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Week 3 of Lent
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.
CCI: The call to follow Jesus is summed up in the word Love.
Intro: This is the third Sunday of Lent. Our Journey with Jesus from the Transfiguration to the Cross is calling us into deeper connections with God, with one another and with ourselves each day. As we have explored the reality of our connections we have discovered that the connected believer listens and as a result learns. But that cannot be the extent of our connections. Listening and learning can become very private if we let them, and so we must look at another mark of a connected disciple. As we read this text from John’s Gospel, we learn that the Connected disciple of Jesus Loves. This passage of scripture is one of my favorite passages. I am tempted this morning to simply read it to you over and over and over again in as many translations as I can find. But I think, instead, I will challenge you to do that this week: Read this passage, each day 2 or three times and listen to what the Spirit is saying to you through it.
Have you ever asked, “What does God want me to do with my life? When I was growing up, I asked that question a lot. I am not how I came to this conclusion, but, I believed that God had a perfect plan for my life at every intersection and that there was a right answer to every question I asked or situation I faced. I believed that there was a right vocation, a right life partner, a right college, a right Summer job, a right elective course, and at times a right menu option (!) – and if I missed it, I would diminish my value in the Kingdom of God and worse than that, God would be disappointed in me. I was convinced that if I did not make God’s choices, God could still use me, but not as powerfully as if I had made the right choice.
And for many years I searched for the right everything because that is what I believed God wanted. I am sure that there were times if being right meant pushing another out of the way or humiliating someone who I knew was wrong, I would do it in order to be right, and God would be happy. It was almost like my life was a 3 dimensional puzzle and I thought every decision was the key to the puzzle.
Do you know that is a hard way to live? And what is even harder is the loneliness that comes with always being right. But that is the way I understood my relationship with God. Perhaps you have thought the same way. You have to find the right mate, or the right church, or the right job.
If so, I have good news for you! Discovering what God wants in our lives is not a puzzle. God’s will for the connected disciple is the same for all of us and it is as clear as the words on the page. This is at the same time one of the most freeing commands and the most demanding. It is the command Jesus gave to his disciples on the night of his arrest, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Everything that God expects of a disciple of Jesus is summed up in this phrase. Just as connected disciples must listen to and learn from God, Others and Ourselves, so a connected disciple must love God, one another and our deepest selves.
Jesus identified the first and greatest commandment when he told the crowd, “you must love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength.” But how do we love God?
Try to remember the first flame of love you ever experienced. What was it like? What words would you use to describe how it felt and how it affected you?
This is what it means to Love God with our whole being. At the heart of that love is the longing to know God. To know God’s heart, to know God’s longings and to know God’s passion. It can become all consuming. I remember a new believer in one of the churches I served. She knew she wanted to give her life to Christ, and so we joined in prayer. She started reading the gospels that Sunday afternoon and Wednesday, she called to ask what she should read next, because she had read through the New Testament and was ready to start the Revelation and did not want to stop. She was consumed with knowing God through Christ. We come to know God and love God dearly as we listen to the Scriptures and spend time in prayer and in fellowship with other believers.
But even after all of this, there is in fact only one way to love God. To love God is to connect with the people around in the most intimate way, it is be vulnerable and to take risks. “If you love me,” Jesus said, “You will keep my command. And this is my command, Love one another the way I have loved you.” In 1 Jn 4 we read: “If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
Connecting in love means we will love unconditionally, as we have been loved. That is not easy. Story Corps is a record of people’s stories as they are shared in a story booth all across the country. The stories are collected and stored in the Library of Congress. The following story is a story of unconditional love.
(https://www.dropbox.com/s/nzuy63hgdro3uh0/StoryCorps%20%C2%BBUnconditional%20Love.mp3). To love as Jesus loved is to love unconditionally.
And that is the second thing we must ask ourselves as we seek to understand our growth in Jesus. Are we connecting with others through unconditional love?
I believe that before we can do that we must accept the love that Jesus offers. Verse 9 says, “Abide in my love.” Another way of saying that is: take up residence in the house built by my love. The love of Jesus has forgiven us without condition, yet so often we try to do things to earn his forgiveness. We hesitate to live in the house Jesus love built. But when we abide in love, it means we will accept forgiveness as it is offered. The love of Jesus welcomes us with open arms, yet so often we try to be worthy of that love.
We hesitate to take up residence in the house Jesus love built. The love of Jesus receives us while we are yet sinners, and yet I continually meet people who want to clean their lives up before coming to Christ. We are to settle in and live in the house Jesus love built; to abide in the love of Jesus means to accept his forgiveness, embrace his welcome and rest in his acceptance. When we move into the house Jesus’ love built, we can share Christ’s love with others.
And that is the way we can in love connect with ourselves most deeply. Rather than thinking we must do it by ourselves, or prepare our house before we invite Jesus, we accept His love and let that love settle ever deeper in our souls. This is loving ourselves.
Often we think mistake loving ourselves with narcissism and boasting. We may think of the words of Mohammed Ali who declared, “I am the Greatest!” or the words of John Lennon, “The Beatles are more popular than Jesus!” But having an inflated sense of self is not loving yourself. To love yourself is to acknowledge your weaknesses and failures and accept the love that people offer without hesitation.
Loving ourselves is accepting the Gift of God and the gifts of others.
11-15″I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.
16″You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.
17″But remember the root command: Love one another.