Quick: How many songs can you remember that speak to the power of love? Let’s see: Love is many a splendered thing; Love is all you need; Can’t Buy Me Love; Stop! In the Name of Love…I’ll take that as a cue and you get the point: there is a modern day obsession with love.
In our modern culture, love is defined, primarily, as a feeling. The Encarta dictionary defines this love as “tender affection or desire for somebody.” Think about all those pictures we’ve seen of H/HRH Kate and William. No matter your interest in royal weddings, those images evoke a particular definition of love: the love that exposes an emotional bond between two people. This is the link in most relationships and is often used as a reason for intimacy, including marriage. I’m not implying that there is anything wrong or bad with this understanding of love. Indeed, this kind of love is often the beginning of another definition of love: this is the power of love to overcome obstacles and sustain us in difficult times. The emotional force of love to bind us to one another is the profit of each relationship.
Our Gospel reading today, asks us to reflect on love, the love between Jesus and the disciples. Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments…They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me…” The word commandment turns our minds to the Ten Commandments or some other moral code. However, if you search through John’s Gospel there is no such code. Instead, we have only Jesus’ words in Chapters 13 and 15 of the Gospel: “love one another as I have loved you.” What does it mean to love as Jesus loves and commands?
The greatest influence on my life was probably the life of my grandfather. My dad’s father was born the oldest of twelve in rural Ohio. At some point in his young adulthood, he discovered the local Lutheran church, a small, rural church. As an adult, he married his one and only love, my grandmother. They had three children and were actively involved in the lives of their nieces and nephews. When I turned 6, I began spending my summers with my grandparents: half the summer with one set, half with the other. So, for at least 7 years, 4 weeks of my life were guided and directed by Grandpa Joe.
As I mentioned, Grandpa was a Lutheran. He was an active member of the church, including acting treasurer for at least 15 years. Every Sunday, we would get up and head to church. After coffee hour, we would head home for lunch and count the money. On Monday, we would make the deposit and bring the deposit slip to the Church. There, Grandpa and Pastor Lyerly would discuss theology for hours. I did everything with Grandpa from mowing the lawn to visiting folks in their homes. We would swim at the beach and play cards with their friends. A good portion of our time was spent with their church community, a community that I knew loved me.
Grandpa had one other important characteristic: he had never met a stranger. I never saw him be rude to anyone. He taught me to smile and be gentle with even the hardest people. He taught me to care and offer kindness to everyone. By offering himself in service to everyone, he taught me to love.
Earlier this week, I had the privilege of sharing communion with Mary Eaton Williams and her brother, Mickey Robertson. Mary Eaton and Mickey came here when their mother decided to move to Danville. Their father was in the tobacco business and was away a lot.
Mary Eaton raised two children and her daughter died several years ago from cancer. Mary Eaton, Mickey and his wife, Judy, are faithful members of Trinity. Mary Eaton doesn’t get around very well anymore and depends on the kindness of others.
When I arrived, Mary Eaton’s home was full of people. These were her neighbor’s daughter, husband and family visiting from Germany. After they left, Mary Eaton told me more about her neighbor. Several years ago, Mary Eaton’s old neighbors were moving; she and her daughter were concerned about who her new neighbors would be. They soon discovered that an older, single man would be living there. Mary Eaton was concerned that he would have loud friends and be insensitive to his neighbors. Instead, this gentleman has come to be one of Mary Eaton’s regular care givers. He helps her with her mail and getting her trash cans to the curb and back. He calls her every day and brings her groceries. In Mary Eaton’s words, “he is one of the many unexpected blessings in my life; he loves me.”
We often think of John’s Gospel as the “mystical Gospel.” It’s characterized as spiritual and known to be focused on the spiritual experience. Yet in today’s reading, Jesus is very practical, connecting the eternal with our everyday life.
One aspect of John’s Gospel is the intersection between Kairos, God’s time, and Chronos, our time. These are those moments when there is a revelation of God in the midst of human experience. At the risk of repeating myself, let’s revisit some characteristics of John’s Gospel I mentioned last week. In John’s Gospel, Jesus performs five miracles: water into wine, healing the sick and blind, feeding thousands with five loaves and two fish, and raising Lazarus. These miracles or signs serve one main purpose: revelations of God’s activity in the world so that we will believe Jesus is the Messiah. These miracles are those moments when Kairos, God’s time, is experienced now in, Chronos, our time.
The primary example of this experience is Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. During this time, God offers God’s self, through Christ, on behalf of creation. It is the ultimate offering. And, through these actions, God’s eternal work happens here, in our world. This is how Jesus loves: living a life in service to all of creation. These are the moments when Kairos and Chronos intersect. The same is true of our lives. When we offer our selves in service to others, we are revelations of God’s love and work in the world. It may not require our lives; it does require that we, like Jesus, give up ourselves.
Over the last few weeks, our world has been overwhelmed with natural disasters. I find that in the morning when I wake up, my first thought is to wonder what happened in the night. It is a strange and disturbing feeling. We become fatigued by the news and compelled to respond. A dear friend of mind is from Missouri. This week he posted on his Facebook, “I know the people of Missouri . . .Joplin will probably set a new gold standard for a community recovering from disaster.” We know what he means: the capacity they have for compassion will remind us how to love. AND: We don’t need a disaster to love; at any moment, we can care for and serve one another.
I hope this week we will all take some time and notice when we love as Christ loves. I hope we will also notice those times when Christ loves us through others. This is as simple and easy as caring for our family and friends. It is also as great and difficult as offering help and compassion to the stranger and, even, our enemies. We can be assured that these are the moments when Kairos and Chronos intersect. These are the moments when the kingdom of God breaks in and we experience the presence of Christ. This is when we know love.