Real Love Story

Easter 6B    John 15:9-17

We have some crazy ideas about love, don’t we? Just think of all the ways we hear it used. Love is a many splendored thing. Love lifts us up where we belong. Love means never having to say you’re sorry. And, as the Beatles say, all you need is love.  My absolute favorite crazy thing about love is this: God is love. Love is blind. Ray Charles is Blind. Therefore, Ray Charles is God. It’s mixed up logic, that’s for sure, and heavily flawed just like our ideas of what love actually is often are as well.

Just for fun, the next time you are on the internet, take a few moments to Google the word “love.” You will find all kinds of things from the Wikipedia article (“Love is any number of emotions and experiences related to a sense of strong affection and attachment.”) to things like a Love Calculator (calculates the chance on a successful relationship between two people. Who loves you? Do you really want to know? Simply enter your birthdate and your credit card number.) There’s a plethora of dating sites, news articles about love gone wrong, wedding information and, of course, music.

The Urban Dictionary defines love in over 530 ways including: nature’s way of tricking us into reproduction, can’t do anything without thinking about them/wanting to be with them every second of the day/without them you feel empty inside and incomplete/knowing nothing else matters more than them/knowing if you were without them you could not live/wanting to know everything about them.

I have to admit, that sounds more like a stalker than love.

One of my favorite things I’ve ever read about the word love was written by Zora Neal Hurstson. “Love makes your soul crawl out of its hiding place.”

But any discussion about love would be incomplete without Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians:  Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things….And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

The author of the Gospel of John just loved the word love and loved talking about love. In fact, he used the word Love more than any other author in scripture; 47 times by one scholar’s calculations. In our text for today from that gospel, Jesus talks a lot about love. He talks about our loving one another not just in the ways we think of love but as he has loved us. That’s really saying something, isn’t it? We’re familiar with the whole ‘love God, love your neighbor’ rule, but this is something more than that. I think I could handle loving my neighbor as myself, but loving them as Jesus loves me? That’s a really tough one!

So what do we think of love? A lot of what we think of love comes from movies and stories. Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess who was locked away in the highest room of the tallest tower in a dragon guarded castle awaiting the arrival of her true love, a handsome prince who would slay the dragon and whisk her off to happily ever after.

They always start like that, don’t they? It never seems to begin with once upon a time there was a plain girl, so ordinary that most people didn’t even really see her, passed out beside the road with heroine track marks and self inflicted cuts on her arms who had waited all of her life for some one to rescue her from her abusive home. Or, once upon a time there was an overweight middle aged man sitting in his office so filled with regret from his unfulfilled life and the many ways he had disappointed everyone whom he cared about including himself that he drown out the whirling thoughts in his mind with massive amounts of alcohol and wished with all his heart that someone could help him find a way to get a new start. Or, once upon a time there was a man covered in scars and marks from his fearsome and violent life, lying in his prison cell with a future as blank and hopeless as the filthy ceiling at which he stared and who knew with all of his heart that there was no one to blame for where he was but himself. Or even, once upon a time there was a slightly confused elderly lady filled with memories of a life that was once over flowing with friends who are now long gone, who sat alone in her living room wishing with all her might that someone would come by and talk to her and doing everything she could to not cry because it had been so long since anyone had touched her with genuine affection.

But the truth is, all of God’s love stories begin that way.

Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.

Once upon a time there was a woman, maybe she was beautiful at one time, but now, not so much. She was terrified, trapped in a circle of angry men with stones in hands, ready to throw at her undefended body. They all knew who she was; what she was. Everyone in town knew about her profession. And there in that moment she meets a man unlike any other she’d ever met. And the truth was, she’d met a lot of men! But this man…this man changes her life forever. He knows her, knows who and what she is, what she’s done, and still wants to have a relationship with her. He still believes she is special and worth any sacrifice. With a word from him, her would-be attackers trail off in shame and he, believe it or not, speaks directly to her. He still believes in her and that she can have a new life with him.

