Love Makes the World go Round
Does it? Does love make the world go round? Songwriters think so. From 1896 to at least 2004 there have been songs written with that title and most aren't the same song.
However, human love makes our world go round in the same way that Hitler made the German world go round. Our world is tyrannized by love. In the name of love, people, and not just the couples involved, ignore the 5,000 year old institution of marriage and live together. Or they discard this venerable institution because he, she, or they don't love one another. It's in the name of love that an unborn baby's life is ended. An unloved baby is worse than a dead one. In the name of love the institution as old as civilization itself has been redefined. It's now between- for now at least two people who love each other and not just a man and a woman.
Luther said, "A curse on a love that is observed at the expense of" any doctrine of the faith (LW 27, 38). A 20th century Lutheran theologian echoes that saying Christian love must not be confounded with what the world calls love human sympathy. Christ's love can use the sword (Mt. 10:34). Christian love doesn't shrink from speaking the truth against error no matter who is cut. Fallen love detests "everything that might cause uneasiness and, therefore, says yes, even to error and heresy" (Sasse, Lonely Way, II, 285).
Well that shows all those people, especially Christians, embracing living together, easy divorce, abortion, and gay marriage in the name of love how wrong they are. Yes, but we can't go the way of the Beetles and Tina Turner either. With the Beetles it was a misunderstanding of one of my daughters. As a preteen after hearing their song "All You Need is Love," she asked me why in the chorus they sang, "All you need is love, blah, blah, blah." You know it does sound like they're saying love is just "blah, blah, blah." Faithful Christians can't go that far. And surely not as far as Tina Turner did go when she sang belligerently, "What's love got to do with it.Love is just a secondhand emotion." Is it?
It doesn't sound secondhand in 1 Jn. 3:14. "He who does not love remains in death." Love has everything to do with our Lord's Passion. John starts the Passion history in his 13th chapter. The word love occurs 36 times in 9 chapters. In the previous 12 love occurs 9 times. What's love got to do with the Passion? Plenty it would seem. The final directive that Jesus gave them at the start of His Passion is "love one another just as I have loved you." The OT had the command love each other. The newness here is "as I have loved you."
Love is no "blah, blah, blah" for Jesus. It's His last instruction on how His disciples are to order their lives. Greek philosophers used the word for love Jesus does here, agape, in a condescending way. Eros, from which our word erotic comes, was their favorite word for love. Eros was the noble, uplifting love that engaged the minds of poets and philosophers from Homer (10th century B.C.) to Plotinus (3rd century A.D.). Agape is almost completely lacking in pre-Biblical or un-Biblical Greek (Kittle, I, 37).
So outside of Christ, the love of understanding, intelligence, and noble purpose was passed over as "blah, blah, blah" and was a secondhand emotion to erotic love. But not so for Christians to whom Jesus on His deathbed said, "Love one another as I have loved you." Earlier Jesus had said, "Greater love has no man than this: to lay down his life for his friends." But God's love for us is greater still. Rom. 5 tells us, "While we still God's enemies, God was reconciled to us through the death of His Son." Love starts outside us in God. When John defines love in 1 Jn. 4 he says, "This is love: not that we love God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a wrath removing sacrifice for our sins."
And finally we get our mind blown love-wise and God-wise by John's simple statement. "God is love." This means love is not an attribute of God but a designation of His essence. This means just as God can't fail to be omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent, so He can't fail to love. When that tsunami wiped out a quarter of a million people, God's love didn't fail. When your heart is broken by death or lost love, God's love hasn't failed. When you can't feel even a twinge of God's love for you or scent even a hint in the air, it can't be that God's love has failed for that would mean God was no longer God.
Besides you come from a long line of love. That's from a late 80s country song. A man tells his fiance "my grand dad's still in love with my grandmamy dad still thinks my mom's the sweetest thing thing he ever saw. I come from a long line of love. When the times get hard we don't give up. Forever is in my heart and in my blood. You see I come from a long line of love." Forever isn't in Michael Murphy's heart and blood or yours, but you do come from a long line of love.
