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Love's Command

Sermon – 5/01/05
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

John 14:15-21

Our scripture this morning comes from the gospel of John, the 14th chapter, verses 15 through 21.  Jesus says:  

15 ’If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

18 ’I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’


There's a scene in Fiddler on the Roof that occurred to me as I was preparing this, that I thought would make a wonderful introduction this morning.  And I thought about going out and getting the movie to play that, and then it dawned on me that my daughter was in Fiddler on the Roof last year, many of you went to that performance, thank you very much.  So we naturally have a copy of it.  So instead of the professional, really nice Hollywood version, what I have is the Sheldon Theater version.  And I think that endears it all the more, the wonderful performance of these high school students.  

This particular scene is not the one Paulina was in, but is when Tevye asks his wife Golde if she loves him.

[Video of the scene played on the wall -- lyrics to the song "Do You Love Me?" are reprinted below]

"Golde, I have decided to give Perchik permission to become engaged to our daughter, Hodel."

"What??? He's poor! He has nothing, absolutely nothing!"

"He's a good man, Golde.
I like him. And what's more important, Hodel likes him. Hodel loves him.
So what can we do?
It's a new world... A new world. Love. Golde..."

Do you love me?

Do I what?

Do you love me?

Do I love you?
With our daughters getting married
And this trouble in the town
You're upset, you're worn out
Go inside, go lie down!
Maybe it's indigestion

"Golde I'm asking you a question..."

Do you love me?

You're a fool

"I know..."

But do you love me?

Do I love you?
For twenty-five years I've washed your clothes
Cooked your meals, cleaned your house
Given you children, milked the cow
After twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?

Golde, The first time I met you
Was on our wedding day
I was scared

I was shy

I was nervous

So was I

But my father and my mother
Said we'd learn to love each other
And now I'm asking, Golde
Do you love me?

I'm your wife

"I know..."
But do you love me?

Do I love him?
For twenty-five years I've lived with him
Fought him, starved with him
Twenty-five years my bed is his
If that's not love, what is?

Then you love me?

I suppose I do

And I suppose I love you too

It change a thing
But even so
After twenty-five years
It's nice to know


Now doesn't that just warm the cockles of your heart?  Maybe it's just because I'm a sentimental type, or maybe it's because Dad & Dorothy are here, and they were here last year to see that, and came again today to see Sugar.  Maybe it's because this summer will be 25 years that Judy and I will be married.  I don't know, for all of these reasons, I thought it was a great way to start today.

That scene illustrates the first point that I want to make.  That love is best expressed not in sentimental words and cards and flowers, although those things are nice, but in the concrete acts of devotion done in love.  25 years of washing clothes and cooking meals and cleaning house.  A little chocolate along the way always helps.

The best way to show your spouse, I have learned, that you love him or her is not by taking her or him to the movie, or dinner, as nice as that may be but it's doing those little things for the other person.  Washing the dishes when it's not your turn.  Doing the laundry or mowing the lawn or washing the car.  It's in those little sacrificial acts that we do for someone else that it's the true sign of love.

And normally I would say that it's not something you can buy either, with gifts.  But then my wife surprised me one year on my birthday -- gave me a gift that blew me away.  Golf clubs.  You have to know that Judy HATES golf -- she hates it when I go golfing.  She hates it when we watch golf.  She just hates everything about it.  And then for her to give me golf clubs -- I knew she loved me.

We can all name ways to demonstrate the ways that we show love for one another, for those people that are close to us and important to us.  But how do you show love for someone you do not even know?  Or someone who has long been dead?  How do we show love for George Washington, or Martin Luther, or Mother Teresa, or Joan of Arc?

Rudolf Bultmann, the great German biblical scholar of the early 20th century said that the key question in this text from the gospel of John is "can the disciples still love Jesus after he is gone?  And more importantly, can those who never met Jesus love him at all?  And if so, how?"

