Easter 6, Year B – St. Martin’s – 10 May 2015
Acts 10:44-48, Psalm 98, John 5: 1-6; John 15: 9-17
As I prepared for this Sunday homily, there was one tune that I could not get out of my head. It played over and over again, day and night. I woke up with it. I gardened with it. I went to sleep – eventually – ever night with this music playing over and over. It is not a magnificent, soaring classical work; it’s not a lovely hymn; it’s not even a current ditty.
It’s the Beatles – all you need is love – ba, ba, ba, ba, ba.
Now, that could very well be the ending for the third shortest homily on record. Number two, by the way, is God loves you. Number one, without a doubt, is God.
I confess to anyone who wants to listen that I have a deep abiding love for the Gospel according to the one we call Mark. I also have warm feelings toward Matthew and Luke. John? Not so much. John’s gospel is eschatological, a gospel of the end times, a portrayal of Jesus as God more than Jesus as man. The synoptic gospels – Mark, Matthew and Luke – present the human side of Jesus more than the God side. John’s Gospel is what the scholars, God bless them, call high Christology. The Synoptics are low Christology.
I’m pretty big on the low, probably because the high scares the dickens out of me. The book of Revelation does the same, but that’s a tale for another day.
In the portion of John that I just read, the word “love” is used nine times. I thought that was interesting, so I Googled “love”. I have an old clunker of a computer system but even it performed miraculously. In 0.25 seconds, Google gave me five billion, four hundred and forty million places to look. I didn’t. Then I looked up “friend”. This is important here because Jesus had never before called his followers friends. Until now, they were servants, not friends. I got a possible two billion two hundred million hits for friend in 0.31 seconds.
Back to love. The love that this Gospel is talking about is agape love. The original language used in the gospels is Greek, and the Greeks have a whole bunch of words for love. But the word agape is the word for love that’s used every time in John’s gospel.
Agape love is defined as compassion, kindness, forgiveness, generosity, good will, charity, God’s love for us, our love for God. Agape is not romantic love; there’s no Cupid or hearts or red roses here. When Jesus tells his friends to love one another, agape love is the kind of love he’s talking about. And, for me, it’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever been asked to do. Love one another as I have loved you. What life would be like if we could do what Jesus commands us to do – notice, he doesn’t ask us, he commands us. What would life be like of everyone showed agape love for one another: There would be no bickering. No judgement of others. No wars. No famines. No strife at all. No homeless kids or women or men. No global warming. No poverty. No destitution. No fights at home. No bullying in schools. No rape. No murder. No arguments in committees. No racism. No ageism. No my way or the highway.
So, how do you think we’re all doing so far, we who say out loud that we love Jesus, we who promise to keep his commandments? Now, of course I’m not blaming wars and famines and homelessness, and all the myriad horrors of this world on myself or on you, although we have to own up to the fact that we all do have a part in all of that. But think about this for a minute. Wouldn’t it be interesting to try living that way, the way Jesus wants us to live? Even for a day – even for an hour. Could we even pull it off for fifteen minutes? Could I do this? Maybe, but probably only if no one’s around but me and I’m in a comatose state.
Still, I think we all could try. Especially when we let our hackles down and let the rest of the good news here sink in. Jesus says, “if you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love”. That word “abide” again – we heard it last week, too. Abide – stay, dwell, have your home, be settled. The kicker line is this: Jesus says, “these things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” That’s not a threat, it’s a promise. Jesus, God, promises that if we do this, we will have immeasurable joy. Ever experienced immeasurable joy? Utter bliss. Total harmony. Sheer pleasure. Complete delight. What a promise that is.
There are a lot of TV commercials these days saying that if you buy a new and gorgeous and expensive car, you can drive like a total maniac around hair pin curves and up mountain sides. These ads and many like them have a slug at the bottom of the screen that says “Do not attempt” or “Do not attempt at home”. Well, I suggest that we do attempt this at home, that we make an effort to achieve agape love. An hour at a time, perhaps, moment by moment. Too Utopian? Not easy, for sure. Whiny kids. Recalcitrant teenagers. What we call “matters of principle”. (Of course, my matters of principle are way better and more important than yours.) Annoying spouses. Road hogs. People who can’t seem to live without a “device” of some sort in their hands. Downright dislike for some people. There’s lots of stuff in the way for sure. Tons of stuff. It is so hard. All I want to say is “easy for you to say, Jesus”. I’m not God. But there’s a place to go with all the stuff that bugs you, that keeps you from agape love. Go to the God who calls you ‘friend’. Remember the old hymn – what a friend we have in Jesus, all our cares and griefs to bear. What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer. Try it. Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Back to the Beatles. It’s true – all you need is love – and all you have to do is offer it as well as you can and accept it when it’s offered to you. Doing that puts us all on that road full of promise toward that immeasurable joy. Just think, instead of just reading about it, we could know it, experience it, revel in it. Please, do try this at home.