April 28, 2013: 4th Sunday after Easter

Let us pray: Dear Savior, You have told us in Your Word that: “Love never fails.” Today teach us the hows, whys, and wherefores of what that really means. Show us the true strength of love by showing us how much You love us. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, WHO EVEN LOVES THE UNLOVEABLE!

TEXT: John 13: 31-35

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

During the “Age of Aquarius”—the late 1960’s and mid ’70’s for anyone under 40, a popular movie appeared on the scene. It was the usual sappy stuff you’d expect, illustrated by its title: “Love Story.” Its most famous line has gone down in history to encapsulate that narcissistic time. “Love is never having to say you’re sorry.” It may sound good to the sentimental ear, but it’s not accurate. What is accurate is this: “Love is the willingness to say you’re sorry!”

Anyone who has been married for even a short time knows exactly what I’m talking about. Once a couple gets past the infatuation stage highlighted by emotional sentimentality, they begin to realize just what true love really is. It isn’t merely sending soppy cards to your special someone, or bringing flowers home every other week, or indulging shopping whims in order to placate your spouse momentarily. No, true love entails heavy lifting. True love is staying up all night with a sick child in order to allow your spouse to get some sleep—and not holding your “good deed” over their head. True love is taking a second job to pay extra bills and not complaining because your spouse doesn’t. True love is revealed in the mundane of making meals, helping clean the house, doing the laundry unbidden, and all those other marital tasks. True love is also knowing you’re right but still giving in on a disagreement because you don’t want to hurt the other. True love is sometimes having to say: “You’re wrong” in order to protect the other from themselves. And true love isn’t afraid to apologize and say: “I’m sorry” when you’re wrong. In short, true love is not acting like a sappy adolescent, but like an adult, better yet, a Christian adult.

I

Our lesson takes place in the Upper Room the night before Christ suffered and died to lovingly pay for the sins of the world. Jesus had just mentioned that one of the disciples was going to betray Him. Shortly thereafter Judas, the betrayer, left. It is at this point that our lesson picks up: “Jesus said, ‘Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.'” Here Jesus is predicting His upcoming death. Note well that He reminds them that it will be a glorious occurrence! After all, God’s loving nature for fallen sinners, them and us, will be made clearly known by Christ’s death. As St. Paul later writes: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not holding there sins against them any more.” Christ’s death appeared ugly and humiliating. On the surface it was. But underneath the surface it meant eternal freedom from the forces of evil, freedom from eternal death, and lasting peace with God. Christ’s glorious resurrection 3 days later confirmed this fact.

Jesus then goes on to say: “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.” This is a prediction of His glorious resurrection which would be followed by Jesus’ triumphant entrance into heaven on Ascension. He wasn’t always with them during those 40 days between Easter and Ascension. And then, when He did visibly ascend into heaven, they were left behind, they could not follow—at least immediately. Aren’t these predictions of the upcoming events done lovingly and with great compassion? How they must have fortified the disciples in the subsequent years?….

II

Then comes this final word of amazing truth: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Because we define love as a sentimental emotional state, these words might appear rather jarring. Why? Because here Christ commands us to love! Can love be commanded? Can it be willed into existence? Jesus says it can. Otherwise, He wouldn’t have said what He did right here.

The word love, used here in the original language of the Bible, means unconditional, self-sacrificing love. It means doing for another without expecting or demanding anything in return. It means giving your heart over to another and doing whatever is necessary to insure their well-being. Sometimes that even means saying: “No.” Sometimes it entails pointing out their faults in order to protect them from themselves. Sometimes it means suffering unjust scorn for trying to help. Those are some of the “heavy lifting” sides of this kind of love. I truly believe that in the modern Christian church love is misunderstood and often misused. Modern people have overlooked the fact that love isn’t always passive and sentimental; no, true love is the willingness to also suffer for another and having your motives questioned even as they resist your help. Later on, Peter resisted St. Paul and had a public disagreement with him. Peter was wrong. Paul prevailed. St. Paul’s love for Peter and even moreso for Christ’s truth kept him from taking it personally and giving up on Peter. Do you operate that same way in dealing with others? Now you begin to understand what St. Paul meant when he later wrote in 1 Cor. 13, the “Love chapter,” as to how: “Love never fails.”

But how is this kind of love, characterized later by Paul as: “patient, kind, none envious, not proud or rude, not self-seeking, not easily angered, and which keeps no record of wrongs,” how is that kind of love even possible for sinful human beings like us? Did Jesus here command the impossible? No! That would be cruel and our Savior is never cruel!

No, true Christian love is made possible by our loving Savior. He always spoke the truth, even when it hurt—think of Judas and Christ’s words of admonishment in the Upper Room. But Jesus always did it in love. He wanted Judas to repent. He wanted Peter to avoid his upcoming denials. He wanted His enemies surrounding the cross to wake up, admit their sins and be saved. That’s why even while hanging from Calvary’s cross He would say: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

You and I have been given the love of Christ. He made it ours when we were baptized. He keeps it alive in our hearts every Sunday when we receive absolution and when we commune. His love is characterized by forgiveness extended to hearts like ours which don’t come by love naturally.

Getting back to: “Love is never having to say you’re sorry.”—It’s a crock. Love is all about being willingly to put your pride aside and admitting your sins against another. It’s all about praying for your spouse, your children, and yes, even your enemies! It’s about putting your pride in your pocket and applying Christ’s love to starving souls. Human love is a commodity characterized by greed. We hoard it for ourselves, but we don’t like to share it. But Christian love is a commodity characterized by grateful humility which says: “There but by the grace of God, go I.” Amen