That's the issue that John's gospel is addressing.  And the answer is pretty clear, isn't it?  If you want to show your love for Jesus, you won't build a monument to him.  Remember, Peter tried to do that on the mountain at the transfiguration.  You won't do it by drawing your weapons and fighting for him -- Peter tried to do that too, in the garden, remember when they came to arrest Jesus.  And it won't be by holding on to Jesus, as Mary tried to do after the resurrection.

But rather by keeping the commands of Jesus.  Now at first glance that sounds rather moralistic, as if loving Jesus can be done by keeping a list of do's and don'ts.  And I have to be perfectly honest with you -- whenever anyone pulls out their list and says to me "this is what it means to be a Christian -- 1, 2, 3, 4 5", you know, check all these things off and then you're a Christian.  My advice to you when that happens is:  run.  Get away as fast as you can.

I had a wedding a few weeks ago in which I did the ceremony, and afterwards one of the guests came up to me and said "You know you left out something".  I said, really, what did I leave out?  "You left out that part about the wife obeying the husband".  Oh, really?  You don't know me very well, do you?!  You don't know this couple very well either, do you -- first of all, they were in their 70s.  If I had suggested that I would have been laughed out of the room.  Secondly, I just have this negative reaction whenever I'm told that I have to obey this or that.  Just ask my father, he'll tell you, it was a problem my whole childhood J.

As a parent, I don't expect my children to obey me because they love me, I expect them to obey me because I'm their father.  They know the consequences if they don't.  But you see, at a certain age, it no longer works.  In my kids case, it might be 35 or 40, and they can do whatever they want J.  But in mature relationships, obedience and love just don't go together very well, do they?  We do something for the other person because we love them, not because we feel obligated.  

And thus I have a very strong aversion to those churches and religions that emphasize obedience to religious authority and adherence to a strict moral code.  

Last year, Sheldon High School did Fiddler on the Roof, that we just saw, a play that everyone knows and loves, and they did it very well, wonderful, wonderful production.  And this year they chose Sugar.  Sugar is based on the movie "Some Like it Hot", with Marilyn Monroe.  A delightful story.  There was a little controversy around it, you may recall -- it hit the paper, made the news.  Because, Nancy Anderson, who is their musical director, our choir director, had advised the Principal that he needed to be aware that there were a couple of issues that might create a little bit of a problem.  So if any parents complained, she just wanted to let him know, to be advised.  There's card playing (heaven forbid!), there's a little bit of alcohol drinking (there's more in Fiddler on the Roof), there's some violence, guns, you know we get all uneasy with that in schools.  And not to mention the fact there are two men who dress up like women through half of the play.  So she made them aware and that finally worked its way up into the district office and after they had selected the cast, were all ready to go, word came down 'no, you can't do that'.  Can't do that play, it's not appropriate in our high school.

Well, the reaction of the parents -- folks became very upset.  Not over the selection of the play, they became upset at the district's attempt to censor the play.  As if our children are not mature enough to handle these kinds of themes.  And there was a meeting with the principal and all kinds people shared, and a compromise was agreed to, modifications were going to be made, but because of the news, the publisher found out about it they said "No, you either do the play as it was written or you don't do it at all".  And so that's what they're doing.  Judy and I went Friday night -- loved it, delightful, slapstick, there is a scene in there of the gangster, a tap-dancing gangster, his death scene, that is not to be missed.  I just happen to have two tickets right here for the highest bidder.

By the way, I have to tell you I have never been more proud to be a parent in a public school.  Our schools do such a fine job, Nancy does an outstanding job.

The point is not that we shouldn't have moral codes that we expect our schools and students to live by, but that they have their limits.  And that there is a higher principle, a higher code.  Jesus says in this text " . . if you love me, you will keep my commandments".  So I ask you, what are those commandments?

