Summary: Being a true friend of Jesus means listening to what he wants to tell us and then using that information to do his work in our world and in our lives
If you were going on a long trip, what would you say to your family and friends before you left? If you knew that you were going to see someone for the last time, what would you say to them? When your children moved away from home, what did you say to them? In each case you probably gave them some instructions of words of advice. Well, in the Gospel passage from John 15:9-17, Jesus gave us and his disciples some final instructions or words of advice. This passage is part of the final instructions that Jesus gave to the disciples the night before he was crucified. It follows the passage about the vine and the branches, but it goes even further. Instead of talking about abiding in each other or loving each other, it talks about serving each other, which goes hand in hand with loving each other.
Jesus knew that the disciples would not find love in the world. He knew that the world would largely hate them and his message. In fact, the world still hates his message today. You only have to remember the recent controversy involving the student who went to school wearing a T-shirt with the message “Life is empty without Jesus” printed on it to see that this is true. Nevertheless, we, like the disciples, are called to love each other and our fellow man in spite of opposition. When we love each other, we will experience the joy of obeying God.
When we love one another, we also allow the Holy Spirit to dwell in us and grow in us. How it grows will depend on our connection to each other, to God and to his church. The stronger our faith, the more we will do, and it is the things that we do for God and for others that bring glory to God and strengthen the Holy Spirit within us.
Love for others means being willing to die for others. Jesus showed his love for us by dying on the cross for our sins. The men and women who serve in our armed forces also show this same type of love. They and countless other armed forces personnel who served in WWI, WWII and the Korean War as well as in more recent conflicts and peacekeeping missions, were willing to sacrifice their lives for the freedom of others (In fact, I addressed that point in 2006 when I spoke at the Remembrance Day service in Liverpool). They were willing to go out of their way for others by dying to save others or coming to the aid of those who were in need-even at their own personal expense, and they are still willing and ready to do so today. Jesus showed how far that type of love can take someone when he died for us. If Jesus could lay down his own life for us, what part of our lives can we give up for others-prejudice, unwillingness to help, envy, material goods, hatred, unwillingness to forgive, or even something else?
God wants us to have relationships that are more than mediocre. Relationship-building takes time and requires compassion, wisdom, empathy, kindness, courtesy and forgiveness. We can’t overlook what taking concrete action can mean. We can be active in love for one another. It is a lot of work, and that’s fine because God knows that we can do this work, and he knows that what we do will enrich both our lives and the lives of those whom we serve. When we love one another, we act as God’s hands and feet to those that he puts in our lives. It does take time, effort and money to be an active friend, but the blessings outweigh the costs.
Loving others as God loved us is the heart of Christian discipleship. Christian life can only exist through human relationships, especially when they are based on mutual respect and humane values-including love. The apostle Peter showed the same type of love in Acts 10:44-48. His love for others, combined with the visions he and the Roman centurion Cornelius had led Peter to minister to Cornelius and his family. When Peter proclaimed the Good News, the Holy Spirit moved within his audience, and it marked both a second Pentecost and the spreading of the Good News to all people (not just the Jews). If the Holy Spirit could move in the hearts of Peter’s audience, it can move in the hearts of people in our world today.
I actually prepared this sermon on Mother’s Day 2012, so the Gospel reading that this sermon is based on was very appropriate for that day. After all, a mother’s love for her children is a prime example of the love Jesus calls on us to have for one another. Mothers make sacrifices for their children, and in some extreme cases (such as domestic violence), they have literally sacrificed their own lives for their children.