Sunday, May 19, 2019. Rev. Annamarie Groenenboom and Kiley Mabus, preaching
Scripture Readings: Psalm 148; John 13:31-35
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Rev. Annamarie Groenenboom
I love tacos. I love the University of Michigan. I love my husband, Mitch. I love all things Harry Potter. I love all of these things not necessarily in that order and I’ve said that I love these things throughout my whole life. As I was eating dinner with Kiley Mabus and Emma Gamble the other night we noticed that we tend to use the word “love” a lot. Maybe even too much. Today, we often get “loving” something and “liking” something confused. The idea of love gets watered down so much that it’s taken for granted.
Our Scripture passage for today makes us think a little deeper about love. At this point in the Gospel of John, Jesus is celebrating the last supper with his friends. He has just washed their feet and given them this amazing example of servanthood and love for one another.
Judas has “gone out” as the scripture says to betray Jesus. Jesus knows this will be the last meal with his friends. These are the last moments that Jesus has with his friends. The last moments that he can eat, speak, and have fellowship with them before he dies.
Jesus knows that his friends are about to experience the greatest devastation of their lives when he leaves them. And, Jesus uses these precious final moments not to give another parable, another story, another sermon. Instead, he gives a straightforward commandment. And with his final words, he gives the disciples a new commandment: That you love one another, just as I have loved you. For others will know that you are my followers by your love for one another.
Jesus doesn’t command them to remain doctrinally or personally pure. He doesn’t command them to read their Bibles every day or memorize the PC (USA) Book of Order. He commands them simply to love.
Love is such a broad word and could mean any number of things. There are at least four different words for love in Greek. A key to discovering what this new commandment means is looking at the original Greek. Many of you have probably heard this word before. I know that our Confirmands certainly have these past several weeks. The Greek word that Jesus uses here is “agape.” Jesus commands his disciples to “agape” one another.
Agape is often considered the highest form of love. It is a self-sacrificing love. A love that is steadfast and unconditional. Agape encompasses every type of self -giving love from everyday acts to ultimate sacrifices. It is the love that Jesus himself demonstrated throughout his life. Jesus ate with the outcasts, healed the sick, and became a servant as he washed his disciple’s feet. His ultimate act of agape love was his sacrifice on the cross. And Jesus does all of this unconditionally and expecting nothing in return.
This steadfast, never ending, self-sacrificing love is the type of love that Jesus had for his disciples and us. This is the type of love he wants us to share with others. Agape is what will distinguish us as Jesus disciples.
The concept of love and this idea of “loving one another” that Annamarie just explained can be interpreted differently by everyone. However, I think there is one aspect of this love that I’m sure we can all agree on: it is hard. It is hard to love everyone. It’s hard to love our enemies, strangers, even our friends and family sometimes. There’s always going to be people we don’t really like and prefer not to be around…and it is very difficult to show this unconditional love to someone who has only shown hatred towards us.
As a teenager I see a lot of hatred in the halls at school and ESPECIALLY online. Bullying is still very relevant at our age all the way from those in elementary school through senior year. However I don’t see as much the physical abuse like being shoved in the halls or having their lunch money being stolen, but more of the mental and emotional abuse that goes on behind the scenes. Rumors being spread, judgement of people expressing who they are, or reading mean comments about them online. Their self-confidence and admiration is being destroyed from others hateful words. That fear people experience everyday makes it very hard to love their neighbors because of how hurt they are from that emotional abuse. Also, the fear of not having that love reciprocated is largely impactful on how we then treat others.
One of the biggest reasons why love is so hard to express is because in this day in age, we think a lot about ourselves. Putting in the time and effort into our jam packed day seems impossible. Especially in this area, we are all swamped with our jobs, meetings, family; and for the youth we have school every day and on top of that tons of homework and studying, extra- curricular activities, and don’t forget the recommended 8-10 hours of sleep we are supposed to be getting every night. It is hard to find the time to show this unconditional love, and therefore we end up only doing it when it’s convenient for us…when it in fact it should be the opposite.
So if it’s so hard, why do we still need to do it? Well, the simple response is because God calls us to. These were Jesus’s final words to the disciples and the final commandment he gives us. Abiding by this 11th commandment can strengthen our relationship and connect us closer to God. We were all taught as kids to treat others the way we would want to be treated, and not just because we know it feels bad when we aren’t treating fairly, but because God calls us too.
Although, I don’t think we should just love each other because we were told to by God. Yes that is a good reason, but we also need to find that intrinsic motivation to love one another. For me, I try to focus more on that overwhelming feeling of happiness and satisfaction after making someone’s day better. Knowing I made a difference in someone else’s life creates this warm feeling inside of me and gives me the motivation to continue sharing this love to next person and the next and the next. The hope that maybe even a little joy in someone’s day will then give them the confidence to share their love to someone else. Just with one person in a classroom, or an office, or at home, they can spread their love to a couple people, then each of those people will spread it to a few more and soon we get this ripple effect of unconditional love. Of course the hardest part is stepping up and being the rock, thrown into the pond to start the ripple. As God’s disciples, I invite you to be that rock, no matter if you think others will follow in your footsteps or not, and to find that warm feeling inside of you that will help you continue sharing your love with everyone else.
Now the important part, what can each one of us do in order to show this love? The first thing that comes to mind for me is volunteering: giving our time and effort to those who need it most. Specifically for me, SMP is a huge part of my life that brings me joy because of the time and effort we put in to helping improve the lives of others through God’s work.
But love isn’t just shown through grand gestures we do for others. Honestly, the little things in life are just as important, if not more. Saying hello, or remembering people’s names, or even just smiling at someone can do way more for them than you may think. Sometimes we forget simply listening to others problems is a great way to share your love for them. It shows how much you care about their life and you wish only positivity and happiness.
Affirming each other’s gifts is also a great way to show love towards others. Supporting and believing in others ideas, skills, and dreams will help them achieve their aspirations faster and more confidently. Sometimes it’s hard for others to find the gift God has given them. It’s up to us to help them find that spiritual gift and let it shine through them. We can recognize their talents and create a safe environment for them to feel welcome and loved, so they can grow into the person God created them to be. As a friend, family member, or stranger, we can walk with them through each step of discovering their purpose. This will show how much we love them. So, if you are ever stuck and catch yourself not sharing as much love as you can or having a hard time figuring out how, just think back to a simpler time and remember that rule we were all taught as kids: treat others the way we want to be treated.
Now, love is a mixture of many things and can be categorized in so many ways. However understanding what Jesus means when he tells us to love one another is important when we are disciples of God. Showing each other love through volunteer work and heavy lifting jobs are great, but we need to remember that little smile to a stranger on the street can be just as impactful. Also, we can’t wait for our classmate or co-worker to say “Hi” to us first in the morning. I, again, invite you to be that rock thrown into the pond first and say “hello,” only hoping others will follow in our footsteps. I know it can be hard sometimes, but I believe if we all share our unconditional love to one another, we will be sharing God’s love, and joy along with it.