Once up on a time, there was a guy who worked for the IRS. Being a tax guy made him quite un-popular with people who knew him. Plus, no one knows for sure, but he could have been corrupt enough to skim a little off the top of the taxes he collected. He didn’t have a lot of friends and, one afternoon, sitting alone in his little tax booth, wondering what his life was really all about, wondering if this was all there really was for him, he meets a guy who changes his life forever. This man doesn’t waste time with a lot of small-talk. He just says ‘come with me’. Of all the people in town he could have picked to take with him on his journey, he chose this little tax man. Instead of all the more qualified, more popular, more ‘people-people’ he could have picked, this was the one he chose. From then on, his life would be different. He had a purpose and his life would never be the same.

Once upon a time there was this guy who had been a criminal all his life. He’d been captured, convicted and was now fulfilling his sentence—death. As he gasped for breath, arms spread wide and nailed mercilessly to the crossbeam, he knew he really had no one to blame but himself. And then and there, right there, when he least expected and least deserved it, he met a man that changed everything. He met a man who knew who and what he was and still gave him the most precious gift in all the world: life in paradise.

Love makes our souls crawl out from their hiding places.

The love stories that God writes—the love stories God enters into—aren’t just found in fairy tales or Walt Disney or even movies staring Julia Roberts. God’s love stories are about real people; about people who aren’t always handsome princes or beautiful princesses. They are about people like you and me.

Once upon a time there was a man and a woman who, because of some mistakes and bad choices they’d made, had to leave the only home they’d ever known. Life became very difficult. Sometimes, it seemed like they were so very alone, like no matter how hard they tried, they could never make things the same again. But God so loved them—so loved everything about them—that he sent his only son to make things right for them. Because God believed that they were just to die for! And he did just that. Died for them. For us.

Now there’s the real crescendo of the story! He died for us—laid down his life for us—because God is in love with us. He tells us there is no greater thing to do than to lay down our lives for one another. Indeed, it is not even a polite suggestion by Jesus for us to love one another as he has loved us. It is a commandment. Thankfully, though, we know that we can love because God first loved us.

So what does that look like? Does it mean that we all have to go out after church today and throw ourselves in front of oncoming cars for our friends’ sake? Well, not necessarily. I don’t see what good that would do for anyone anyway, unless of course, we were knocking them out of the way to safety! So, what does it mean? We just heard some stories about what that looked like when Jesus stood up for, protected and forgave the prostitute, chose to work with a guy no one else wanted around. How about some other stories?

Once upon a time there was a little German man named Dietrich. He was a pastor during a great war where there were people being killed in the most horrific ways just because they were Jewish. In a time that seemed to be without God, he taught about God. While the devil reigned, he preached and wrote about Jesus, teaching what life together really looks like in the love of Jesus. He did this because he loved them—the Germans and the Jews—and also because Jesus loved him. And he did indeed lay down his life because of his love for them all.

Once upon a time there was a little girl named Agnes whose heart was so broken over the poor people in places like India that she laid down her life—the life of family, children and comfort she could have had—to live in overwhelming poverty with them. She took the name Theresa and she fed and cared for the hungry, sick and broken people of India for all of her life. Mother Theresa did this because she loved them all and because Jesus loved her.

Once upon a time there was a black man named Martin who lived during a time in which it was all but a crime to be black. He wrote letters from a filthy prison in Alabama to tell people to sit down and stand up in peace so that all would be equal regardless of their color. And so that justice might roll down like thunder. He did this because he loved them—the blacks and the whites—and also because Jesus loved him. And he most certainly laid down his life for love of them all.

Love makes our souls crawl out from their hiding places.

Once upon a time there was some ordinary person, some woman or man who was a teacher, a coach, a nurse, a fireman, a mentor, a friend who, somewhere along the line, put aside differences of opinion and lifestyle in order to see someone else as a human being loved by God just as much as they were, gave up some small comfort or extra time from their lives so that someone else would know they were not alone, laid down a life they could have had in order to make an immeasurable difference for someone else because they loved and because Jesus loved them.

Once upon a time there was a little church called Shepherd of the Hills that was filled with ordinary people absolutely drenched in the extraordinary love of Jesus and because he loved them so, they were able to love others in an extraordinary way, too, and to lay down their lives for them.

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