Page last updated



By Our Love
John 15:9-17
Brad Hall

There’s an old anecdote that makes its way around ministers’ circles from time to time. A new preacher begins his stint at a new church. And he preaches a pretty good first sermon. The next week, a few people notice that THIS week’s sermon sounds an awful lot like LAST week’s sermon. The next week, SEVERAL people notice that this sermon sounds a lot like the last couple of weeks, and by the NEXT week, everybody is certain that, yes, the preacher has been preaching the same sermon for the last four weeks. So finally somebody brings it up to the new preacher and he says, “Well, I figured I wouldn’t get a new sermon until you did what I told you to do in the first one.”

I don’t have the nerve to pull a stunt like that. But I imagine you will hear some things in this sermon that sound sort of familiar. There’s a good reason for that. We are covering ground we have covered before, and for good reason. In our Gospel today we hear Jesus speak, and no matter how many times you have heard it, one word still jumps out and kicks us in the head like a steel-toed boot. It does me, anyway: This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. A COMMANDMENT.

It is something that we have a right to feel uncomfortable and puzzled about, I think. In this world, in this life, LOVE is usually considered something expendable, insubstantial, disposable, and recreational. Sure, we may take it seriously when somebody is getting married, or where kids are involved, or something like that, but where life with other adults is concerned, especially if we’re not under the same roof or in the same family, it really doesn’t matter to us.

But Jesus seems to be insisting that, if we are going to take “Thou shalt not murder,” seriously, or “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Then we MUST take seriously, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Does that bother you as badly as it bothers me? Because, I have to tell you, I know from bitter experience that to love as Christ would have us love is harder than keeping from murdering somebody. It is harder than avoiding stealing. I have left most of the Ten Commandments intact, but that commandment to love one another I shatter about fifty times a week.

Keeping the commandment to love is so hard because the temptations not to love are great, and the penalties for not loving are small. Be honest here: When you stop at a red light and no one else is there, and you wait for it to turn green rather than driving on through, do you do it because you are looking out for the common good of all motorists? Or do you do it because there might be a cop hiding somewhere? And by the way, I can tell you from more bitter experience, you would be surprised how well cops can hide.

Most of us do not practice the love of Christ, and it seems not to matter because the world doesn’t really care whether we love anybody or not. Love your neighbor, Jesus says. Well fine. If you MURDER, your neighbor, you will probably get caught and have to do time in jail. If you BEAR FALSE WITNESS against your neighbor, you may get hauled before the grand jury for purjury. If you commit adultery with your neighbor or your neighbor’s spouse, you might get taken for everything you have in divorce court.

But if you don’t LOVE your neighbor? Who cares? The government doesn’t care. The courts don’t care. The newsmedia don’t care. Even the lawyers who advertise on teevee don’t care. How’s anybody even going to know? Heck, plenty of marriages do just fine without love, why is Jesus getting so upset about us not loving our NEIGHBORS, for crying out loud?

Because love is the one true unique power that God has given us in our struggles to win the world to Christ. Here’s where we say, “Now wait a minute! Sure it works for Jesus, but I mean after all, Jesus is Jesus! The Son of God and all! It’s easy for Jesus to say all this.

“I bet nobody ever cut Jesus off when He was trying to merge onto Memorial Parkway. I bet nobody ever charged Jesus a fifteen dollar late fee because the bank goofed up his electronic payment to Huntsville Utilities, so now he has to photocopy the bill and take it down to the Five Points branch and try to get them to pay the late fee instead of him.” See some of this business is fresh on my mind.

Well maybe not, but Jesus means it anyway, and he tells us, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

So maybe we REALLY SHOULD take Jesus seriously on this one. Maybe Jesus really did mean that love is not just for friends, and not just for the people we call our loved ones, but for THE WHOLE WORLD. It’s for the people who cut us off in traffic. It’s for the kid screaming in the next booth over at your favorite restaurant. It’s for the cop who catches you running a red light. It’s even for the electric company and the people who mess up the drafts at your bank.

The love that Christ gave to us is the love that we are to to give to EVERYBODY. And he was not just making a suggestion. If we believe it is appropriate to confess the sin of murder or adultery or lying or stealing before God, then we had better be confessing our failure to love one another, as well.

God’s love worked for Peter. He and the other disciples were wanting to baptize Gentiles, but since Jesus and all the other diciples were Jewish, the Jewish authorities weren’t going to allow it. In the end though, even the most rock-ribbed authorities could not deny that the holy spirit was on those scummy Gentiles as well as all the good Jewish folk, and nobody could deny that they were just as worthy of baptism as anybody.

There is plenty for us to condemn in the world, and plenty to make us angry -- political corruption, promiscuity, profanity, blasphemy, lewdness, failures, insults, indignities and just plain problems. You name it, we got it.

But the record from Acts seems to show that Christians make their greatest strides for the church when we overcome our willingness to condemn, and our desire to harm those who have harmed us. It is only then that we can welcome sinful outsiders as brothers and sisters in the love of Christ. And, as the hymn goes, they will know we are Christians, not by our condemnation, not by our might, not by our savvy, they will know we are Christians by our love.