Rev. Eric Dillenbeck
May 13, 2012

Scripture: John 15:9-17

The church I served in Decatur, GA was on a pretty major intersection. It was common practice for our daily schedules to be interrupted by an unexpected homeless guest who wanted to tell his/her story and ask for help or just find a place to rest.

These were never quick and easy conversations. When someone stopped by I could easily end up spending at least 30 minutes talking and praying. And when I found myself watching the clock or being annoyed by a visit I would remind myself of a story Will Willimon told in one of his sermons.

One day he was leaving his church in the late afternoon. It had been a particularly difficult day with lots of meetings and he had another one later that evening so he was trying to get home. As he was locking the door he was chagrined to see, coming down the walkway, a rather forlorn looking man with a small bag, obviously a homeless member of his community. He sighed as he saw this man coming and did a mental count of the money he had in his wallet.

He decided right there on the spot to head him off before he could begin a long story. “What can I do for you?” Willimon asked with some annoyance in his voice.

“I wondered if you might be able to help a fella’ out, he said. “I was headed down to…”

“Yes, yes,” Willimon said. “Well, I’m in a bit of a rush. So here is $15, it’s all I have on me.”

The man took the money that was offered. He looked at it and without a word, he turned and headed back out toward the street. But before he reached the sidewalk he stopped and turned back to Willimon and said with a tone of defiance, “I guess you think I’m supposed to thank you, to be grateful.” Will Willimon, looked at this man and without missing a beat said, “Well, now that you mention it, a little gratitude wouldn’t hurt!”

“Well, I’m not going to thank you. You want to know why?” this homeless man sneered. “Why?” he asked. “Because you are a Christian. You don’t help me because you want to. You have to help me because God (now thrusting his finger up into the air) told you to help me!” And he turned, walked out to the street and out of Willimon’s life. He stood there, stunned and angry. But on his drive home it finally hit him. That man was right.

Christ has not just called us to love, Christ has commanded us to love. Listen for that command, and for God’s Word speaking to us this day from the Gospel of John 15: 9-17

John 15:9-17

9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in God’s love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.

16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

The Word of the Lord Thanks be to God

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Well, that is pretty simple. Sometimes the words of Jesus are difficult to understand, demanding contextualization and explanation. Sometimes he tells these awkward stories that require some unpacking; but not here.

In this passage Jesus uses the actual word “Love” or a verb form of the word 11 times. What do I say about words that are repeated in scripture? When words are repeated over and over again you need to pay attention. That is the author’s way of screaming at us to pay attention!

Jesus looks at those first disciples, and in them at us, and says, “I have called you friends.” Don’t misunderstand John’s use of the word “friends” here. Our current interpretation of the word “friends” does not fully convey the love that undergirds John’s meaning. The Greek work that we interpret as “friends” is actually phileo, and properly interpreted literally means, “Those who are loved.”

Christ is effectively saying to the disciples and to us, “I love you, so I call you loved ones” and then he commands us to love. It’s not a far jump to understand the implications.

Here Jesus is pretty clear about his expectations, here he is straightforward and leaves nothing to the imagination. He tells us to love one another just as we have been loved.

We love, because we were first loved. We did not earn God’s love! Our amazing talents did not catch God’s attention; we didn’t do anything so spectacular that God just couldn’t help but love us. We are not so beautiful that Jesus couldn’t help but love us. Jesus reminds us that we are loved only because Christ chose us first.

But it isn’t always easy to love is it? Sometimes it is actually VERY hard to love. We are busy and tired people and sometimes we feel stretched too thin. We have wide circles of affiliation and we just don’t feel like we can love all of those folks we encounter. We routinely meet difficult people who try our patience and bother our sensibilities.

We are human and we find that there are times when we disagree with those around us.

It is not easy to love! But I wonder how it might change our feelings if we think of love as an action instead of a sentiment. If love is more about what I do to my neighbor than what I feel about my neighbor, does that change the dynamic? Is it easier to act loving than to feel loving? Perhaps sometimes we need to practice being loving until we learn how to love.

I hope you are able to quickly think of at least 5 ways this congregation acts out our love for our neighbors.

  • We are preparing to welcome our homeless brothers and sisters to our building as we seek to help them find housing.
  • We are preparing to stock an apartment with all of the necessities for a family as they transition from homelessness to stability.
  • We are preparing to send a group to the Dominican Republic to help provide medical care and other necessities for the very least of these the world has to offer.
  • We are making meals to bring to others when they are ill or recently hospitalized.
  • We provide Stephen Ministers, lay leaders, who connect with those in our congregation who are in times of pastoral need for an ongoing relationship of support.

I could continue this list. It was pretty easy. I didn’t mention Beyond Acceptance; I didn’t mention our efforts to feed the hungry at Bethany and Calvary. The list of our loving activity in the world is expansive.

But I wonder, have these practices of loving helped us to truly love. Are we able to look around us and say, “I have called you friends” and truly mean it the way Christ meant it here in the 15th chapter of John?

Whatever your answer is to that question, may we all continue to act in loving ways, that our actions may shape our emotions and our outlook on life, that we may bear fruit that will last for Christ in this world. Amen!