TITLE: Love Knoweth No Law SCRIPTURE: John 13:31-35
Jesus gave us a new commandment. He commanded us to love one another. That is a tough commandment. Anytime you get a group of people together, there will be disagreements; there will be frictions; there will be personality clashes; there will be problems. Unfortunately, that is true even in churches.
It is true in this church. We have our disagreements. Some people want to do it this way, and others want to do it that way. Some people want to spend money, and others want to save it. Some people want to place the emphasis here, and others want to place it there. Some people are very, very sensitive and have to be handled with kid gloves. Some people just drive other people crazy.
How can Jesus come into an environment like that and command us to love one another? He might suggest that we love one another. Better yet, he might suggest that we try to love one another. Even better, he might suggest that we have a goal of loving each other a little more each year. But it seems unrealistic for him to command us to love one another.
I am reminded of a Peanuts cartoon. Lucy says to Charlie Brown: "You know what I don't understand? I don't understand love!"
Charlie says, "Who does?"
She says, "Explain love to me, Charlie Brown."
He says, "You can't explain love. I can recommend a book or a poem or a painting, but I can't explain love."
She says, "Well, try, Charlie Brown, try."
So Charlie says, "Well, let's say I see this beautiful, cute little girl walk by."
Lucy interrupts –– "Why does she have to be cute? Huh? Why can't someone fall in love with someone with freckles and a big nose? Explain that!"
Charlie says, "Well, maybe you are right. Let's just say I see this girl walk by with this great big nose.... "
Lucy shouts, "I didn't say GREAT BIG NOSE."
And Charlie, admitting defeat, says, "Not only can you not explain love –– you can't even talk about it."
Love isn't easy. It isn't easy to get it right. In another Peanuts cartoon, Lucy is talking to Schroeder, who is highly focused on playing his piano. Ignoring his concentration, Lucy says, "Schroeder, do you know what love is?"
Schroeder stops his practicing, stands to attention, and in very somber, straightforward tones says:
Love: Noun, to be fond of,
a strong affection for or attachment
or devotion to a person or persons.
Then he quickly reassumes his position over the keyboard.
Lucy gazes into space. Then she says, "On paper, he's great."
That is true of most of us, isn't it! On paper, we're great! But in real life, we have bad breath. In real life, we say the wrong thing. In real life, we blow up over nothing at all.
And Jesus comes into this very messy picture, saying, "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another." Not easy!
But it depends on what Jesus means by love. What does he mean when he tells us to love one another? After all, the word "love" is used in many ways. It has many different meanings.
Next Sunday we will celebrate Mother's Day. Mothers probably know more about love than anyone. A mother's love is special, isn't it! Most of us remember our mother's love as the most important influence of our childhood. Mothers love tenderly. A child with a scraped knee or a broken heart is likely to go to mom for comfort. You can't count on dads. Sometimes dads say, "Get tough! Suck it up!" Moms are more dependable when we need sympathy.
Mothers tend to be gentler than fathers, but they can love ferociously too. Don't ever stand between a mother bear and her cub. The mother who thinks that you are a threat to her children can turn deadly in a heartbeat. Mothers love tenderly, and they love ferociously.
But there are other kinds of love. We speak of a young man and a young woman as being "in love." What does that mean? Sometimes it means a deep, passionate relationship that has the potential to undergird a lifelong marriage –– "in sickness as in health, in adversity as in prosperity, until death do we part." Sometimes love means very little. Sometimes it just means his excitement over the curve of her waist or her excitement over his muscular build.
People talk of "making love." What does that mean? Sometimes, it means nothing at all. I recall a story some years ago of a young woman who asked a pastor for help identifying the soldier who had gotten her pregnant. She didn't know his name. She just remembered that he drove a red Chevrolet. How can "love" mean less than that?
But Jesus doesn't let the word "love" melt into a soggy mush. He commands us to love, and then he tells us what that means. He says:
"I give you a new commandment,
that you love one another.
Just as I have loved you,
you also should love one another."
