Summary: A sermon on how difficult it is to follow Jesus's commandment, "love one another."
You’re Not Easy to Love
“I’m going away, but I will leave you with a new commandment; you should love one another as I have loved you.”
This Gospel is a rewind, Jesus said these words at the last supper. John set the scene with Jesus eating dinner with his friends. Judas left and went out into the darkness. Then Jesus taught the remaining disciples the secret of the kingdom.
I read one author who said that Jesus took the 600+ laws in the Hebrew Bible and condensed them down to only two; love God, love your neighbor. This writer said we are lucky to live under grace instead of the law. He said it should be easy to follow God because there aren’t as many rules.
Well… that’s just so informed its… precious. It’s not easy to love, others as Jesus loved us. The ten commandments are mostly personal behaviors. Loving someone, sacrificially, is not a mere behavior. Unconditional love is a disposition of the heart.
Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” I like Jesus, I love Jesus, but sometimes he challenges me to act in ways that fight my ego’s natural inclinations. My ego doesn't want to love when it's complicated. Some people are difficult to love, and that’s when ego says, “withdraw.”
So, what should we do about the ego-driven self-preservation? I hope to address that today. I borrowed my sermon title from Rihanna’s R&B song, "You're not easy to love."
The lyrics read:
You’re not easy to love
Everything with you so complicated
Why do you make it hard to love you
We do make it difficult to love one another. Yet it’s what Jesus did, and it’s what he called us to do. A central point of this Gospel reading is that,
To follow the example of Jesus, we choose to love, even when it's complicated.
“As I loved you…” Give me an easy commandment Jesus. Tell me not to worship idols, tell me to keep the Lord’s day, tell me not to steal and kill, just don't ask me to love someone hard to love.
My desire to love retreats when the neighbors buy another dog that sleeps all day and fights all night. I don't want to love quickly… I want people to be worthy of my love before I give it away.
If you allow me a creative license, we can have fun today. John's Gospel doesn't mention Peter in this passage, but I used my imagination. Peter is central to the Acts reading, so let's insert him into the Gospel reading too. He was usually the first disciple to interrupt Jesus and offer unsolicited advice. I wonder what Peter wanted to say when Jesus said, “love others as I loved you, Peter.”
"Lord, let me help you. Let me make this clear to the rest of the disciples. Y'all listen, what the Lord means is we should love the ones who follow the way. This isn't a commandment to love the Romans."
“Peter, you can stop…”
"Oh no Jesus, I got this, I'll help them out. Now listen, the priests oppose us; they even want to kill Jesus. They are remarkably hard to love. He's not telling you to love the ones who…”
Then the Gospel of Rian reads, “And upon hearing this foolishness, Jesus interrupted him and said, “Peter, did I stutter? I loved you! You curse people, you are prone to outbursts of anger, you’re a know it all, and you even cut people’s ears off, yet you’re still a disciple. Try listening, and following, instead of mansplaining/explaining.”
Jesus loved Peter, and Jesus is the example to follow when people are hard to love. I bet we have parts and pieces that are hard to love. I'd also wager that someone loved the difficult and wounded places inside of us. They were Christ to us.
I wrote a short poem along these lines:
The Gospel leaves no room for debate; it calls us to follow the example of Christ. However, following the model doesn't just change us; it changes the world too. Jesus said, "by this, all will know that you're my disciples."
Love changes us, but it also changes the world. St. John says that…
To choose love is to show the world the message of Jesus.
U.C. Berkley recently revealed a research project that focused on Christians and social perceptions. They learned the unchurch see Christians as less compassionate than atheists and agnostics. They also found that highly religious people are less likely to help a stranger than the less religious. But here's the part that got me, the research revealed that compassion motivated the less religious more than the religious.
The research continued to show that the public does not associate American Christians with forgiveness, mercy, compassion, and generosity. Instead, the top two marks of Christians are, "judgmental" and "unforgiving." Maybe we should become a friend of lepers, instead of creating colonies and banishing them.