John 15:9-17 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
I’m not sure if it’s because it’s the social media era or if I just never really noticed it before, but I now know that Mother’s Day has the tendency to produce an amazing variety of feelings for us. Some of us grieve. For some it’s a child they’ve lost or it’s a mother who’s gone before. Others of us give thanks. They’ve been blessed with a mother who really did a fine job of nurturing, raising, and loving them. Still others long. They long to be a mother, wonder when they will, or worry if they even can. Mother’s Day is far more complicated that I used to realize.
Especially when you have a mother who didn’t really mother you. A blog came out about that earlier this week. You could tell the writer was just torn up. She wrote about how she dreaded to come to church on Mother’s Day - how raw a day it was for her; how she had lived in a house of darkness; how her mom held her sins over her head and physically beat her up; how on Mother’s Day she worried she would come to church and hear about how wonderful everybody else’s mother was. She wrote about how badly she needed to be able to come to church and find out about a reality – so contrary to her experience – that said, Jesus would, “forgive me of my wrongdoings.” In other words, more than anything else she wanted to come to church on Mother’s Day and hear the gospel.
You know what I wanted to tell her? I wanted to tell her that Jesus’ church is even better than that. I wanted to tell you that Jesus’ church is not just a place to hear the gospel. It’s not just a place to trust the gospel. Jesus has created his church to be a place where his totally unconditional love is expressed in a whole additional way. That’s the next directive he’s got for us, his next word that he shares with us his friends. One that couldn’t be clearer, “Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (v. 12-13) Love each other. There’s a lot in that statement. Tons. There’s nothing optional about it, for one. This is a command. We are to love each other. Each other. Disciple to disciple. Church member to church member. Believer to believer. We in this building and this space are getting a special and abundantly clear command to love each other.
Not only is this a command that’s abundantly clear, it’s also a command that’s stacked with ridiculous, overwhelming spiritual potential. “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (v. 11) Do you see the potential? Jesus just added a massive recommendation for keeping his command. This is like pulling out your smartphone to get a review of a nice restaurant and seeing that the restaurant got three Michelin stars. A review that just screams, “You have to go eat there. You won’t be disappointed.” And here you’ve got Jesus’ eyes twinkling - you know the guy who lived, died, and rose for you… the God-man, the High King… Yeah, that guy - saying, “You want to have me to be overjoyed when I look at you? You want to have joy in your midst that is complete? Follow my directive. Love each other.” Do you see what that is? This is Jesus giving us the ultimate recommendation – the encouragement, “Hey, this is worth doing. It has so much overwhelming potential for joy!”
I think we all get this. We see the upside of creating a community that is loving and safe and authentic. I think we all know the devastating downside to it too. All too well. I remember a woman coming up to me when we first started this church who said, “We have to make this a church where people are loved and safe.” I knew the minute she said it why she said it. She had seen first hand what happens when a church isn’t that way. Maybe you have too. Maybe you like me have bumped into hurting, disconnected Christians right here in Aiken who have been exhausted and hurt in a church. They’ve grown weary of the politics - small church or large. They’ve grown weary of judgy looks, of people assuming the worst, and of the cliques. They’ve just gotten tired. And they’ve decide that that’s what God’s church is like and so they check out. If there’s anybody in this room like that, can I say something to you? I’m sorry. On behalf of Christians everywhere, from the bottom of my heart I’m sorry. I’m sorry we didn’t show you Jesus. I’m sorry we didn’t love you. There are no excuses. We can only beg your forgiveness.
Can you tell I’m passionate about this? If you think I am, look at Jesus. Do you see how he qualified the love we are to have for each other? Because he did qualify it. He said, “Love each other as I have loved you.” (v. 12) How’s that for a qualification? Think about that. Jesus saw me. And I think you know what I mean by that. He saw me and he saw you. He saw that I can be so willing to move out of a relationship because of the slightest brush to my ego. He saw that I can be so tender with how someone looks at me and assume the worst. He saw that I can be so quick to notice the faults of others and so slow to understand them. He saw that I can be so involved in my own interests and so cold to the interests of others. In short, he saw a sinner. And what did he do about that? He saw what I was and dove into a relationship with me. He chased me down, died for me, forgave me, and made me his own. This is the man who says, “Love each other as I have loved you.” That’s how he qualified this love.
