23 May God loves us.
There is a non-profit organization in Decorah, Iowa, where I went to college, that collects and catalogs seeds. They are especially interested in unique varieties and seeds of plants or produce that was thought to be lost. From the smallest herb seed to the most common variety of beans, they have a large collection and have helped bring back some heirloom varieties. (Seed Savers holds a special place in my heart because it is actually where I met my husband, Bjorn, during the first week of college while doing a service project there- but that is not what this is about) It is about the seeds. How something that seems dead, dried out and gone- actually has new life inside it. It is a resurrection story. In the planting of seeds each spring, we see this story of new life every year. Nurturing these seeds is an act of love- collecting them in the fall and keeping them until the ground thaws once again and planting them in healthy soil with the right amount of sun and water- it brings about a different kind of rhythm. It is a love deeply grounded in hope, that the plant will sprout and something new will come to life. Even if all the seeds don’t end up sprouting- we continue to plant them again. It is a love grounded in resurrection. And that is the kind of love that Jesus describes today.
We hear Jesus’ new commandment to love one another- loving our neighbors isn’t a new command at all. But the how to love part, that is the new part. Because here Jesus is describing love that is grounded in resurrection. Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Variations of this include “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” But Jesus isn’t talking about the love of self here, he is talking about being like him- loving like he does- loving others as God loves us. And we know how God loves us. God loves us to the cross on into death and back to life. It is a love that doesn’t depend on us at all- it is a love that isn’t about us deserving it or earning it, it isn’t about how much we have or don’t have. It is a love that isn’t about failing or being successful at being disciples. It is a love that is unconditional and sacrificial. This is the gospel of John after all- (John 3:16-17) where God so loved the world that he gave his only Son to die so that the world might be saved. It is a love that is grounded in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
That big love, that difficult love, full of freedom and hope but without judgment- that is the love we are called to live out as Jesus’ disciples in the world. So how’s it going for you? Some days better than others, I am sure. That’s how it is for me and I am guessing you as well. That’s okay, that was true for the disciples who were with Jesus too. This advice on how to love is from the Last supper scene. In the New International Version of the Bible this section is called “Jesus reflects on Peter’s failure”. Jesus himself, knowing all that he knew- the whole story of Judas betraying him and Peter denying knowing him- Jesus didn’t spend his time lecturing them, instead he directed them to love and to ground that love in his own resurrection promise.
At a synod event earlier this spring, we were directed to have some discussion with the person sitting next to us about what it takes to build a beloved Christian community. The woman from another congregation who was sitting next to me answered in a way that stuck with me. She said that she tries to love those around her by doing this. Whenever she thinks of a small kind action for someone, an act of love no matter when she thinks of it or who its for, she used to think about it for a moment and let it pass by, but since she retired, she now stops whatever she is doing and goes and does it. She no longer thinks to herself, “well that’s a nice thought, but I don’t have time.” Instead she pauses and goes does it. Whether it is making someone a meal or sending someone a note to let them know she is praying for them. She doesn’t hesitate anymore. She also explained that she believes those little thoughts are the Holy Spirit inviting us into the work of God. That is love grounded in the resurrection, isn’t it? Even small actions like that- because she is paying attention to where God is calling her and it ultimately it isn’t about her gaining anything – it is about love through her sacrifice of time and bringing signs of new life through small acts of hope.
In John’s gospel, Jesus doesn’t just say this once, he explains it 3 times. And if Jesus is telling us something over and over again, we know that he wants us to pay attention. The first time Jesus talks about loving one another as he loves us is earlier in this same chapter- John’s Maundy Thursday, last supper scene when he gets down and washes his disciples feet. In his humility in serving those closest to him, an act that might not seem that important- after all feet get dirty again- but in that moment feet clean, you know you are cared for- Jesus was willing to get his hands dirty, not serving out of wanting recognition, but serving simply out of love. The extra lesson in the foot washing scene is about not only giving this kind of love, but also receiving it.
The second time Jesus tells us to love are the words we hear today. In a speech that is in between eating with Judas, his betrayer and predicting Peter’s denial of him. And if Jesus had been bitter or self-righteous, he could have lectured the other disciples, he could have said a lot of things in judgment and condemnation, but instead he talks about love. He shares a cup with the one who turns him over to the authorities and looks into the eyes of the one who won’t admit knowing him and he says to them (and each disciple), “I love you.”
The third time Jesus talks about this kind of love is when he says that the greatest love is the one with the greatest risk. To give up your life for a friend- to risk it all, sacrifice your life- that is a hero’s love. That is a gift no one can deserve, that is the opposite of self-centeredness. All three of these examples are about letting go of your own judgments and fears and any worries over risk or your reputation- and loving with your whole self. These three examples tell us that agape love can be small actions or life-giving, life-changing events or any where in between- love that is a giving away of oneself is this kind of resurrection love.
Loving like Jesus
Can we love one another like that? Can we humble ourselves to wash feet and let someone wash ours too? When we know someone has failed or is about to, we are quick to offer warnings or advice or worry about them- but can we just love them? Can we live as people of the resurrection without fear- giving our love away freely and without requirements?
Jesus says, Yes. God loves the world everyday through us. God loves our neighbors through us- we just have to let it happen. When the Holy Spirit stirs an idea, a kind action within us- can we listen? Can we bring new life into the world? Jesus says, Yes- because we are loved like that. And God’s love for us spurs us into action. Whether we are successful or whether we fail- God loves us. On the days it is hard for us to love and the days it is easy- God loves us. Jesus proved this when he loves the disciples who fail him and have him arrested. God’s love is deeply grounded in the resurrection of Jesus Christ surrounds us and reminds us we are beloved children of God. So every seed, every little sprout of love in our hearts that we plant out in the world with hope- we are taking part in the resurrection love of Jesus Christ.