The Command to Love – Rev. Amanda Wagner
September 14, 2014 (Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost)
Song of Solomon 8:6-7; 1 Corinthians 13:1-8a; John 15:9-17
It may seem strange, on a day when we are celebrating the covenant of marriage between two people in our community, to preach on love in the context of friendship – not that preaching on strange topics has ever stopped me before… But as I studied this passage from John in preparation for today’s sermon, it occurred to me that the type of love and friendship that Jesus talks about in this passage is a foundational part of any marriage.
In speaking to his disciples, Jesus tells them: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
One of the final commandments that Jesus gives to his disciples is to love each other. Now the type of love that Jesus is talking about is the Greek agape, or the Latin caritas, or the English charity. This is not charity in the sense of monetary giving, but rather the theological virtue of putting the well-being of others ahead of yourself.
Jesus told his disciples: “As the Father has shown me agape, so I have shown you agape. Abide in that agape. This is my commandment, that you show each other agape as I have shown you agape. There is no greater agape than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
The theological virtue of agape is cheapened when it is translated into English as “charity,” so we are stuck talking about this ambiguous notion of “love.” No one has greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Now aside from taking a bullet for someone, how can we begin to embody this God-like virtue of agape? Aristotle said that the best way to develop a particular virtue is to emulate those who already embody that virtue. Become friends with those who already display the characteristics that you want to develop, because according to Aristotle, “a friend is another self.”
You’ve heard the saying, “you are known by the company you keep.” But the reality is that you are very likely to become like the company you keep. Those with whom we choose to spend our time have a very real and very strong influence on who we are and who we become.
That’s why friendship is foundational to marriage, and also why community is a foundational part of our faith. For better or worse, we become who we hang out with. And hopefully, when we hang out with the right people, when we marry the right person, when we involve ourselves in Christian community, we put the good of others ahead of ourselves.
That’s not to say that we lose our individuality. Whether in marriage or in Christian community, we should still maintain our own sense of self. But we also need to understand that who we are influences and is influenced by those who surround us.
When Lisa and Jeanine first approached me about officiating at their wedding, they were adamant that their covenant before God also take place in the presence of their church community. From the very beginning, as they nurtured their friendship and then their relationship, they asked for the prayers and support of us as their church community.
And so today we come together as a community, as a chosen family, as friends who have experienced the sacrificial love of Jesus, to show that same kind of agape love for one another. Whenever we gather together, we are commanded to love one another, to support one another, and to help each other become more Christ-like.
And so as we witness this covenant union, and pledge our love and support of Jeanine and Lisa, let us also reaffirm our own commitment to Christ and to this community. For we are no longer merely servants of Christ, but friends of Christ and friends in Christ. And we are commanded to abide and grow in that love. Amen.