All We Need is Love

A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

John 13:31-35

May 22, 2022

Main Idea:  Jesus calls us to love.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Last Monday, at the Unified Governing Board Meeting, we opened the meeting by discussing what we could do in response to the hate and terrible evil that happened last weekend in Buffalo, NY and Laguna Woods, CA.   Many good ideas were shared, most of which entailed speaking out against hate and embodying love in all that we do. So this morning we are going to talk about love.  Not sappy, sentimental, Hallmark Holiday kind of love but life altering, death defying, divinely empowered love that sustains us and all of creation.  The love that we have in Jesus our Christ is enough to redeem and restore the whole world.  And we certainly know that our world is in desperate need.  Jesus calls us to love.  And by loving others we show our love for him.

Our Scripture text for this morning comes from a time of great urgency and deep sadness.  The 13th chapter of John is part of the Holy Week narrative. Palm Sunday has already happened and Jesus is preparing his disciples for what is about to occur.  Just before today’s text, Jesus foretells Judas’ betrayal and just after today’s text, Jesus foretells Peter’s denials. It is in this heartbreaking context that Jesus speaks to his disciples, recognizing that he does not have much more time with them.  In the midst of this fear, mistrust, and abandonment, Jesus tells the disciples that the most important thing they can do is to love. 

The text tells us that just after Judas leaves, Jesus says “‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.  If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.”(John 13:31-32)  All of this glory talk means that God’s love and glory are not postponed or defeated by betrayal or setback.  In fact, Love’s triumph in spite of betrayal reveals God’s glory even stronger.  Love’s power is not diminished by hard circumstances.   This was important for Jesus to point out to his disciples who were certain to be dismayed by Judas’ actions.

Jesus continues, “Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.”  Now is the time to really listen!  Because things are about to change and I want you to hear and understand what is really important.   So pay attention!

Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (15:34) The commandment to love is not new.  Love of God and love of neighbor is central to the Hebrew Scriptures and Jesus tells his disciples this over and over again.   But what is new is that now Love will be the only marker of Jesus’ community.  Not belief, not ritual, not background or social group,  just love, lived out in the disciples’ lives.  Sounds simple right?  “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ (15:35)

So what does it mean to love?  New Testament scholar D.A Carson said “This new command is simple enough for a toddler to memorize and appreciate, and yet it is profound enough that the most mature believers are repeatedly embarrassed at how poorly they comprehend it and put it into practice.” (quoted in )

Love requires us to be vulnerable and we don’t really like that.  Love requires us to be honest about ourselves and about others, to recognize others as they are, not as we would like them to be.  Love requires us to listen with openness and empathy, hearing another person’s story and learning from their experiences.  Love requires us to act.  It is not enough to say to a hungry child, I will pray for you.  Love requires helping that child get something to eat!   Love requires our commitment to be trustworthy, and hopeful, and to show up even when it is hard.   Love is as natural to us as breathing but it is also a challenge everyday of our lives.  It is our greatest resource and our deepest power.

In our world today we have a love shortage. As polarization and fear grow, Love, empathy, and welcome retreat.   The horror that occurred in Buffalo last weekend reminds us again of the evil of White Supremacy and the lie that is Replacement Theory. These ideas are the opposite of love for they deny the value of people of color and actively work for their harm.   Love calls us to stand with our brothers and sisters of color, to recognize the racism embedded in our society, and to work for the day when no one need fear going to the grocery store, or to church, or to just walk around their neighborhood.   

This love shortage can be seen in most of the crises we face today where reasoned differences of opinion have been rejected for outlandish diatribes and people with whom we disagree have become our enemies.  The painful and complex issue of Abortion has devolved into a battle over control of women’s bodies with each side seeing the other as heartless murderers with little empathy or concern for the families involved.  The attacks on the LGBT community, especially the laws regarding Trans youth, reveal a lack of love and empathy for families who simply want to live in peace.  Love calls us to listen to each other, and to trust each other, and to support each other during difficult moments in life.

This love shortage, of course can be seen in the destruction and suffering caused by the war in Ukraine, the brutality of the regime in Burma, the continuing conflict in Israel and Palestine, and the rising nationalistic conflicts around the world.  Around the world, people are taking up arms because of fear and a desire for power.  Love calls us to pray for peace and work for peace.

Even the crisis of Climate Change can be seen as our lack of love and empathy for humanity’s future.   We prioritize our convenience and our profits for today over the wellbeing of the planet in the future.  Love calls us to pay attention and to make changes in our daily lives while also advocating for global action and cooperation.

[And of course the Pandemic has been extended and exacerbated by a global love shortage.]

This all sounds overwhelming but here is the good news.  Our love is empowered and sustained by God’s love which never ends and which will never let us go.  We are not called to love alone but to rest and be refreshed by the love which powers the universe.  Each one of us is capable of love.  And each one of us is called to love, as individuals, as a church community, and in our wider communities at large.  In love, we can be vulnerable.  We can be honest.  We can listen.  We can act.  We can commit ourselves to living out Christ’s love.  And when people of faith (and people of no faith) reject the politics of fear  and commit themselves to the radical notion of living in love, then love will be abundant and the world will be changed.   

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.  Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.  

Let us pray,

God of love, we cry to you about all the suffering that we see in the world.  Empower us to see love as our super power, enabling us to change our lives, change the world for the better.  We thank you for your love which will not let us go.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.