Love One Another
Topic: Biblical Verse: John 15:9–15:17
The Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 9, 2021
“Love One Another”
More than thirty years ago, there was tremendous change going on in the world with the fall of the Berlin Wall in October 1989. This may seem like ancient history to younger people, but to others who lived through it and watched this take place, it is a vivid memory. The fall of the Berlin Wall, which divided Communist East Berlin from democratic West Berlin, signaled the beginning of the end for Communism in eastern block nations such as East Germany, eventually leading to the collapse of the Soviet Union itself in late 1991. Erich Honecker was the East German Communist leader at this time while his country was undergoing such tremendous change. “Following German reunification in 1990, Honecker sought asylum in the Chilean embassy in Moscow, but was extradited back to Germany in 1992, after the fall of the Soviet Union, to stand trial for his role in the human rights abuses committed by the East German government. However, the proceedings were abandoned, as Honecker was suffering from terminal liver cancer. He was freed from custody to join his family in exile in Chile, where he died in May 1994 (Erich Honecker - Wikipedia). A little-known act of Christian charity and love at the time was largely ignored. With the collapse of East Germany, the former leader of his country was ousted from his luxury villa and vilified by many of his countrymen. Erich Honecker became a political liability; he was a man without a county. In fact, he was homeless. In January 1990, a Lutheran pastor, Rev. Uwe Holmer, offered to let the homeless Honecker live in the pastor’s guest room (Erich Honecker | Alternation (wordpress.com). The pastor even paid Honecker’s expenses. This was especially surprising since Honecker had once persecuted the church. The pastor’s actions were widely resented. Many people threatened to quit the church, and some did. The pastor received many harassing anonymous phone calls. And yet, he acted in the spirit of Jesus, who in today’s Gospel calls us to love one another as Jesus himself as loved us. Jesus calls us to love not only those who are easy to love, but also those who are not. Loving those who seem unlovable can be a risky thing. And yet, how do we escape Jesus’ clear words: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12)? The message for today, based on Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel lesson, is entitled, “Love One Another.” May the Lord’s rich grace and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Today’s Gospel lesson picks up where last Sunday’s Gospel lesson left off (John 15:1-8). Like last Sunday, Jesus again calls his disciples, then and now, to abide in him; to stay connected, plugged into, him. And in doing so, our lives will bear fruit for the kingdom of God. What does this fruit look like? Paul the apostle contrasts “works of the flesh” over against “fruits of the Spirit.” In clear language, Paul describes the difference between the two: that result from abiding in Jesus; living in his love: “The works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:19-23). You don’t have to look very far to see impurity, hatred, discord, selfish ambition, and all the other ugly stuff. The works of the flesh are everywhere. Jesus, who loves us and laid down his life for us, calls us to a different way of life. By abiding in him, his love will reveal itself in those blessed fruits of the Spirit which are so needed in the world today: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. The crucified and risen Lord Jesus would use each one of us as salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-16) to season the world through these fruits of the Spirit and to shine the light of his saving love into a world darkened with the works of the flesh.
People who are in love choose one another. Try as we might, we cannot force someone to love us. That initial attraction which brings people together may then lead to a more serious relationship, which may then lead to the covenant of marriage and the lifelong commitment that is made “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.” We may think that in the realm of faith, we also choose to love Jesus, but he clearly tells us otherwise in today’s Gospel lesson: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (John 15:16). This flies in the face of what we may believe about our own autonomy; about making our own choices and decisions in life. We who are but dust and ashes have no claim on God except through the grace of God made known to us in the cleansing blood of Jesus which he shed for us and for our salvation. By the amazing grace of God, Jesus chooses us! As with that Lutheran pastor who gave shelter to Erich Honecker, there is risk involved with Jesus’ choosing us. We may spurn his offer of love; we may turn away. We might just reject him entirely and walk away. In our own lives, we know what it is like to have our love for someone rejected by that individual. That hurts terribly; in fact, it is heartbreaking. In some small way, this gives us insight into the pain that Christ himself must experience when we choose to reject his love, but that is a risk that Jesus is willing to take. Will we take that same risk in loving one another? That is the question that is before us as we grapple with living out Jesus’ words in daily life: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
Everyone needs a friend in life. We have understood this on a whole different level over the last year with the pandemic when there has been tremendous isolation and loneliness. A good friend understands who we are and listens well. A good friend tells us what we need to hear, not always what we want to hear. A good friend is there for us in time of need. So Jesus’ words are especially meaningful: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). This is how Jesus regards you and me: his friends. That description just used for a friend applies to Jesus our Friend also: he understands who we are and listens well; he tells us what we need to hear, not always what we want to hear; he is there for us in time of need. What a friend we have in Jesus! And because we are Jesus’ friends, we are led by the Spirit to do what he commands us (John 15:14) – not because we have to, but because we want to. As John tells us in today’s Epistle lesson: “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome” (1 John 5:2-3).
In this Easter season, in every season of life, this is our calling in Christ: to love one another. God help us to do this for Jesus’ sake. Amen.