Jesus Christ calls us to be a joyful community that celebrates God's love, transforms lives, and is a force for justice in the world.

Choosing to Love

St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church
The Rev. Bart Smith
The Sixth Sunday of Easter (May 6, 2018)
John 15:9-17 – “Choosing to Love”

As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete. This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because everything I heard from my Father I have made known to you. You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could go and produce fruit and so that your fruit could last. As a result, whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you. I give you these commandments so that you can love each other.


Opening story: my conversation with a stranger at a recent dinner: “Your job is impossible! How do you teach people how to love?” Good question! 

The message of this passage and the sum of Jesus’ teachings are deceivingly simple.

  • It’s all about love. The Great Commandment = love God; love neighbor.
  • In the context of John’s gospel, it’s all about love.
    • The whole incarnation “project,” God taking on flesh.
    • The word “love” appears in John’s gospel dozens of times.
    • There’s 3:16, the most famous verse: “For God so loved the world…”
    • Jesus says it here: “As the father has loved me, I too have loved you.”

Remember the Beatles song? “All you need is love.” If love is all we need, then why is it so hard?

  • How many songs, poems, books, and works of art are devoted to love, inspired by it’s ecstatic heights and haunted by its absence?
  • It’s a fundamental human need to give and receive it, but why are we so bad at it?
  • bell hooks spoke at the Festival of Books; new book All About Love: New Visions
    • She writes in the introduction: “Everywhere we learn that love is important, yet we are bombarded by its failure.” (xxvii)
    • hooks attributes this to many things. Obvious ones: damage done in our families of origin, fear of being rejected, inability to love ourselves first; not-so-obvious ones: how patriarchy warps gender roles, the commercialization of love, the extent to which untruthfulness is pervasive in our culture…
    • Christian theology, to oversimplify the problem, would say that our inability to love is the result of sin. Love is a gift of God, but like all other good gifts we have a tendency to ignore it, misuse it, misunderstand it.
    • bell hooks again…
      • Part of the problem is we don’t know what we mean by “love.” We confuse other things for love (like affection), we limit it to a romantic sense, and we can’t agree on a definition.
      • She offers one, based off the work of M. Scott Peck: “the will to extend one’s self for the purposes of nurture one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” (p. 4)
      • hooks own words: “to truly love we must learn to mix various ingredients— care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust, as well as honest and open communication.” (p.5)

We see bell hooks ingredients in Jesus words and actions in John’s gospel.

  • “Love each other just as I have loved you.” All the events leading up to this point: the healing, feeding, washing the disciples feet are a manifestation of love.
  • Before his says this, Judas walks away. Jesus forgives. After he says this, Peter will deny. Jesus forgives.
  • What can be somewhat annoying is about John’s gospel is how many times Jesus repeats himself. But he’s trying to drive the point home! Love!
  • I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends…” What does that mean? Mutuality.
  • “No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends.” Does that have to mean a solitary act of heroism, or can it be an ongoing, daily reality?

Mark Scandrette, an author and spiritual director in San Francisco, has an interesting take on the Christian message of love. In this video…

  • He translates Jesus work of the Kingdom of God into the “Empire of Love.”
  • Upon starting his intentional community he said: “What I needed was for my Christian faith to move from a college lecture hall to something more like a karate studio, a Jesus dojo, a space where we could work out the teachings of Jesus together in real life. Dojo is a Japanese word that means ‘place of the way’ and it suggests an active learning space where skills are taught by a master teacher through example and group practice. You can’t learn karate just by watching, and we won’t learn how to practice the way of Jesus without taking tangible steps to walk in his way. The promise of the gospel is that we can learn a whole new way to be human…. to live a life animated and empowered by love.”

Back to my conversation with the stranger. “How do you teach people how to love?”

  • What came to my mind was, “We confuse love with a feeling. It’s a choice.”
  • We choose to love, over and over and over again…
    • In the intimate spaces in our lives…
    • In society… “Justice what love looks like in public” -Cornel West
    • When we fail, we try again. Love takes practice.
    • We have to include ourselves as the recipients of love.

May it be so…