This past week a great many Christian churches heard these words read during worship:
“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”
The 15th chapter of John lies within an extended conversation that Jesus has with his disciples. It is his last will and testament to his friends. Just as we cling to the last words spoken to us by a loved one, the Christian church has clung to these words since they were gathered up in writing and passed down through the ages.
Jesus commands his friends to love one another and to love others as he himself loves others. It is a command, an imperative, an order. It isn’t a suggestion, offered us as a “good idea.” A command to live a lifestyle of love, to approach the world around us from a place of love.
On our own, however, we can’t do that. And we need not look too far to see or experience the sad truth of this reality.
Christ-centered love costs too much. To love others means we can’t be picky and choosy. We can’t love some and hate others. We can’t pick favorites. We are called to love those with whom we seriously disagree. To love people who otherwise disgust us.
Jesus isn’t messing around with this stuff. He means it. And he knows full well we can’t do it on our own.
Thus, the promise and the logic of the above passage. The love to which we are called doesn’t begin in us, it begins in God. The silken rope of God’s love passes through Jesus to us. We love because God loved us. And we don’t just love in word but in deed.
This is a commandment keeping kind of love - the command to love. And there is a payoff to all of this. The payoff is joy.
Jesus felt joy. Even in the face of what was just around the corner. In the face of rejection, of false arrest, of public humiliation, of excruciating crucifixion, nothing could steal Jesus’ joy. It was the joy of a connection deeper than life itself, deeper than any outward circumstance. A joy that was immune to fear.
Rick Warren offers this definition of joy: “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.”
The only thing I would change is the inclusion of the word “control.” I don’t believe God is a control freak, I believe God is a love freak, and love means giving us the freedom to fail and God's own wiliness to be vulnerable to being rejected. God, in my mind, embraces both.
So, I would rather edit that first phrase to read “God is in the midst of all the details of my life” and let it go at that. It says enough to give birth to joy.
Let us pray: Gracious Lord, in the face of all the obstacles that we will confront today, fill us with joy. Fill us with the subtle assurance that you are in the midst of all the details of our lives and give us the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright. In Jesus’ name. Amen
Stephen Blenkush is pastor at Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Pequot Lakes.