As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 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. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
How many of you have or have had a song that you or your husband or wife or lover have called “your” song? Maybe it’s one that was playing when you first met. Maybe it’s a song that was popular when you were dating. Maybe it’s the song you danced to at your wedding or just a song that tells a familiar story or speaks a familiar word about your relationship.
Love songs are good. It means something to have ‘a song’ you can call your own. It means something to have ‘your song’ – one that captures a moment in time or that helps to define a relationship or that simply triggers a meaningful memory. And that can be hard, too, of course, when a relationship ends, or memories fade.
And anyone who’s ever been in a relationship of any kind for any length of time knows that a song – no matter how good – only goes so far. It’s easy to be in love when the stars are shining or when the weather’s nice or when the dishes are done; when the lawn’s been mowed and the bills are paid.
And, while I think Jesus can appreciate this kind of romantic, sentimental love, it’s important to know that’s not what he has in mind when he speaks to the disciples in this morning’s Gospel about abiding in the love of God.
Because, for starters, “abide” is a great word, isn’t it? … to remain in, to hold fast to, to endure… the notion of what it means to abide carries with it a lot of weight, don’t you think? And so does the word Jesus uses for “love” this morning.
It’s worth acknowledging or remembering that we can get pretty lazy with our words … we say we love chocolate, or we love the races, or we love that outfit or that restaurant or that song, or whatever. And then we say that we love God, too, and that God calls us to love one another and to love our neighbor and to love our enemy, just the same, as if those kinds of love are all the same sort of thing.
So it matters that Jesus uses that word “agape” for the love he’s talking about today… to describe a love, that isn't a romantic, sentimental, groovy kind of love, if you will. Jesus isn’t talking about the “love” of most love songs, here. Agape-love is the sort of love God has for us and for the world, whether we know it or believe it or even like it or not. (Jesus says, “I chose you” … “you did not choose me, but I chose you.”) That agape kind of love is holy, it’s sacred, it's unconditional. That agape kind of love is an all-encompassing, cosmic kind of love. And it’s this kind of love in which we are invited to abide.
Abide in MY kind of love Jesus says… the FATHER’S kind of love. And to do that, he says, takes some work, some discipline, some commandment-following, some patience. …
Not only that… this kind of abiding, this kind of deep, divine, cosmic-sort-of-loving – the kind of love Jesus lived and died embodying – was the GREATEST kind of love and it isn’t easy. I don’t think it was easy for Jesus every step of the way, and I know it’s not easy for us, either.
It wasn’t easy for Jesus because it was this kind of love that drove him to the cross. It was agape that called him out of his humanity and it was agape that allowed him to be crucified, killed and raised for the sake of all creation.
Agape-love doesn’t have strings attached. Agape-love doesn’t have pre-requisites. Agape-love doesn’t have a check-list. It is without limits. It doesn’t ask questions – it just is. It just – and utterly – loves. It’s a hard thing to describe and it’s a hard thing to define. It’s one of those things that’s so big, so deep, so wide you can’t quite put your finger on it – you just know it when you feel it or when you see it in action.
So, I wonder if we can think about a time in our lives when we’ve felt the most loved. Maybe it sounded sweet like a love song. Maybe it rhymed like a poem. And that’s great. But maybe it didn’t.
Maybe it wasn’t pretty, like forgiveness for something that didn’t deserve to be overlooked; or a dream sacrificed so that another dream could come true. Maybe it was tired and worn out – like a night spent in worry or prayer on your behalf. Maybe it was unsettling to know how far someone else was willing to go or how much someone else was willing to give for your happiness or comfort or peace of mind, when you didn’t deserve it. That’s the abiding kind of agape-love that drove Jesus to the cross.
And think about a time in your life when you had the most love to give. Did it sing like a song or feel like a dream? Did it hurt a little bit? Did it mean giving something up for somebody else? Did it mean sacrificing your own time, your own money, your own patience, or some part of your very self for the sake of another? That’s the abiding kind of agape-love Jesus is talking about this morning, too.
It’s not always pretty. It doesn’t always end with a kiss or a dance or a warm embrace. And what’s more, we aren’t supposed to be picky about who receives it. This agape-kind-of-love comes for the sake of the world – that’s what that bit from Acts 10 was all about. It is for the outcast and the outsider and that makes this love unsettling and scary and dangerous, too.
The AGAPE of God makes us friends with the Creator and thereby complicit in God’s plan to overcome the world with grace and mercy and peace for all people. It wouldn’t mean as much if it were easy to give. We wouldn’t know its worth if we never shared it with another. It’s not something we can claim as ours alone. It’s more than just a moment or a memory or a cheesy sentimentality.
And the AGAPE of God – the kind of love Jesus chooses for us – and chooses us for – is something we can only abide and dare to offer when we acknowledge that it’s already been poured out for our sake, just the same.