “called” you friends. He doesn’t say, “You have proven yourselves to be terrific friends.” Because they didn’t. Not by a long-shot. And neither do we. Yet he loved them, and he loves us, no matter how unworthy of such great love we may sometimes be.

Home… hopefully… is where we learn that we are loved. And it is where we learn to love others. We don’t get to choose the home where we grow up, and some homes model love better than others. But something we all do have a choice about is whether or not to make our home in Christ’s love.

Baptism is the way we celebrate that choice. Not only by making our, or our children’s spiritual home in the love of Jesus. But also in the hope that our physical homes will be places where we strive and sometimes sacrifice, to love one another in a manner that reflects the greatest love ever known.

 

Copyright 2018.     Raymond Medeiros