Keep My Commandments

 

(6th Easter – John 15.7-19)

5-21-06

 

Jesus said, “As the father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love . . . (John 15.9-10)

After church last Sunday, I stopped by the local CVS to buy a Mother’s Day card for Sherry.  Now I know that might seem like I am waiting until the last minute – but actually it is more just a matter of efficiency.  Because when I got there, there were only about three cards left to choose from.  So it did not take very long to pick one. 

Anyway I took it home, and wrote a short note.  And I naturally ended with those famous three words – I LOVE YOU.

I love you.  And I stopped and thought about how many times I have said those words.  What do they mean now after all of these many many times of saying them?  And I thought about how often we just say those words in passing, sort of nonchalantly.  I wondered if those famous words of love had lost their meaning in contemporary society.  What does it mean to me when I say to someone that I love them?

A good question.

After all, is my declaration of, "I LOVE YOU" really a gift of my love that promises accountability on my part, or is it just something I automatically say without much thought of the responsibilities they imply to me?

Author Anthony Bloom said it this way; he said, “So often when we say ‘I LOVE YOU’, we say it with a huge ‘I’ and a small ‘you’.  We use the word love as a conjunction instead of as a verb implying action.” 

---------

Now my take on what he is saying is that, we often say the words I LOVE YOU as if we are offering a gift, after which we have no further obligation.  We say them with the emphasis on ourselves, as if our declaration itself bestows a large treasure upon the recipient.

And often there is an implied expectation that the other will respond accordingly. 

And we would be deeply hurt if someone for whom we cared, took our declaration of love lightly, wouldn’t we? 

Yet how often do our own actions toward our loved ones prove that we take those words lightly ourselves? 

"I got you a card – I said I love you.  What do you mean I am never home, or we never spend time just talking anymore?  Sure I have time for you – it’s just that I am busy right now.  But I love you.

When we think of I LOVE YOU as treasured words, is it because we expect the receiver to treasure them or because the words are a treasure to us??  Is it just part of the love rations we dole out as if the words themselves are something that will provide comfort, promote self-esteem, or be a substitute for our physical presence? 

Or are the words actually redundant, because our actions already say the same thing, only better?

If the words I LOVE YOU are a treasure to us, then we believe them and cherish them when we say them in the same way that we expect the receiver to believe and cherish them.

--------------

Our love of God is similar.  Jesus said, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.”  

Now that does not mean that God will not love us if we fail to keep the commandments.  What it does mean is that God’s love requires an action by us if we are to fully benefit from it, and if we are to be energized by it.  The love of which Jesus is speaking is a relational love – there is an implied mutuality in order for us to participate or abide in it.  Jesus tells the disciples that they are not servants any longer – but friends.  In other words, the relationship between God and us is not intended to be one-sided as a master to a slave.  But reciprocal, as friends who care deeply for each other. 

As we go about the work of Jesus’ commandments – the work of loving God and loving others as ourselves – then and only then are we in a relationship with God that has some mutuality.  Then and only then - do we begin to abide in God’s love.

Jesus’ commandment to love is written in the Greek as “agape.”  It is love which is self-giving, as Christ's love for the world.  It is love that is characterized by Christian behavior that is centered on the other. 

It is love that is often translated as charitable love.  It is love that transcends physical attraction, or emotional or romantic love.  It is the love that does not change with our feelings, but is motivated by what is best and right and true – regardless of feelings of affection. 

It is love that is always dependable; and not dependent on our feelings of a moment.  Agape love is what Jesus commands when he tells us love God and love our neighbors as ourselves.

-----------------

I believe that those commandments are not so much rules of behavior, but they are a statement of God’s fervent desires for how the people of God would conduct their lives, both individually and corporately.  So in a sense, even though they are commands, they are also God’s gift to us.  They are a description of a better way of life – a description of a life set apart for God.  And our life together in here and our life out there is so much better when we follow them in our daily lives. 

Look at the next thing that Jesus says about abiding in his love:

“I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

.”  Another translation says, so that your joy will overflow

I really like that image of how our love for someone else can make our own joy complete – make our own joy overflow.  And I believe that is very much true.  It is only when we love, that we can feel love.  Only when we love God enough to keep his commandments, that our own joy overflows, and is made complete.  We keep God’s commandments not for God’s sake – but for ours.  So that our joy will overflow.

---------------

And that gets us to the third characteristic of Jesus’ teaching about abiding love in this reading.  And that is bearing fruit.  A natural consequence of abiding in God’s love is bearing fruit and building a community of believers.  Jesus said, “Go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.” 

There is a reciprocal aspect to abiding in God’s love.  Because as we respond actively in that relationship, then we are empowered – empowered by God to do more – more than we can imagine. 

With God working in us and through us, great and wonderful things are possible.  And bearing fruit is a natural consequence of abiding in God’s love, because as we live out our love for each other, we are witnesses to those who visit or who are seeking a faith community that is caring and accepting.  If we are a community that obviously loves God and loves each other, we will most certainly bear fruit.

Therefore, it is important that the prominent characteristic of our church is love – agape love.  And the opposite of agape love is not hate – but indifference.  So for us to be an inviting and loving congregation, we have to take action.  We have to make the effort to be here regularly and to be loving and friendly.  If you see someone that you do not know, then please take the time to meet and greet.  Because if we do the opposite.  If we are indifferent – then we will never bear the fruit that Jesus commands.  And our joy will not be complete.

--------------

So remember again my first instruction this morning.  When you say the words, "I LOVE YOU", say them with a small 'I' and a big 'YOU'. Then the words are not self-centered or demanding, but gracious and generous.  It is love for another that is a joy to declare again and again; because we can't wait to see what that love inspires us to do for our loved one, not the other way around. 

When we emphasize the 'YOU' in 'I love you', our love is the “agape" love that Jesus describes and which is treasured both by our loved ones and by us.  And then our joy will overflow and we will bear fruit beyond measure. 

Amen.