All You Need is Love
"All you need is love/ All you need is love, love/ Love is all you really need," sang the Beatles. Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, speaking with His disciples for the last time says about the same thing. Eight times in 9 verses Jesus uses the word love. "Love is all we really need," Jesus seems to be saying along with the Beatles. But are they really saying the same thing? From what I can recollect of the Beatles' song, the love they sing of needing is that of being loved by another. Jesus plainly speaks of not only being loved but loving, so it would seem that Jesus says we need both to be loved and to love. The text begins with Jesus speaking of His love for us, and ends with the command, "Love each other."
Good thing the Lord's command to us is nothing more than, "Love each other." Think of all the things Jesus could have said. Where would we be if Jesus had said, "This is my command: Keep the Jewish ceremonial laws?" Where would we be if Jesus had left us with animal sacrifices, monk like service to God, or the command to memorize the New Testament? Where would we be if Jesus had left us the command to grow His Church, make it prosperous, make it a success, rather than the command, "Love each other?"
Where in this text do you find the popular idea that Christianity is a long list of do's and don'ts? People think Jesus said, "This is my command: Stop sinning." Or, "This is my command: Give money until it hurts." Or, "This is My command: I want you to really, really, I mean really, believe in Me!" Isn't this what people think Jesus said? But all Jesus says, and He says it twice, is: "Love each other."
And I ask you people; what on earth could be easier than that? Poems, books, movies, songs are filled with how deeply, how richly, how easily one person loves another. We close letters, e-mails and cards with "love." We end conversations, say goodnight, and farewell with "I love you." How easily "love" rolls off our lips and apparently bubbles up in our hearts. Love is so easy in our world that some people are said to be afflicted with the problem of loving "too much."
Love is in the air; love makes the world go round; what the world needs now is love sweet love and there is not a man, woman or child on the planet that doesn't think he or she has the love which the world needs. So when Jesus tells those disciples on Maundy Thursday night, "This is my command," I can hear them all take a deep breath as they think, "What's He going to say?" When Jesus finishes by saying, "Love each other," I can hear them let their breath out in a sigh of relief. I even picture Peter high-fiving John. Hey, this love thing is a slam dunk.
Of course you know it isn't. Just think what happened after Jesus uttered the command: "Love each other." The 3 disciples Jesus had asked to stay awake and pray with Him, fell asleep. That's not very loving. Peter cut off a man's ear. That's not very loving. All the disciples deserted Jesus. That's not very loving. Peter denied Jesus 3 times. Where's the love in that? And how much love do you think the disciples showed the women when they came saying Jesus had risen, but the disciples thought it nonsense? And how much do you think they showed to Thomas who insisted that Jesus had not risen even after 10 disciples assured him He had?
Is it any different among us? Don't we regularly, repeatedly, and easily fail to love each other? Husbands fail to love wives, parents children and children parents. Church members who claim to worship the God who is love itself can't seem to love each other. Luther says it's nothing less than the devil who sows discord, anger, impatience, and hatred among God's people. We conservative people will strain, wrestle, work to have all our doctrines in a row to faithfully confess what God has revealed, but not bat an eyelash at the hatred, scorn, contempt we feel toward others. Yes, yes, yes, it is true that we are never to compromise doctrine for the sake of love, but neither are we to act as if there is no doctrine about loving each other.
It would be so much easier if Jesus had just said, "Love Me." People will gush on and on about how they love Jesus as if Jesus had said your love for Me whom you can't see proves you do love your brothers and sisters you can see. But Jesus didn't say that, did He? He in fact said, "You cannot love the God you can't see if you do not love the brother or sister you do see." If we don't love each other, we do not and cannot love God, period.
Where am I to go? This failure of love on my part is serious. If only Jesus had said, Love those who love you, or at least, "love those who like you." But there's just the bear command, "Love each other." Not love those who help you, get along with you, are nice to you, but just plain, "Love each other." Where am I to go? I am to go where we go in the post-Communion Collect. We go to the Almighty God beseeching Him of His mercy that He would strengthen us through the Sacrament of the Altar, in faith toward Him AND "in fervent love toward one another." The things we ask for from God in prayer, we don't think we can do, have or get on our own. He Himself must give us love for each other, and He gives us love for each other by giving us His love.
