31 When Judas had gone out from the room, Jesus said, “Now the Son of humanity has been glorified, and God has been glorified in the Son. 32 If God has been glorified in the Son, God will also glorify the Son in God's own self and will glorify the Son at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jewish believers so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment so that you love one another. As I have loved you in order that you also love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Please pray with me this morning, church:
God of love,
Love us back to life again this morning.
Call us again and lead us by your example.
Show us the breadth and depth of your love.
Give us courage to live out that love
In our lives and in our world.
It’s been a tough few weeks at the Michaelis house. Well, honestly, it’s been a tough few months, but it all kind of runs together, and eh, who’s really counting and keeping score, right?
One of the, shall we say, “blessings” of having a pandemic child, or at least a child who’s lived more of their life within than out of a global pandemic, is that the germs and stuff around your house largely don’t change. So when they start going to preschool and interacting with other kids and other houses’ germs…well…it does a number on their immune system. Throw in an oppressively bad spring allergy season, and the conditions are ripe for a sickness that just won’t end.
And when the 2-, almost 3-, year old isn’t happy…ain’t no one happy.
Now, full credit to my spouse who is apparently the only one who can do literally anything that the toddler will approve of…but, as I said, ain’t no one happy right now at our house.
Such is life, for this season.
It reminds me of something that I heard from a good friend and mentor that I usually fit in somewhere to most wedding sermons I’ve done: “Marriage isn’t something you do when you’re in love; marriage is what keeps you together until you fall in love again.”
In times of particular strife in our household, usually onset by a severe lack of sleep, when I find myself having less than charitable thoughts and being less than kind toward my spouse and our kid, I need to be reminded of the promises we made to each other, and the promises I made to her, that help sort of bring me back to a centered place, a place where my emotions and feelings and knee-jerk reactions and flat-out jerk reactions can level out, and I can remember that even in the “worse” parts of “for better or worse”, my commitment to those promises and this person has to be greater than my very strong desire for a couple more hours of sleep.
Although honestly, the two can run fairly close to each other, you know?
I say all this because in our gospel this morning, Jesus has some very particular words to say about love. And marriage is one of, though by no means, the only, place where love gets lived out in relationship.
Remember that we just heard these words from Jesus about a month ago on Maundy Thursday. Just before our gospel reading today picks up, Jesus gets up from dinner, ties a towel around his waist, and washes his disciples’ feet. A humbling act of love and tenderness and service, when a teacher and Rabbi and master submits themselves to their students and servants and friends.
Now, a couple of weeks ago, when Peter and some other disciples were fishing, and Jesus was cooking brunch on the beach, and Jesus asks Peter three times if Peter loves him…you remember this? I mentioned in that sermon to ask me some time about the differences in the words Jesus uses for love and the word Peter uses for love. Because, I said, that sermon was not about this, but this one kind of is, so permit me to get a little nerdy on you for a second.
Back a couple of weeks ago, after brunch, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you have agape love for me?” And Peter responds to Jesus, “Yes Lord, you know I have philia love for you.” Jesus says, “Feed my lambs.” A second time, Jesus says to Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you have agape love for me?” Peter responds, “Yeah Lord, you know I’ve got philia love for you.” Jesus says, “Tend my sheep.” A third time, Jesus asks Peter, “Peter, son of John, do you even have philia love for me?” And Peter, now quite upset since Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” responds, “Lord, you know…everything…you know I have…philia love for you…?” Jesus says to Peter, “Feed my sheep.”
On the surface, and certainly in English translations, this doesn’t sound like much of an encounter. As I said 2 weeks ago, I think the author of John is using poetic devices to have Peter respond to Jesus’ questions 3 times to mirror or account for the 3 times that Peter denies Jesus in the courtyard of the high priest on the night of Jesus’ betrayal. But the differences in the words used for “love” is important here.
See, the Greeks had 4 different words that they used, all to describe love. C.S. Lewis has a pretty good treatment of all of these in his book The Four Loves. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good. The 4 types of Greek love are storge, eros, philia, and agape. There’s not so much a hierarchy as it is they all describe different aspects of love. The exception to this would be agape which is seen as kind of the highest form of love, certainly and especially for Christians.
Storge is empathy. It’s the kind of love between family members and friends and neighbors. It’s a form of love that comes more naturally for us; it’s affection, but it’s pitfall, as Lewis saw it, is that people come to expect it irrespective of their behavior and its natural consequences.
Eros is romantic love. You could have guessed that. It’s where we get our word “erotic.” It’s passion, sometimes sexual in nature, but it can be blinding, making us act in ways that would otherwise be very out of character for us.
