Summary: Our love of God, if deep and true, must needs exclude--and therefore hate--all things that draw us away
“Love, love, love, love. Christian hear this is your call. Love your neighbor as yourself, for God loves us all.” Christians hear a lot about love. Today’s New Testament and Gospel readings are the standard texts on love, maybe throw in John 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 13, and you’re done. So today, in light of the wonderful scriptures that we have on this topic, I would like to speak to you about love…and hate. First love.
As the Father loves the Son, so the Son loves us. The Son obeys the Father’s commands and thereby remains in his love; we obey the Son’s commands and thereby remain in his love. When we remain in Jesus’ love, his joy is in us and our joy is complete. He’s chosen and appointed to bear eternal fruit. That’s it. Let’s go home.
How do we do this? We love each other as Jesus loved us. Jesus said that the greatest love is to lay down your life for your friends. We are Jesus’ friends; we are no longer servants. Not that being a servant of God is a horrible destiny. We are not like Lucifer who, as Milton wrote, said:
“Here at least /
we shall be free, th’ Almighty hath not built /
here for his envy, will not drive us hence: /
Here we may reign secure, and in my choice /
to reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n.” (Paradise Lost, I).
Serving God is a high and lofty calling, one which we do not spurn. Isaiah speaks of the Servant of the Lord in four songs, in which the Servant (i.e., Christ) is the true Israelite whom God upholds and in whom he delights. Yet Jesus says to his disciples and, through them, to us, that we are no longer called servants but friends. Jesus himself says to us, “Friend, move up to a better place.” Jesus, by the grace he gives in Baptism, calls us his friends, for God has regenerated to be us his younger brethren: “heirs of God, and coheirs with Christ.” Do not make light of this inheritance that you have received by adoption. Jesus offers us sonship and all we have to do is obey his commands, to remain in his love, to love each other as he has loved us. Jesus doesn’t hold back any good thing from us, but assures us, “Everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” So we are friends that Jesus lay down his life for.
Why is there no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends? Because to lay down your life is to take all of your hopes, dreams, desires, goals, ambitions, plans—to take all that you could be, all that you are, all that you have been—and lay it down on behalf of another. You count their good above your own desires. Laying down one’s life is complete unselfishness. It’s not an annihilation or domination of your will. It must be voluntary, and it is an affirmation by the will to put itself aside. Jean Zampino taught very well that there can be no worship without sacrifice. What is worship, if not an act of love? Likewise, there is no love without sacrifice.
We lay down our lives in ways other than death, although that is the most final and decisive single act of love. The choice to lay down your life is before you daily. It is not an extraordinary occurrence. Laying down our lives is taking up our cross daily. It requires patience and endurance that can far exceed what is needed for a single , albeit a heroic, act of love. When I woke up this morning, I had to decide to lay down my life or not. When someone asks you to do something good that you don’t want to do, you make a choice to lay down your life or not. Yesterday, Sara and Matt were moving, and Matt’s friend didn’t come through to help. I had to choose to lay down my life and deny myself, or to assert myself and claim hardship or busyness. Believe me, moving was not first on my priority list, but I love my sister and lay down my life for her. When I think of who best shows this daily self-denial, I think first of mom. My mother many times stayed up late with my and my siblings when we were sick. She elected to lay down her life for us.
We cannot compel anyone to make this free offering of love; it must be voluntary. Jesus affirms that did not elect him. We did not choose him, but he chose us. St. Paul writes, “For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:8-10). That is what today’s Gospel is about. By the grace of God, you have been chosen. By faith, by your abiding in Christ’s love, you abide in the Father’s love. Your works, including your works of love and works of faith, do not save you. But you are God’s workmanship, you are Jesus’ friend, you “have confidence…because in this world [you] are like him” (1 Jn. 4:17). And so, as his handiwork, his masterpiece, his good creation, “chosen by God and precious to him” you have been “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for [you] to do.” You are made to obey Jesus’ commands. You are made to love each other, even as Jesus has loved you. You are made to love with the greatest love you can, to lay down your life for your friends. God created you to bear fruit that will last.