Jesus starts by speaking of God's love for us: "As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in My love." How do we remain in Jesus' love? Jesus answers, "If you obey my commandments you will remain in my love." Did you catch that plural? Jesus says by obeying His commandments, plural, we remain in His wonderful, rich, powerful love. The commandments that Jesus directs us to cannot be the one to love each other. Both times Jesus speaks of our loving each other He uses the singular: "My command is this: Love each other." "This is My command: Love each other." So what are the commandments Jesus refers to? Luther preaching on this very text has Jesus saying the following words, "'I am not imposing a heavy burden and load on you, many sacrifices and manifold service of God or anything that entails great expense or labor. I have imposed the Gospel, Baptism, and the Sacrament on you."
The commandments Jesus pleads with us to remain in are nothing less than the command to be baptized and to baptize all nations; the command to forgive sins and be forgiven, and the command to do this Supper of the Lord's. And Jesus says that in doing these commands we remain in His love; He has joy in us, and our joy is complete. The whole battle is to remain in Christ's love for us. Luther in the sermon I cited earlier says that it takes little skill to know Christ's love, but to remain in that love is different. The devil harasses us severely to sadden and weary us, to make us despair of Christ's love for us.
Luther has Christ saying such wonderful things as, "Do not let the devil, the world, or your own flesh overcome you, but think of how I have loved you and still love you. Call to mind what I have spent on you to make you righteous and to save you, to make you acceptable to the Father." Then Luther goes on to preach how Christ has shed His blood and sacrificed His life for you, and bears with all the sins and frailties that still inhere in you.
The devil wants to drive a wedge between you and the love of Christ. He will try in 2 ways. First, he tells you that the fallenness, the sinfulness that remains even in the hearts of Christians invalidates God's grace in Christ as if Baptism, Absolution, and Communion are meant to deal with only so much of your sins. It's up to you and your works or your love to deal with the rest. But Jesus answers that He loves us "just as" the Father has loved Him. Was there any malice, disappointment, or doubt in the Father's love for the Son? No, it was a perfect love. Any reason the Son might have for not loving you dearly even that sinful stain that you see is washed away by Baptism, sent away by Absolution, or forgiven by Holy Communion.
The devil seeks to lead you into the maze of your own feelings about yourself. Jesus points you to His commandments of Baptism, Absolution, and Communion. Here is where Jesus tells you what He thinks about you. Now do you find anything but grace, mercy, forgiveness and love in the Water, the Words, the Bread and the Wine? Is there any doubt, disgust, or disappointment with you found in these precious treasures? To be sure, the lives of sinners such as us are riddled with doubts, disgusting sinfulness, and disappointing failures, but Baptism, Absolution, and Communion speak of none of these but only of Christ.
The other way the devil wants to lead us to doubt Christ's love is by driving a wedge between the Father and the Son. Jesus in Baptism, Absolution, and Communion forgives, accepts, and loves you, but God in heaven might feel different. Yes, what does God in His might, majesty and absolute holiness think of me? Are not the bad things in my life certain signs that God is heaven is not so friendly towards me? Jesus dispels such evil rumors that can only make us timid and despairing by saying, "Everything that I learned from the Father, I have made known to you." Everything? So I need not fear that God the Father feels different about me than God the Son does. Rather than torment myself over what God in heaven might be thinking, I can know for sure what He thinks by listening to what the Son says.
You know what that means? If I am Jesus' friend, which He says I am, then I am also God's friend. That means I rank right up there with Abraham and Moses. Only of Moses does it say that the Lord spoke with him "just as a man speaks to his friend." Only to Abraham does Scripture give the title "the friend of God." Think of all God did for Moses and Abraham and know that He will do no less for you because in Jesus you're just as much His friend as they were. Think what a comfort, what encouragement, what hope, what joy, what peace comes from knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is your friend. If someone is your friend, do you fear being harmed by them? Don't you trust them and rely on their love for you?
At last we're back to love. Love is all we really need. First we need God's love which we have in Christ. Then we need love for each other. I find that most of my failing to love others comes when my heart is filled with fear, despair, or guilt. When I'm afraid, when I'm despairing of God's mercy, when my own guilt is close by, I loathe not love others. In truth, how I treat others is how I believe God is treating me. I nitpick, criticize, or loathe others because that's how I think God deals with me. He's in heaven nitpicking, criticizing, or loathing me. Jesus, however, says, "You're wrong. I've called you friends because everything that I learned from My Father I have made known to you."
Jesus shows me that in heaven God the Father rejoices over me in my Baptism as a I did over my newborn children; Jesus shows me in Absolution a God who has thrown heaven's gates wide open to me.; Jesus shows me in Communion a dinner party where He eats with His friends in the presence of His Father. Knowing God in Christ loves me so deeply, so completely, so everlastingly, makes love towards others bubble up and out of me. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Easter VI (5-25-03), John 15: 9-17