Agape Doesn't Mean "Potluck"
Sermon May 13, 2012 <———Click here to listen along. Sermons are a spoken art form!
9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
12This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
Soon our community will be experiencing what I am now calling the Great Seminary Exodus of 2012. Asher leaves for Luther Seminary in St. Paul next month, Heather leaves for Union Seminary in New York in August, Meghan leaves for University of Chicago’s Divinity School in August and Amy Hanson leaves for Luther sometime this winter.
This week I got an email from my friend Pastor Jodi Houge of The Humble Walk church in St Paul. Amy Hanson had emailed her asking if, when she’s at Luther, Amy could do her field ed placement at Humble Walk. So afterward when Jodi emailed me she said Oh my gosh thanks for sending Amy our way, I love her already. Jodi loves Amy Hanson already but not because of Amy Hanson’s winning personality, position or portfolio. Jodi Houge does not love Amy Hanson because Jodi’s so nice and has a big heart. Pastor Jodi loves Amy Hanson already based solely on the fact that Amy Hanson is loved by us. Based on the fact that Amy Hanson is our friend she will have an honored place at Humble Walk church in St Paul Minnesota.
In our Gospel text from today Jesus says to abide in his love, to love one another and then he calls his disciples friends. But the Bible tells us that he had other friends too. Mary, Martha and Lazarus of Bethany were Jesus’ friends. He like, totally hung out their house all the time – they stocked his favorite beer in the fridge. And when Lazarus died, Jesus stood at the tomb of his dead friend and wept. These were Jesus friends. And since at our Big Fat Church Meeting after liturgy today we are going to talk about things like sacred hospitality, I started to wonder what kind of hospitality 3 strangers who came to our church might receive if we found out that those 3 strangers were actually Mary Martha and Lazarus. If we knew that the people entering the doors of this, our little House for all Sinners and Saints, were actually Jesus’ friends, that they were those whom Jesus loved then despite what we thought of their personalities, despite how we felt about them or their status in society or their politics, despite any of this they would automatically have an honored place, right?
We would, as Jodi does Amy, already love them not based on how we felt about them, but we would love them with the love Jesus speaks of in our gospel text for today… which in Greek is called agape love.
The church I grew up in called the meals they shared together after church agape meals so for a long time I thought agape meant “potluck”.
But it ends up that agape means love and it’s a really particular kind of love. The Hallmark Company doesn’t make many greeting cards about Agape Love. Jennifer Aniston doesn’t star in romantic comedies based in the Agape love between two people. And when you say “oh my gosh I love this pizza” -- that too, is not agape love. Agape love does not come from us. But it is the love that is shared between us because Agape love is only possible through the indwelling of God’s Spirit. You can’t actually muster it up yourself.
Because on our own we love imperfectly. We love awkwardly and with selfish motives and begrudging hearts. Our own love can be showoffy or miserly or only given when we feel like it. But the love of God for the children of God is no such thing. And God desires God’s children to love one another too much for God to leave it to what’s on our own hearts.
See, agape love is how we love God’s friends. How we show care and hospitality toward others based solely on their belovedness to God. So this week when tragically Leslie’s mom died and we sent prayers and Facebook messages and lots of food to our new sister in Christ, we didn’t do it because we like Leslie, we hardly know her really. We didn’t do it because we are good people. We did it because of who Leslie is to the God who claimed her and named her as God’s own.
Because in the end, what we are talking about here isn’t sentiment, it’s identity. We are talking about the dignity and honor afforded all those whom Jesus calls friend. Those whom Jesus loves.
For most of my life I thought there was this one guy who Jesus loved best. Because, see, in the Gospel of John one guy was always called "the disciple whom Jesus loved." And people have usually assumed that the writer was referring to himself, like he’s saying I, the one whom Jesus loved was there with all the other disciples who Jesus was just kind of so-so about And I was always was kind of embarrassed for John like he was being sort of weird and braggy, but it’s his Gospel so what am I going to do?
But this week at morning prayer Asher suggested that the title The Beloved Disciple or The One Whom Jesus Loved was not a term reserved for one guy a couple thousand years ago. Maybe John wasn’t using it as an exclusive title for himself. I think John abided in the love of Christ so completely that his primary identity became The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved. But not in comparison to the other disciples whom Jesus loved not quite as much. If you go and read John’s Gospel and the letters attributed to him there’s just a whole lot of love love love in there. John abided in Jesus’ love to such an extent that all other identities simply faded away.
So in our text for today when Jesus says to abide in his love and to love one another and then calls us friend, perhaps this is what he means. To abide in the love of Christ is to have one’s primary identity become the disciple whom Jesus loves. And I think Jesus says for us to abide in his love so that we can agape love one another. It’s the only way it’s possible. Otherwise I will only love people I like and I’ll reject other’s love of me when I don’t feel worthy and that’s just not what God had in mind for me.
And only when we see ourselves and others as Jesus’ friends is it possible to love with the heart of God. Meaning that when we abide in the Word of God, when we abide in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, when we abide in the waters of our baptism, When we abide in the forgiveness of sin, when, through all these things we abide in the truth of who we are and who God is, then all other competing claims about who we are simply melt away. You are no longer male or female, Jew or Greek, gay or straight, urban or suburban, republican or democrat, rich or poor you are simply the one whom Jesus loves. You are the beloved disciple. You are the one whom Jesus has called friend. And this unchangeable and unassailable identity you have as the one whom Jesus loves is the basis by which you too are afforded the honor of being loved by others as Jesus’ Friend. For you are who Christ chose and named as such. And nothing else gets to tell you who you are.
Nadia Bolz-Weber is the founding Pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado — an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination. Learn more at www.houseforall.org. This post originally appeared on Nadia's blog, Sarcastic Lutheran.