It’s All About Love.


Some of us can recall the show and song that go with these quotes:

“Who loves ya, baby?”  and “Who loves you pretty baby?”

If you thought of Telly Savalas as the detective Kojak, you’re right.  And if you thought of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons who sang the number one hit song by the same title, you’re right again.

Yes, love has been, is, and will continue to be a theme, perhaps the most important emotion, in millions, no make that billions, of lives.  And it’s at the heart of our Gospel this morning.

Recall the context within which these words were spoken:  it’s Maundy Thursday, Jesus’ last evening with his disciples.  He’s washed their feet, eaten the last supper and communed with all of them.  Then he sends Judas away to do his dirty work and finalize the betray and Jesus’ arrest.  Just after Judas leaves, he speaks to the 11.  Jesus tells them that God has been glorified in Jesus.  Jesus also warns them that he will be with them only for a short time.  And that they aren’t coming with him on his journey to a death on the cross.  In fact, a few verses beyond our text for today, Peter (imagine that!) says he would lay down his life for Jesus.  But Jesus knows better and tells Peter he will deny Jesus three times before the next dawn.  Finally, Jesus gives his followers a new commandment:  “That you love one another just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Whom do you love?

This brings us back to our first question about love.  Let’s turn it around for a moment–instead of who loves you, ask yourself the question:  whom do you love?

For some of us, it’s an easy one on the surface.  Probably (though not exclusively or all inclusively) family members come to mind.  Children, spouses, parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins–most likely reflect your first thoughts or inner circle.  Some of us think fondly and perhaps even attribute our love to good friends, people we’ve known for a long time or maybe just a short time, but for whom a strong, close relationship exists.  Maybe you literally love someone who lives near you, whether it be in a single family or congregate living arrangement.  After all, Jesus said to “love your neighbor as yourself” didn’t he?  All well and good.  No doubt each of us can conjur up current or past person(s) and people in our lives for whom the verb “love” applies. Before I forget, and since we don’t have any at our house it isn’t at the top of my list, some people form strong attachments to pets, too, and would claim that they love their dog, or cat, or another animal with whom they have a loving relationship.  We’ll stick to people, though, for this message.

Love is patient…

St. Paul wrote about love in that famous passage and oft quoted scripture found in the first letter to the Corinthians:  Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails.”

Who loves us?

The second question this morning could be “Who loves us?”  On that list might be some if not many of the same as on your first list, right–family, friends, and neighbors.  But the most important love of all for us is God’s love.  The one that St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans: “38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,

[a] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  That love, the one shown us by God through the gift of his son Jesus Christ, made man, crucified for us and for our sin, is the greatest love of all.

Jesus calls us also to love one another just as he loves us.  Some literalists like to restrict the meaning by arguing that yes, he said this but it was just to the 11 disciples.  He sent Judas off to betray him, so the followers remaining were true disciples whom he cared for and about.  But recall for whom he washed feet – all of the disciples were there, even Judas who would betray him.  Recall for whom he broke bread and passed the cup.  All of them.

Now comes the hard part.  We can’t use the excuse that because we are not the son of God, we have a conditional exemption–people we can exclude from our love because we are only human.  Jesus expects us to strive for justice, for peace, and for harmony with everyone–even those who have wronged us or those we care about.

It’s not easy, believe me.  My own extended family has a difficult history, as do many of yours, no doubt.  One might even apply these challenges to love one another not just to those with different skin color, faith beliefs, gender preferences, and politics, compared to our own.  Love your enemy is certainly a hard pill to swallow.  But history is filled with occasions such as these.  A couple sources I read talked about World War II British prisoners of war who had been beaten, tortured, and mistreated by their Japanese captors.  But they found love and kindness in their hearts to care for and feed the injured and sick Japanese personnel being ignored by their own command.  That sort of love is a difficult one to imagine.

And the one Jesus has in mind for us is a difficult one for us to imagine too, and especially, I think, in our “me first” or “it’s all about me” society.  Jesus calls us to do and act differently toward those who may have wronged us or seem the least worthy of our caring.  But try to put that in context.  What do we deserve from God, based on our thoughts, words, and deeds?  Of our own merits, do we earn forgiveness of our sins?  It reminds me of one of Martin Luther’s favorites, Psalm 130, where the psalmist wrote, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?”  In other words, if you were keeping score, God, of all our rights and wrongs, who would earn their own way to heaven and be righteous, or right with you?

The answer is, of course, none of us.  As the psalmist continues, “For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.”

There you have it.  Unconditional love, freely given, for you and for me.  Not something we earned.  Not something we deserve, based on our own merits.  God gave his only son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross, for you and for me.  May we know the love of God and let it guide our hearts and minds in love of one another.