TITLE: Unsafe love SCRIPTURE: John 13:31-35
"I give you a new commandment,
that you love one another.
Just as I have loved you,
you also should love one another."
Jesus was speaking to his disciples. He was calling them to love one another -- calling us to love one another. Elsewhere, he called us to love our neighbor and our enemy, but here he calls us to love each other -- to love other Christians -- to love the people sitting near us in the pews today.
At first blush, that seems easy enough. If you have been here long enough to get acquainted, you know people whom you find it easy to love. If you glance around the congregation, you see people for whom you have genuine affection. That makes sense! You expect to meet nice people in church, and we have some very nice people here this evening. In such company, "Love one another" doesn't seem all that difficult.
Until you get involved! If you just sit in the pew on Sunday morning and enjoy light conversation at coffee hour, you will find people whom you meet here to be quite pleasant. But, once you get involved, that won't always be the case.
Polite conversation over a cup of coffee is one thing. Working together in the trenches is another. As long as we can avoid talking about politics and religion -- in other words, as long as we can avoid talking about anything important -- we can scarcely offend or be offended:
"Good morning, how are you today?"
"I'm fine, thank you -- and you?"
"I'm fine, too! Nice day, isn't it?"
"Lovely, do you think we'll finally get some rain this week?"
"Well, you never can tell. You know what they say around here. If you don't like the weather, just wait awhile."
Safe conversation! There is something to be said for safe conversation. It gives us an opportunity to interact with other people without stepping on anyone's toes. It allows us to enjoy and to be enjoyed. It gives us a chance to get acquainted, at least at a surface level. It is a place to start.
But life would be boring if that were all the further our conversations could go. We enjoy superficial conversation, but we also feel a need for something deeper -- for sharing feelings and values -- for talking about things that really matter.
There is risk in that. There is risk in unsafe conversation. There is risk in unsafe love. Some time ago, a friend whose politics are opposite mine made a remark that I couldn't let pass. My temper got the better of me, and I said some things that I regret. Unsafe conversation! Unsafe love!
Jesus said, "Love one another!" Sometimes it isn't easy!
But, if unsafe conversation has the potential to injure, it also has the potential to heal. Some time back, I greeted a woman -- a woman I don't know well. I said, "Good morning! How are you today?" She said, "Well, I am all right now."
"Well, I am all right now." That was almost the expected response, but not quite. I expected, "I am all right. How about yourself?" Instead, she said, "Well, I am all right now."
She was saying more than she was saying. "I am all right now!" meant that she was NOT all right, but is better now -- but you have to be listening, or you would miss it. There have been times in my life when I would have missed it -- wouldn't have noticed -- would have just said, "Glad to hear it!" and kept walking. Frankly, there are times when we don't have the time or emotional energy to go deeper with someone. In those cases, it is probably best to say, "Glad to hear it!" and keep walking.
But, on this occasion, I said, "You're all right now. Has something been wrong?" That was all it took. Something had been wrong, and she needed to talk about it. A dear friend had died suddenly, and that had knocked her to her knees. Her grief had overwhelmed her. With the help of time and friends, she got through it, but it was tough. She wanted me to know that she had suffered, but was finally on the mend. It helped her to talk about what was really important. Unsafe conversation -- but, in this case, healing conversation.
Jesus said, "Love one another!" Sometimes love just requires listening -- caring. But sometimes it can be much more costly.
William Manchester, the historian who is, perhaps, best know for his book about J.F.K., but more recently known for his books about Churchill, was once a Marine. During World War II, he served in the Pacific Theater, and was wounded at Okinawa -- received one of those "million dollar wounds" that we used to hear about -- a wound serious enough to keep you out of combat but not serious enough to kill you. As his buddies continued to fight and die, Manchester found himself in the rear -- in a hospital -- safe. He couldn't take it. He slipped out of the hospital, and made his way to Sugar Loaf Hill -- wounds and all -- made his way back to his friends.
It took him half a lifetime to understand why he had done that. When he finally figured it out, he wrote about it. He said:
"I understand, at last, why I jumped hospital that long-ago Sunday
and, in violation of orders, returned to the front and almost certain death.
It was an act of love.
Those men on the line were my family, my home.
They were closer to me than I can say,
closer than any friends had been or ever would be.
They were comrades;
three of them had saved my life.
They had never let me down, and I couldn't do it to them.
I had to be with them, rather than let them die
and me live with the knowledge that I might have saved them."
Jesus calls us to love one another as he loved us. That was what Manchester was doing when he rejoined his friends on Sugar Loaf Hill. Love required him to leave his safe hospital bed and to risk death or worse.
Jesus says, "Love one another." He was speaking to his disciples -- telling them to love the other disciples. He wasn't calling them to feel affection, but to act in loving ways. We might not always be able to feel affection for another person, but we can always act kindly toward them.
Jesus says, "Love one another." He is speaking to us -- telling us to love other Christians -- to act kindly toward other Christians. Sometimes that is easy. Sometimes it is not.
When Jesus calls us to love one another, he is calling us to love the sweet person who brought the flowers for the altar -- but he is also calling us to love the person who wounded us with their sharp tongue.
When Jesus calls us to love one another, he is calling us to love the nice folk with whom we talk at coffee hour -- but he is also calling us to love the person who opposes our pet project -- who blocks the realization of our dream.
When Jesus calls us to love one another, he is calling us to love our Sunday school teacher -- but he is also calling us to love the person who slanders us behind our back.
When Jesus calls us to love one another, he is calling us to love the kindly old person who reaches down into an almost empty pocketbook to find a dollar to help the poor -- but he is also calling us to love the old geezer who dangles his money tantalizingly just out of reach in an attempt to force us to do his will.
When Jesus calls us to love one another, he is calling us to love the soprano who graces the church with lovely song -- but he is also calling us to love the person who is afflicted with constipation of the brain and diarrhea of the mouth.
When Jesus calls us to love one another, he is calling us to love the kid who works hard and gets good grades -- but he is also calling us to love the kid who smokes joints behind the church building.
When Jesus calls us to love one another, he is calling us to bear witness -- to show the world to what he has done for us. He says:
"By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another."
"Love one another," Jesus says. It is more than a saying -- it is a commandment -- an order. "Love one another." It is the way that we spread faith in Christ. People can ignore almost anything we say, but they cannot ignore our love.
Who is Christ calling you to love today? What is he calling you to do about it?