Sunday, April 28, 2013

Love is All You Need

Had a little inspiration outside of the canon for this Sunday. We had a lot of fun at the Deer Creek Charge United Methodist Churches this Sunday!

Scripture: John 13:31-35 (NRSV)
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now service 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. 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.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Sermon: All You Need is Love
Love, love, love.
Love, love, love.
Love, love, love.

This is the word for our scripture lesson this morning. Here we are continuing our celebration of Easter, but we turn in the Gospel of John back to that Maundy Thursday meal when Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. Seems a strange look back when we are celebrating the resurrection, except that the message of this scripture--- love--- is important grounding for us in the Easter season, especially in the wake of violence in this country and around the world.

But such a message seems simplistic, doesn't it. Like Jesus is saying, “Hey disciples, a lot is going to happen to you, and I know I told you a lot of parables and taught you many things, but really, all you need is love.” So then why do we need this whole bible, when instead we can read Jesus' words in a Beatles' song?

Love, especially in our culture's mania of candy hearts and roses, may sometimes seem simple and nice and warm and fuzzy. Sometimes when we talk about love, we create this picture of a love that looks more like a bunch of people sitting around singing Kum By Yah rather than whatever Jesus is talking about here. And our own experiences of love tell us that what Jesus is saying here isn't all that simple, but love is a deceptive word and it is hard. So we can't just read it this morning and leave it with a nice feeling. We have to delve into it, try our best to grasp it, because it is the heart of this Resurrection Life we as Christians live.

There is passage after passage in the bible about love, and I thought about bringing them all into this sermon, but then I stopped and thought I'd use a more contemporary work of art to bring this scripture to life, to really delve into the meaning of this word love. So will you join me this morning as we try to understand Jesus' words read through the lens of a Beatles' song?

All You Need is Love” was written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney and first performed in 1967. They had been asked to come up with a simple song that could be easily understood by people all around the world--- even people who didn't speak English. Yet such a simple message has such a power to it, and points us to Jesus' instructions to his disciples: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Let us explore these words together.

There's nothing you can do that can't be done.
Nothing you can sing that can't be sung.
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game.
It's easy.

The Beatles paraphrase what Jesus is saying pretty well, I think. John Lennon begins his definition of love pretty biblically, I think. He begins by talking about impossibility.

Now let's go back to the scripture here. The conversation we read takes place directly following Jesus washing everyone's feet. This is the beginning of a gentle but fierce conversation in which Jesus explains to his disciples what is about to happen. He tells them he is leaving them, he tells them that he will die. The disciples do not even understand that--- how can they understand something impossible like the resurrection? But he is patient and tells them that though he dies, yet he will live.

There's nothing you can do that can't be done.
Nothing you can sing that can't be sung.

We often say that nothing is impossible with God. Sometimes I think we forget that nothing is impossible with God because of God's love. That's the link the Beatles make for us. And it was a crucial link for the disciples. Even though they did not understand that Jesus was to die, Jesus was trying to plant within them the fact that, if they could just hold on to love, they would not be left alone in the impossibility of grief. If they could just hold on to love, the work to spread Jesus' teachings would not seem as impossible as it did in the face of Judas' betrayal, as it did in the shadow of the cross.

Holding onto love is not about holding onto a warm, fuzzy feeling. We learn from Jesus and the Beatles here that holding on to love is to say that nothing is impossible. Even in the face of war and terror, even in the face of death, love overcomes. Jesus shows his friends his love by washing their feet, and then he tells them that love is what is going to get them through the pain and hardship that is ahead of them.

Nothing you can make that can't be made.
No one you can save that can't be saved.
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time.
It's easy.

In the second verse, I think that the Beatles bring out for us another important piece of what Jesus was saying to his disciples. Love is about learning, learning to be the true self that God is calling us to be. Jesus says, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples.” Jesus is encouraging the disciples to become love, as he is.

This takes time, as Jesus knows, I'm sure, but if he didn't know that he learns it after the resurrection where he finds his disciples hiding locked away in an upper room, on the road running from Jerusalem, so tired they are spouting disbelief, and even going back to their work as fishermen. He finds them running from that call to be themselves, running from the call to become God's love in the world.

The call looks different for everyone, but too often we, like the disciples run from it. We try to claim impossibility, saying that love really can't bring any kind of change in the world, so why bother? But in the end there is nothing for us to do but learn, turn to scripture, turn to those Godly mentors in our lives, and learn to be us, learn to love as Jesus calls us to love.

You see God doesn't leave us alone, and so there is nothing we can do but let the lessons of love God sends to us wash over us, and settle within us. Nothing to do but let the nonsensical but strong connections we make in love to lead us to become...

Nothing you can know that isn't known.
Nothing you can see that isn't shown.
Nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be.
It's easy.

In a few weeks, we will be exploring the story of the Ascension, in which Jesus leaves physically, but this love he encourages the disciples to have back before he is crucified is meant to sustain them, sustain us through Jesus' physical absence. It is the event I think Jesus is looking to when he gives this commandment to his followers.

When he tells them to love he reminds them and us, that if we just love, other things fall into place. Nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be, if you just love. At least, I imagine that part is included in Jesus' commandment. After all, the disciples work together a bit after the ascension, but when Pentecost comes, many of them find themselves scattered to preach throughout the world. And yet, with the love of Christ within them, they find where ever they are to be exactly where they need to be.

This is an important lesson for us as well, as I prepare to move to Presbury United Methodist and as you prepare to welcome a new pastor. Pastors, if they know anything at all, know that the most important rule of being a pastor is to just love the people. If you love the people, the the other things like preaching and administration and teaching and hospital visits--- those things work themselves out. It may take a while, certainly. But they do.

Now, at the end of each verse, John Lennon sings that all this is easy. I'm not so sure, particularly if we are still using the example of the Methodist itinerant system of moving pastors! Love is often hard work, and it is risky, particularly in the way Jesus is using it! But every time we claim something is impossible, love reminds us that it isn't. The tomb is empty. Christ is risen. Nothing is impossible with God.

All you need is love.
All you need is love.
All you need is love, love.
Love is all you need.

All you need is love (all together, now!)
All you need is love. (everybody!)
All you need is love, love.
Love is all you need (love is all you need).

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