Love is our Home
A sermon on John 15:9-17
[for an audio recording of this sermon, click here. Photo by
Nicolas Weldingh on Unsplash].
In last Sunday’s forum we worked together to complete a community assessment for Abiding Peace in preparation for engaging the Reconciling in Christ process. One of the questions related to what core theological premise our congregation affirms, and we easily agreed on our answer: “God is love.”
It was an easy conclusion because… who is going to disagree with that statement?! Even when our individual ideas about God and salvation vary, we can agree that God is love. But as I tried to study this week’s texts, it struck me that what we mean by “love,” is a bit more complicated than we might first think.
We get so many diverse comments about love crammed into just a few short readings:
· the familial love of parent for child and child for parent;
· love expressed as command and demonstrated through obedience;
· love that is experienced as freedom and victory, rather than as burden and obligation;
· love that gives us access to joy and transforms us from servants to friends;
· love that chooses us, and appoints us, and bears fruit in us;
· and, of course, the zinger: love that calls us to down our lives for another.
Each of these claims is a powerful and identity-shaping teaching on its own… but they are a bit overwhelming taken all at once. Each one of them could birth a sermon, but the cumulative effect is, perhaps, less than the sum of the parts. It feels a bit like someone offering to teach you what a ball is by putting you in the middle of a game of dodge ball. You’ll see a lot of balls, but the balls will be coming at you from so many angles you aren’t able to get much of a chance to examine them before they hit you in the head.
In an effort to find a starting point from which to unravel the powerful but tangled teachings about love in these readings, I turned to a trusted resource: Theologian Frederick Buechner’s book Wishful Thinking, which offers brief, thoughtful descriptions of words from the lexicon of God-talk.
Here’s how his entry on “Love” begins:
“The first stage is to believe that there is only one kind of love. The middle stage is to believe that there are many kinds of love and that the Greeks had a different word for each of them. The last stage is to believe that there is only one kind of love.”
Only one kind of love. Is that the key to understanding the flood of analogies and lessons from today’s gospel and epistle readings? Are they all the same thing? Are the love of God for Christ, and for us, and our love for God, and our love for each other, and the fruits of that love in our lives all – ultimately – the same thing? Is there only one kind of love?
Perhaps. The idea does offer a kind of coherence to what Jesus is teaching his followers, an explanation of why he intertwines the repeated command to love each other with descriptions of his relationship with God and the revelation of our new identity as his friends. Maybe he wants us to understand that these ideas are not just intertwined, but indivisible… elements of one essential reality.
And maybe that’s why Jesus calls us to “abide” in his love.
It’s rather a strange instruction, if you think about it. To abide means to make your home in something. Jesus is telling us to make his love our abode – the place we live, our anchor-point to which we always return. It’s strange because we generally think of love as a feeling, or if not that then love is a commitment, a way of acting. Love is not a place to live.
But what if it is? What if this is our key to understanding the unity of all the different ways that love is described in these readings. Maybe we need to think about love as our home.
So, let’s think about it. How can love be our home?
Well, a home needs a strong foundation on which everything else is built, something that is permanent and immovable to provide stability for the structure. In today’s gospel, Jesus gives us a foundational identity: we are his friends. We are not servants in a contractual relationship that makes our status dependent on our performance or our master’s pleasure. We are friends, who have been invited into the fullness of the life and work Christ received from the Father. We have been chosen and appointed for this work. This is WHO WE ARE. Our immovable identity. All that we do in Christ, in living lives of love, is built on this strong foundation.
A home also needs walls to offer structure and security, clear definitions of what is inside and what is out. And today’s gospel offers us a clear, repeated definition of what is expected of us: a delineation of what is in and what is out in the way that we live out our identity. We are commanded to love one another. To understand that our behavior towards others is defined by our foundational identity. We are chosen as Christ’s friends, called into the work he shares with us, and that means that we treat others the way that he treated us.
And, of course, a home has a roof. It offers shelter from the variations of the circumstances – the weather – of the world. So how does love shelter us? Love can hardly prevent the storms, or winds, or burning sun of the different seasons of our lives. But a roof doesn’t change the weather either, rather, it keeps the weather from invading our homes. It gives us a secure place to shelter when the rain is pouring down outside. And I think that’s how Christ’s promised joy works in our lives. Joy is different than happiness. It’s not a response to our circumstances; it is the state of our souls. Jesus invites us to abide – to live – in his love, “so that our joy may be complete.” When love is our home, his joy protects us, whatever the weather of our lives.
There’s one more thing that is necessary for a home. So far, I have described the essential components of a house, not a home. In order for a house to become a home, it needs welcome. And this is where the power of the idea of abiding in Christ’s love really shows itself… because when Jesus invites us to live inside his love, he is also inviting us to rethink what it means to be home.
This is not a home that WE can own. It is not ours in the sense of possession – with whatever status or rights that might entail. It is ours in the sense of belonging, because we have been welcomed in.
And because of that, it is not a place for personal retreat where we can withdraw from the demands of the world or the needs of those around us. To find our home in Christ’s love calls us into relationship, not into separation.
And this requires us to release any inclination we might have to set the rules around what, or who, is allowed in this home. That’s the point of the reading from Acts today: God Spirit throws wide the doors to a group of outsiders, and once that happens Peter recognizes the call to welcome them in. For the early church, ethnic differences were the challenge for sharing the house, but for us it might be something different. If we are used to thinking of God’s house as a place you have to remove your shoes at the door and keep everything clean, we might be offended when someone else tramps their dirty boots across the carpet. But when we live in love, we let go of our concern about other peoples’ dirty feet.
Which is not to say that love never rebukes or corrects. In the final section of Buechner’s entry for Love in Wishful thinking, he writes, “When Jesus talked to the Pharisees, he didn’t say, ‘There, there. Everything’s going to be all right.’ He said, ‘You brood of vipers! how can you speak good when you are evil!’ (Matthew 12:34). And he said that to them because he loved them.”
Living in Christ’s love will sometimes mean hearing things that are hard to hear – things that push us to shift our thinking or our behavior… or even to “give up our lives for one another.” That’s the part for which we really need an explanation isn’t it? Because how can love demand our lives from us Professor Gennifer Benjamin Brooks offers a perspective on this instruction that completes our understanding of what it means to “abide in love” along with others who are very different from us.
She asks, “what does it take to set aside all that one believes about others, to set aside the prejudices that prevent or stifle friendship, in order to join others in being truly the Body of Christ? What would it take to set aside even for a moment the familiar and the cherished,… in order to stand in for another, especially someone different, perhaps even someone on the margins? That might well be a form of laying down one’s life….”
Ultimately, I think this is the wholeness of the love in which Christ calls us to abide. The love that gives us an identity, and structure, and joy, and welcome, and also gives us a charge to welcome others into the same love.
Loving others as Christ loves us means loving them enough to live with them – sharing space, being challenged, and discovering the completeness of joy that comes from finding our home - together - in the uncompromising love of Christ.
Thanks be to God
 Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC, New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1993, p. 64.  https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/sixth-sunday-of-easter-2/commentary-on-john-159-17-5