Jesus calls us to love "as I have loved you." How did Jesus love us? Listen to this passage from Paul's letter to the Philippians. It does not use the word "love," but it clearly describes what God's love –– Christ's love –– looks like. Paul says:
"Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death ––
even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:5-8)
John put it this way in the most famous verse in the Bible:
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not perish
but may have eternal life" (John 3:16).
So, when Jesus tells us to love one another:
–– He is telling us to make sacrifices in behalf of each other.
–– He is telling us to take care of each other, even at great cost to ourselves.
–– He is telling us to think less of ourselves and more of the other person.
–– He is telling us to act loving, even if we don't feel loving.
Love, for us, is a feeling. How can Jesus command us to feel love? How can we control our feelings? But love, for Jesus, was an action –– not a feeling –– and that is very different. We might not be able to feel warm and fuzzy things for other people, but we can act in kind and loving ways toward them.
Consider the time that Jesus told his disciples to love their enemies. This commandment is found in three places. In each instance, Jesus tells us to love our enemies, and then he tells us the action –– not the feeling –– that is required. Listen carefully.
In the first instance he says, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44).
In the second instance he says, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you" (Luke 6:27).
In the third instance he says, "Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return" (Luke 6:35).
Jesus makes it very clear that, regardless of our feelings, we can act in loving ways toward each other –– and that fulfills the requirement. The interesting thing is that, when we act in loving ways, our feelings of love grow too.
And our acts of love make a difference. Frederick Buechner, a Christian author, tells of walking down a New York City street. Near Columbus Circle, he walked past a middle-aged black woman. As they passed, she smiled at Buechner and said, "Jesus loves you!"
I have never lived in New York City, but I can tell you that New Yorkers do not usually smile at strangers and say, "Jesus loves you!" Mostly they ignore you. They have learned that they can have privacy, even in the middle of a crowd, if they just ignore everyone. And they have learned that it can be dangerous to speak to strangers. If you collapse on a New York City street, dozens of people will walk around you before anyone stops to help. New Yorkers ignore other people –– big time.
But this woman smiled at Buechner and said, "Jesus loves you!" in the same tone that most of us use to say, "Good morning!" She caught Buechner off-guard. When he realized what she had said, he wanted to respond. He wanted to thank her. He wanted to say, "Hey! Jesus loves you too!" But by the time he recovered, she was gone.
But that wasn't the end of the story. Buechner says:
"For the rest of the way I was going,
the streets I walked on were paved with gold.
Nothing was different.
Everything was different.
The city was transfigured.
I was transfigured.
It was a new New York….
For a moment it was not the world as it is that I saw,
but the world as it might be"
When she spoke to Buechner, the woman changed his world. She did something else, too. She identified herself as a Christian –– and in a lovely way! When she smiled and said, "Jesus loves you," Buechner knew that she was a kindred spirit –– a fellow Christian –– a sister in Christ. On that New York street, so full of people and yet so devoid of humanity, Buechner felt good to meet someone, however briefly, with whom he shared something important –– something spiritual.
Jesus said, "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another." Then he said, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." That happened when this woman said, "Jesus loves you."
One of the things that can draw people to this church is our love for each other. We do have differences, and we do irritate each other. But we also love each other. And when we love each other, we show people that we are Christ's disciples –– and we draw people to Christ. When we love each other, people see Christ in us and learn to love him too.
Jesus gave us a new commandment –– a new law –– that we should love one another. But I entitled this sermon "Love Knoweth No Law," John Lyly, a 16th Century English writer, said that. I thought that was an interesting contrast. Jesus gave us a law to love, and John Lyly said that "love knoweth no law." Was Lyly suggesting that Jesus was wrong.
I think not. I think that Lyly was suggesting that, when we obey Jesus' commandment to love, we no longer require laws to guide us. Once we love each other, we don't need a law which tells us to walk a mile with the other person. Once we love each other, we will walk with each other mile after mile after mile for the pleasure of it. Love charts our direction, and love gives us energy. Jesus said,
"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.
Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another."
Brothers and sisters, for the sake of Christ, let us obey Christ –– let us obey the law of love –– let us love one another.