No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for their friends.

This passage from this morning’s gospel is both beautiful and scary.  Beautiful because I think we all wish that someone somewhere would love us enough to die for us; scary because we hope we will not be called on to die for another.  Well, I have good news, and I have bad news….

The good news is that someone HAS loved us enough to die for us… That one is Jesus who loved the world so much that he was willing to die for it.  The bad news is that Jesus expects the same level of love for others as he has for us.  Man…that is just hard, hard news to hear.

Sometimes it’s hard because it sounds a little too simple… the commandment is to love one another as we are loved by Jesus.  It’s all well and good until we think about the ways that Jesus has loved.  He loved in ways that did not hold back anything, and even harder to think about, is that he loved those that society had abandoned.  

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” That’s it.  That’s the commandment Jesus left us with – to love one another as he loved us.  If we live into that commandment then we shall know the love of God as it is expressed within the Trinity, because we will take part in that relationship.

They are hard words to hear today.  It seems to me that loving in such a selfless way is not only difficult, but in contemporary society, we seem to have lost the will to do it.  

In her book, “Radical Hospitality” Lonnie Collins says this: “American spirituality is basically a consumer spirituality.  God is a product with incredible benefits.” She goes on to say, “It seeks benefits rather than relationship”.  As she continues, she says hospitality, which is for her, another way of talking about gospel love, “is not an easy answer”.  Love, the kind of love that Jesus gave and continues to give is simple and yet not easy.  It requires sacrifice and when Jesus loves, he sacrifices everything.   That idea flies in the face of contemporary society that continues to build walls and barriers that keep us separated from each other, which does nothing but cause us to fear one another.  The longer we fear, the quicker we hate.  And when we start turning church into another product to consume, we might throw money at a problem and then expect others to do the work of ministry.  After all, once we have written the check we can check off the box for good deeds today.  And hear me when I say that giving money has a time and a place.  But, ministry that is going to transform the lives of people, our lives and the lives of those we are ministering with… means that we actually do the ministering and we risk part of ourselves by being in relationship with others.  We must make time and space for others in our lives.  Loving as Jesus loves means that everyone involved is changed.  We cannot do the work of Christ or be in relationship with him through another without being changed… and changes can be pretty scary.

This week, Pope Francis met with Anglican Presiding bishops who were gathered together in Rome.  The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby was also there.  At this meeting, the hope of Christian unity was spoken of.  This is what the Pope had to say: “Only a love that becomes gratuitous service, only the love that Jesus taught and embodies, will bring separated Christians closer to one another.  Only that love, which does not appeal to the past in order to remain aloof or to point a finger, only that love which in God’s name puts our brothers and sisters before the ironclad defense of our own religious structures, only that love will unite us.  First our brothers and sisters, the structures later.”

The Pope’s words speak to relationships before money, before structures, before politics.  Loving one another is a gospel mandate that Jesus give all of us throughout the world, throughout time and place.  The commandment is repeated in scripture over and over again… Love one another.  Love as he loves.  May we all take risks; may we be ministers and not consumers, may we remember it’s relationships above all else.  Love one another as he has loved us.