By Kazimiera Fraley
We all love to receive gifts. Whether it is our birthday or if it is simply an unexpected surprise, most people enjoy receiving a thoughtful and meaningful present from someone who is showing us their appreciation and love for us. Presents are a very tangible way for us to experience the love another person has for us.
Our understanding of Love also originates in the gift of Christ. Christ, the first gift, is our truest and best understanding of what it means to love as God loves. And to love as God is loves is the call Christ’s life, death and resurrection has on our lives. Christ came, lived the love of God for us, and died in a final act of self-giving, self-sacrificing love and before, so that we could understand in ways that we could not before what it means for God to love us. God loved so much that God came to earth as the Son, Jesus Christ living amongst us, walking with us, living as we live, hurting as we hurt, struggling as we struggle, suffering as we suffer and showing us how in it all, we can live lives of love, lives of loving God and loving one another. The call of Christ is ultimately a call to not only love God but to love one another, which is exactly what Jesus is telling us in this passage.
Jesus’s reasoning seems pretty simple. God loves you, so you should love one another. At this point in his life, he has lived out almost the entirety of his life. This teaching is given to the disciples at the last supper Jesus shared with them. At this time more than any other, he is able to turn to them and say:
I have lived among you, I have shown you what it means to love with the love of God (and ultimately about to the extent to which I will go out of love for you), I have lived that love before you each and every day, and shared that love with you; love each other as I have loved you. As I am getting ready to leave that is my only command. Love one another. If you can’t be bothered to do this one thing then you are not my friends, you are not my disciples, you do not love me, you do not love God.
We begin with the love of God. God loves us, Jesus lived that love when he was here on this earth. By looking at his life, and seeing the way he loved his disciples, as well as each and every person he met we have an example of what it means to love each other as God loves.
Throughout his life and finally through his sacrificial death, Jesus showed us what it meant to love all. Jesus loved the sinful woman when she was brought before him and showed her compassion and grace. Jesus loved the blind, the lame, those suffering from all forms of aliments and he reached out in love to touch, to comfort, to teach and to heal. He loved the deformed, the sick, the dying, and he was moved to heal them. Jesus loved the little children, gathered them to himself, and used them as examples to those around him. Jesus loved his disciples, he taught them, shared with them and cared for them. He loved them when they showed they understood him and loved them even when they obviously did not. And Jesus tells those who follow him, who are called by his name (Christian) that we are to love another with the same kind of love, which he lived before us whilst he was here on this earth.
We are to love as Christ loved. We are to love one another; to or fellow Christians, to love all who call themselves by Christ’s name, to love those Christians with whom we have been called to live in community, our Church. To reach out to each person who belongs to US and treat them with the love, respect and compassion Jesus exemplified throughout his life here on earth.
Jesus’ examples show us what that love looks like and leaves nothing to our imagination, when it comes to exactly how far that love should go. If one truly loves another, a person is willing to lay down their life for the other. Willingness to give sacrificially of ourselves and our lives for one another is the mark of a disciple. We love as Christ loved and Jesus loved to reveal to us how very much God loves us, Jesus was not only theoretically willing to lay down his life so that we might understand the love God has for us, but he literally lays down his life so that we might know the love of God.
When we love someone thoroughly and deeply we are willing to give up what we hold dear, we are willing to share the dearest and most guarded parts of our lives, we willing to give all of ourselves to them. This is what it means to truly love and Jesus calls for his disciples, for us to love one another in this way; fully freely, giving, supporting, and giving up who we are for one another.
As Christians we live in relationship with one another, we are called to live in a faith community to be in relationship with God and with other Christians as part of a Church and as members of such we are to love one another. We are Christ’s disciples, we are his church, we live in community with one another, and we love one another, not simply because we like one another but because Christ calls us to, no he commands us to and clearly and unabashedly tells us that if we cannot be bothered to do simply love one another then we are not his friends, we are not his disciples, we are not Christians.
As Christians, we love God and we love each other. But why, not simply and only because Jesus commands us to (but that should be enough), but, Jesus tells us that people will know that we belong to Christ because of our love. Because of our love for each other, those around us will come to know the love of God through us. They will know God through us, in the love we have.
So the unspoken warning here, is that when we do not love, when people outside our church, outside of Christianity see something other than love for one another in us, then we are lying, lying about what it means for God to love, we are lying about what it means to be loved by God, lying about God. Too many people have come into a faith community, a Church, encountered Christians and instead of finding the one true God of the universe in them, experienced God’s love amongst them, encountered God through them, instead they encounter a lie. We cannot not love and still be Christians. We cannot live that lie, unless we want to live a lie, but not just a lie about who we are and what we believe, but about God’s love and who God is. None of us wants to be that kind of liar.