You know them.  Golden Rule -- do unto others as you'd have them do unto you.  Isn't that just another expression of love?  The parable of the judgment -- remember, the sheep and the goats, and he says I was hungry and you fed me, I was naked and you clothed me, when you do it to the least of these you have done it to me.  What is that but an expression of love?  The parable of the Good Samaritan -- that person wounded, lying in the ditch, and the religious authorities that walk on by, and that half no-good Samaritan is the one who helps him, binds up his wounds, and what is that if not an act of neighborly love?  These are the commands of Jesus.

And if you ask me 'what about the 10 commandments?', well what about them?  Read your New Testament.  Remember when Jesus talks about the 10 commandments?  There is that rich politician who comes to Jesus, probably the one who paid to put up the monument on the courthouse lawn, who comes and says "what must I do to inherit eternal life?  Keep the commandments?  I've done those, heck I even paid for that monument, you see, check that off my list".  And Jesus says:  'you lack one thing, go and sell all that you have and give it to the poor and come and follow me'.  Now that's a tough commandment.  But is not that just the most radical expression of love?

And on another occasion, when he was asked which is the greatest commandment, Jesus has his opportunity -- is it 1, 3, and 5?  No, he bypasses all 10 and he says instead:  "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.  Love your neighbor as yourself".  That sums up all the rest.

And then in John's gospel, you know how many commandments there are?  One.  One commandment Jesus gives you.  Comes before this text, in chapter 13 verse 34.  Comes after this text, chapter 15 verse 12.  One commandment, repeated twice, both before and after, to make sure we get the point:  "This is the new commandment I give you", says Jesus, "that you love one another as I have loved you".

Oh, that ought to be easy, don't have to remember 10, don't have to remember 2, just have to remember 1.  Until we remember where that one command took Jesus.

You see love goes beyond the 10 commandments.  It goes beyond duty.  It goes beyond obligation.  It goes beyond all minimum expectations.  Which is why Jesus taught us not to just love our friends but to love our enemies.  To turn the other cheek.  To go the extra mile.  Christian faith is not about living by moral codes, it's about living by one code.  And that's why following Jesus does not come with any instruction book that gives you clear answers for every situation.  We have but one law, the law of love.  And it is up to us to figure out what that means in our daily life.

There was a wonderful story that came out of the Vietnam war, published by Reader's Digest, and they said they can't verify the story, we don't know if it actually happened, but there's a sense in which we all know it's true.  The story was of a village that got hit by artillery fire, collateral damage, unintended innocent victims.  A medical team arrived, an American doctor and nurse discovered an orphanage had taken a direct hit, the missionaries that led the orphanage had been killed.  One little girl, very severely wounded, and they quickly ascertained that if she did not receive a blood transfusion right away she would also die.  The doctors spoke a little bit of Vietnamese, the nurse spoke a little bit of French, and between the two of them and a lot of hand motions they were able to get the survivors together and to explain to them they needed someone who would volunteer to donate their blood so the little girl could live.  One little hand went up, and went back down.  Came back up, and they quickly went to him and learned the little boy's name, laid him down on a gurney and thanked him for being so brave.  Tested the blood and sure enough it was of the right type.  Began to draw some out and the little boy began to whimper.  And they said 'is anything wrong, does it hurt?'  No, it didn't hurt.  Continued for awhile and he began to sob.  They tried to console him but they couldn't figure out what was wrong.  Pretty soon he began to cry uncontrollably.  They knew something terrible was wrong.  Just then a Vietnamese nurse arrived on the scene, who spoke pretty good English, and they brought her to the little boy and she immediately spoke to him.  They exchanged back & forth several times and pretty soon the sobbing began to quiet down.  He asked her one last question and she nodded her head and smiled.  And he too smiled, and he stopped crying.  

She turned to the Americans and said 'he misunderstood you.  He thought he was giving ALL of his blood, so the little girl could live, and that he was going to die'.  And they said, 'but why would he do that?!'  And so the nurse repeated the question to the little boy, and he answered back:  "Because", he said, "she is my friend".  

To love one another as Jesus loved those around him, as Jesus loved his disciples, as Jesus loved the people on the street, as Jesus loved his enemies.  To love one another.  This is love's command.


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