As we saw love starts in the God of eternity not with temporal humanity. Jesus says in John 17:24 that the Father loved Him before the creation of the world." In John 15:9 Jesus applies this to us. "As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in My love." You come from an eternally long line of love and the love you are called to remain forever in is Jesus' love for you not your fickle feeling of love for spouse, others, or even God. The long line of love starts with God and comes to you through who Jesus is and what He did for you. The one passage virtually every Christian knows by heart teaches you this: John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life."
So when I preach to you of love I'm not trying to get you in touch with a sticky sweet sentimentality or even with a love in you that will love "till the heavens stop the rain.till the stars fall from the sky." I'm trying to take you back to the Passion of Jesus which begins with these tender words, "Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end." Surely the end being spoken of is that last triumphant cry from the cross which is the verb form of "end." It's usually translated, "It is finished," but it could be translated, "It is ended."
To that end Jesus loved you. This means after having lived a life of perfection that even in our dreams we can't/ don't, after having kept every single command, demand, requirement God's Law gave to you, Jesus went to the cross. He went through betrayal, denial, brutal trials, torture, and damnation. And he was loving not "it" every minute but you, just you.
This type of love can only be illustrated by the unbelievable. Thirty years ago a couple in Los Angels were seen arguing while waking on a bridge 50 feet above railroad tracks. They stopped. She sat on the railing of the bridge. When the man attempted to kiss her she dodged his kiss, slipped off the bridge, and fell. The man lunged to try and keep his beloved from falling. He fell with her and died with her (Schenectady Gazette, Sep. 23, 1986, 5). We dodged the loving lips of Jesus because He was our enemy. But Jesus wouldn't let us go. He grabbed hold of as we plummeted to certain death and damnation. Here is where the reality exceeds the illustration. We landed on top of Jesus safe and unharmed. He was damned and did die in our place.
But I don' feel very loved by Jesus. Baptism, you say, joins me to the death and resurrection of Jesus giving me new life, but I don't feel love, I feel water. Absolution, you say, sends my sin and guilt far from me, but I don't feel love, I feel words vibrating my eardrums. Communion, you say is the Body and Blood of Jesus that was given and shed for me on the cross, once more here in time for us Christians to eat and drink for forgiveness, life, and salvation. But what I feel is a white wafer and sweet wine.
Christ's love looks different, feels different than human love. In the 90s a professor at Tulane said that the many of the associations used by black poets are the opposite of white poets. Black not white is the color of love in their poetry (Atlas (World Press Review) 1991). The world paints love in pastel, bright, warm, feel good colors. God in Christ paints love in primary even dark colors, cold colors, not so feel-good colors. Scripture says "love is as strong as death." That could only be God's love for you not yours for God or others. God's love being stronger than death means it is stronger than anything and everything leading up to death.
God's love for you in Jesus is stronger than the black cancer eating at you or the white noise of Alzheimer robbing you of memories. God's love for you in Jesus is stronger than all the trials and tribulations that come upon fallen men in a fallen world. Because God doesn't speak or paint in the lovely colors of the world, but in the blood and suffering of His Son, doesn't mean His love is less. You do come from a long line of love, an eternally long line, but the love your God shows you is sometimes written in invisible ink. It only is readable under the cross where living is dying and dying is living.
God's love in Christ is deeper than Randy Travis' which was deeper than the ocean. The absolute depth of the world's love seeks only the happiness of their beloved. God's love in Christ is eternally deep. This can only be illustrated in a negative way by fallen men. No loving father would be content to see his daughter happy as a prostitute. No loving wife would want to see her husband happy as a coward (C.S. Lewis, Till We all Have Faces, 138).
Sometimes when a sinner sees the depths of their sins they will say, "O just leave me alone with my sins. Let them take me; let them kill me; let them damn me." God in Christ did everything for the sake of His love for you, but He won't do that. Such a love as this does make the world go round. It's the only type that can. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fifth Sunday of Easter (20160424); John 13: 31-35