But Jesus tells us that our love is to extend beyond that. We are not only are we to love our “loved” ones, our mother, our father, our sisters, our brothers, our children, aunts, uncles and all those we call family. We are not to merely love those closest to us, the friends we hold dear. We are not simply called to love those who are in our church, fellow Christians who love God as we love God, who believe as we believe, who are sometimes more like us than even our family. No, God’s call to love extends far beyond that. We are called to love our neighbors, those who live in the world around us. But not only are we to love our neighbors, after all we at some level choose our neighbors, because we choose to live in the neighborhoods in which we live. We tend to live in neighborhoods with people who are similar to us. Because like people tend to congregate together, because people of similar socio-economic levels can afford to live in the same places. We, for these reasons and others, live among people we choose to live among. Christ does not call us to only love these who live near us, those who we choose, who live like us and are like us (not to mention that Jesus’ own example of a neighbor is not someone “like” us), but Christ calls us to love our enemies, and to do good (another way of saying love) to those who hate us. We are to love those who wish us harm, those who are our enemies. We are to love those who believe differently than us, who live differently than us. We are to love other disciples, we are to love our mother and father (Ten Commandments), we are to love our neighbor, that is any random stranger who comes across our path (parable of the Good Samaritan), and we are to love our enemy. I think that just about sums it up. Jesus in his parables and teachings tells us to love everybody. And it is so important that he makes sure to drive the point home at the very last meal he shares with his disciples.
Ok let’s be frank here. There are people we have a hard time loving. Let’s face it we act unloving to any number of people throughout our weeks; the clerk who seems to be too slow, or too disengaged from us and his job for our standards; the woman who cut us off in traffic or makes a left-hand turn from the right lane in front of us; the man asking for change out in the square, the kid hanging out on the street who “really should be in school right now”; that person who was mean to us (after all meanness justifies it right?). There are also groups of faceless people whom we disembody with labels so we can hold varying amounts of animosity toward; Republicans, Democrats (depending on which you are) or perhaps even both, prostitutes, homeless, hooligans or thugs, the Rich or the Poor, or perhaps we shine it up by saying those who are using the system, or those who use their wealth to disenfranchise others, politicians, lawyers, Jews, atheists, Muslims, the French, Canadians (nobody like Canadians!) and the list goes on.
It is plain, it is simple, if we are Christian, we are to love (period). So much of who we are, so much of what it means to be followers of Jesus Christ is grounded in love. First and foremost loving God, but then also loving others; beginning with loving those closest to us, those easiest to love, but then extending out from there to our church family, to those amongst whom we live, those who come across our paths as we go about our lives, but also those who wish us harm, those who hate us those whom we consider or might consider us enemies.
We are loved by God, we in turn love God and then we share that love with the world around us. And when those outside of us encounter the love we have, are faced with the love that we share, that we give and receive they will know the God whom we love. When someone outside of the Church, when someone who does not know Christ encounters us and encounters the love we have for each other, they are encountering God in our love. When we love others we are sharing the love of God, we are bearing witness to God, and we are being the people Jesus commands us to be. We live the truth of the incarnation, the truth of God with us, when we love, and we love not only those we want to love but we love everyone.
Let me tell you a story.
Kierkegaard’s Duck parable
There is a town where only ducks live. Every day, the ducks get up and they waddle to work. At the end of the day they waddle home. They waddle about their chores and all their daily tasks.
And the ducks just like us go to Church on Sundays.
Every Sunday the ducks waddle out of their houses and waddle down the main street to their church.
They waddle into the cathedral and squat in their pews.
The duck choir waddles in and sings great duck anthems, all the ducks join together and they sing their duck hymns and then the duck pastor waddles in and reads from the duck Bible.
He encourages them, “Ducks, God has given you wings! With these wings you can fly! With these wings you can rise up and soar like eagles! No walls can confine you, no fences can hold you. You have wings and you can fly like birds!”
All the ducks quack “Amen. Amen.”
And then they all get up from their pews and they waddle home.
We come here on Sundays and we can talk about loving, we can talk about how amazing it is that God loves us and we can talk about how we love each other and how we love our world but if, we go from here and do not love. Then we are ducks who like the idea of flying but waddle about their lives.
Love is the wings, which we have that allow us to fly. Ducks were made to fly, we were made to love. To live as we were created to live, to be the people God created us to be is to be people who love and who live lives of love.
Kazimiera Fraley, Lead Pastor of Cambridge First Church of the Nazarene, Cambridge, Massachusetts