Dear Working Preachers, so much in this passage on which to preach! Joy, love one another, laying down your life for your friends, I chose you, bear fruit, ask in my name. All of which are a sermon all on their own. You might need to preach one of these sermons instead of what I was drawn to. Go for it. You know what your congregation needs to hear.
But for me this week? I need…abide in my love. I need that these days, so very much. Maybe it’s the end of the semester catching up with me. Maybe it’s anticipating my oldest child making a college decision. Maybe it’s accompanying friends in challenging times. Maybe it’s spending a few days with leaders in the church trying to figure out the when, how, where, and why about biblical authority around hot button issues. Or maybe I don’t need a reason. And do we ever?
It’s so easy to pass up such a simple invitation. Abide in my love. And yet, we do. Because we construct expectations for said love. As if Jesus didn’t mean it. As if Jesus had requirements in mind. As if Jesus set out certain criteria for loving and being loved.
It’s so simple. And yet so very complicated, isn’t it? Basically, we distrust the truth of love. We suspect its simplicity. And as a result, we reject the very gift, the very compassion, the very love we need.
We need love. We need to be loved. We need to feel love. We need to express love. I believe that is at the heart of what it means to be human. And I believe that’s why God made us, approached us, and chooses to be in relationship with us.
Were it not for love, why would God do what God does? And were it not for love, why do we do what we do? Why do we choose to enter into a relationship? Why do we choose to have children? Why do we maintain friendships? Why do we do everything in our power to take care of our parents? Why are we pastors and preachers?
Were it not for the sake of love, I wonder where we would be. How often we need remembrances of love. Why can’t we remember?
I suspect it has something to do with unworthiness or rejection. Those times in our pasts or even in our presents when why we should be loved, deserve love, seem to be on the table for discussion. When our personal machinations that seek to secure our qualifications for love have taken over our ability to hear or experience an expression of love. When we have self-determined a sentence to spaces and places where love is less deserving.
And lest we think this is kind of a routine sort of Jesus reminder, stop and think about those persons, whom you’ve known in your life, who are devoid of such love. Who exist, speak, and act without a sense of what it means to love. Who seem to move about in the world as if love does not matter, and if it does, it’s only for the self.
To be honest, I feel sad for them. Why? Because love is clearly neither at the heart of what they do nor at the heart of who they are. They exhibit, most clearly, a different center. A different way of being. A different “at-stake-ness” that demonstratively marginalizes love for the other so as to choose a self-love. A love solely bent toward a kind of love that eschews sacrifice and compromise. That insists on right and wrong. That seeks to determine who’s in and who’s out. That has decided that judgment is a right and mercy is merely God’s last act.
And when loves end, when loves change, when loves move into different realities, different stages? There’s the heartache, even when it’s supposed to happen. And that is exactly what Jesus is saying in these verses. “You know how I have loved you these last three years, these last hours. Hold on, friends. Yes, everything is about to change and yet nothing will.”
Abide in my love. No tests. No achievements. No competition. No judgment. No self-improvement projects. No answers. No anything that you think, you imagine, you decide, would preclude you from God’s love.
So, can we just stop with it all and lean into Jesus’ invitation? Can we then be that invitation for others? None of which is able to predetermine response or secure our own evaluation of whom God loves. Just abide in love. Together. Mutually. Communally.
That is what I am thinking about this week. That I am holding in my heart because I am taking Jesus’ words to heart. Because without abiding in Jesus’ love, our changing loves are too much to bear on our own.