He didn’t say, “Love each other as long as the person is nice.” He didn’t say, “Love each other as long as your personalities don’t clash.” He didn’t say, “Love each other until your opinions go in opposite directions.” He said, “Love each other as I have loved you.” I’m telling you that is a life rocking kind of love. It’s so much more than something sentimental. Don’t get me wrong. We’ll have dinner together. We’ll have laughs and smiles together. We already have, but the love Jesus is talking about here is so much more fiery, committed, and lasting. The level of commitment Jesus asks us to have for each other even extends to death. Did you catch that when I read it earlier? He said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (v. 13) Lay down one’s life for one’s friends. That’s a Jesus level of commitment. That’s how we’re supposed to roll in our church.
Now you may say, “How do we get there? How does this happen?” I’ll tell you. When a group of people gets around the gospel and sees its truth and its purity and it burns its way down into our collective heart, we get bound to each other. That’s how it works. You are the people I’m closest to. I like the people in Rotary Club. I enjoy the people I bike with, but we have something here that runs so much deeper. We have something that transcends biology, socio-economic status, career path, age, race or whatever difference we think we’ve got. We have an utter sameness that runs to the core of our being and completes us – something called faith in Jesus. And that makes us friends on a ridiculously deep level. You are the people I do life with. You are my choice. I’m not up in Minnesota with my biological mother today as much as I truly do love her. I’m with you and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. You are my family. You are the people who love my daughter week after week. You are the people watching my hair thin, who I talk Netflix with, pray with, and do life with week in and week out. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
This is God’s church. This is how we love each other. We can’t even help it. It’s what happens when you get around the gospel. “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends.” (v. 15) Do you see what Jesus is pointing out? The gospel elevates us to a whole new level. We’re not called servants – although we are just that in relation to Jesus. He elevates us. He takes us to the next level. He calls us friends. We aren’t those who say, “I guess I’ll love because I have to. It’s my duty. It’s my obligation.” We’re those who get it. We’ve been told the Master’s business. We’ve been let in on the fact that the Master came to save. We’ve been clued in to the perfect forgiveness we have in Christ. The forgiveness that never goes away no matter what we think or do. We know his business. And so when he lets us know that he wants us to love each other as he has loved us – that he wants us to be as fiery and committed to each other – well we just will. Not because we have to, but because we get to.
That’s what’s awesome about this. The gospel actually works. We don’t think at this and say, “Do I have to?” We look at this as say, “I get to.” The gospel creates the kind of community that Jesus is commanding. Have you noticed that around here? I got a text earlier this week. It read, “I hope you’re having a good time at your conference!” I got that text totally out of the blue. It was someone from this church just caring. Someone who I matter to in the world. I heard another story from this week too. A member e-mailed another member. “Thinking about you. Just want let you know I’m praying.” It’s happening here. This is real community that has a fiery, committed kind of love. It’s a love that prays for its fellow disciples, bleeds with them when they bleed, sits with them when they’re tired, and forgives them when they sin. It’s a love that is just as likely to laugh with someone when they’re happy as cry with them when they’re sad. It’s a love that is willing to overlook a hurt when it’s time to do that, but is also willing to sit down and have the tough conversation when it’s necessary. That’s vibrant Christianity and that is the love the gospel creates.
You know who I’ve noticed gets this on an outstanding level? Gospel-centered mothers do. They don’t go to the lengths they go to because they want to preserve their genes, as evolutionary science would have us believe. They do what they do because they are people created, sanctified and motivated by Jesus’ friendship to do what they do. That’s also what gospel-centered mothers desperately want their kids to know about them. She wants her kids to see in her unconditional love a picture of God’s unconditional love in Christ. She wants them to get that that’s whom she works for – the Christ who redeemed and loved her first.
That’s what killed me about that blog I read. That woman never experienced that. She never experienced from another the human being a committed love that just won’t quit. Ever. And so she believed as a result that Jesus’ church was only a place to hear about that kind of love. She was only half right. Jesus wants so much more in his church. He wants it to be a place to not only hear and believe the gospel, he wants it to be a place where you get to experience the depths of it by seeing it in each other.
That’s the way it’s going to be here. We will make this fiery, committed choice right here at Peace. Do you see what a privilege that is? This is a calling. This is a life for us. It really is. We will live this way for Jesus’ sake. We will kill annoyance when it shows its ugly face. We will destroy flippancy and cliques. We won’t let any bad relationships get in the way of what we’ve got here. We will commit. We will love. We will die for each other. And why? It’s what we get to do as Jesus’ friends – as people who have been elevated from servitude to friendship. We know what Christ has done for us. We know the Master’s business. And that means that we not only get to trust the gospel with each other, we get to embody it to each other. It means we not only get to believe the gospel as a group, we get to visibly and tangibly package and deliver it to each other in our relationships. And that is a beautiful, beautiful thing. I’m telling you I’m in. How about you? Amen.