Philia is strong friend love, brotherly/sisterly/sibling-type love—philia actually means “brother” or “sibling” in Greek. This is probably the least natural type of love for us because it’s not instinctive—you choose your close friends. Philia was very well known and prized in the ancient world, and Lewis saw it as all but being forgotten in our modern times.
Agape, as you might know, is God love. Perfect love. It’s completely unconditional. It’s selfless. Completely. The Greeks and Lewis largely saw it as unattainable by humans.
Jesus asks Peter if Peter has agape love for him. Peter responds with, “Of course, Lord, you know I have philia love for you.”
For whatever reason, Peter couldn’t get all the way to where Jesus was in this expression of love.
I think we, like Peter, aspire to our Lord’s example and hope of embodying agape love in our lives…but imperfect beings that we are, we seem to always come up short of the mark.
In my best ideals about myself, I want to believe that the love I have for even my sick kid who upsets me when I just want to sleep or my spouse who gets annoyed when she, too, just wants to sleep is unconditional. I aspire for it to be, I want it to be. I don’t know that it is always.
Because the thing about agape love is that it is sacrificial.
There’s another line I include in almost every wedding sermon, and I said it in my sermon on Maundy Thursday when we last heard these verses from John, and that is “Love costs you something.” Love requires you to give something up. In my wedding sermons, I go on, “Love will cost you the need to always be right, and to win every argument. Love requires give and take and compromise. Love requires giving up your life for the sake of this new collective life.
Love will cost you not having the last say every time. It will cost you swallowing your pride and saying you’re sorry, unqualified and unasked for. Love will cost you the vindication of pulling all the blankets onto yourself because you’re so mad at the person that you think they shouldn’t get the blankets.
Love requires laying down your life.
Laying down the need to be right all the time. Laying down the need for the last word.
Laying down the need for vindication.
Love is costly.”
This is the kind of love that Jesus models for the disciples and the love Jesus asks his disciples to embody in the world.
“By this will the world know that you are my disciples, if you have agape love for one another, for your neighbor, for the world.”
Agape is sacrificial. It always seeks the absolute best for the one being loved, expecting and asking for nothing in return. It is completely turned outward. Agape is giving up of yourself. It is self-emptying—in Greek what is known as kenosis—literally, “being poured out.” Like water into a basin for washing feet. Like blood and water streaming out of a pierced and wounded side on the cross.
Emptying yourself for the sake of others and for the sake of the world.
Last week we talked about the love God has for you, how you are known and loved and named by God. And church, if God has such love for you, what kind of responsibility—what’s the call on your life—to embody that love in your relationships with others?
Church, what if we were a community that was defined and known by how well we cared for each other and our neighbors? What if our defining characteristic wasn’t our worship or our Sunday School or how many people call themselves members, but in a survey that asked “How well do you find yourself cared for, how well do you find your wounds tended and bandaged, how well do you find your joys celebrated and your sorrows held and prayed for at New Hope Lutheran Church?”…what if in that survey we could say that 100% of the people said 10 out of 10, I feel that I’m exceptionally well-cared for, and I feel like the people I worship with and share my life with are deeply invested in my life, and I in theirs.
What if we were a community of faith that our neighbors could say that about, as well? How many of our neighbors, church, do you think know how well we can love or how fervently we can show up in a time of need? Can you just imagine? Can you even imagine how much of an impact that would have, not just on you, not just on the people here…but the kind of impact it would make in a community and world that is desperate for good news?
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and church, in so many of the conversations I’ve had with parishioners over the past couple of weeks, I need you to know that there are a lot of folks who aren’t ok. I also need you to hear me say that if you’re one of those folks if you’re someone who’s not feeling ok right now, that it is absolutely ok to not be ok. Your struggle matters. I am here during this time, God is here during this time, and I think and I believe that this church is here during this time. And if you need something, I am someone you can come to and I can try and get you connected with folks in my network who can help. But church, you need to know that a good number of people aren’t ok, they’re really struggling with any number of things. And overwhelmingly, it’s our young folks who are struggling. That might not be where you are. Things might be just fine in your life, but please hear me say that for a good number of our young folks, they’re really and truly struggling.
What could it mean for you to reach out? How could you give of yourself to extend a hand and invite them to coffee or lunch and let them share their life with you? How can you reach out in love and empty yourself for the sake of someone who just needs to know there’s a community of faith that cares deeply about them and truly loves them?
What if we were a community of faith that truly loved?
By this will the world know that you are followers of Jesus.
If you have self-giving, self-emptying, sacrificial love for each other.
For your friends.
For your neighbors.
And for the world.