Sunday, May 10, 2015

Love Songs

This sermon was preached to the people of Orangeburg Lutheran Church on May 10, 2015. The text for the morning was John 15:9-17.

Looking at all the ways that love is thrown around in our world today was almost tricky because there are so many different new and exciting examples.  Of course love, or the quest for love, is at the heart or is important to the plot of nearly every movie, book, or tv show out there since the beginning of time.  In fact, the great Greek epic, The Iliad, is about an entire war that was fought for the love of one woman.  Two of my favorite shows, Friends and How I Met Your Mother were entirely based around the love lives of their characters, with bits of situational comedy thrown in.  And even in crime serials like CSI, NCIS, or Bones there are romantic plot lines that are thrown in to help viewers stay engaged.  We have a culture that is obsessed with finding love, it seems like.
But, when we talk about love, what are we talking about?  How do we define it?  Are we defining it by these tv shows?  Or perhaps we define it by the songs that we listen to on the radio?
Early last week I asked my Facebook friends to help me list songs from across the past century that had love in the title.  Needless to say, I got almost 100 responses of various songs that my friends loved to listen to about love.  My personal favorites included:
“What’s love got to do with it?” - Tina Turner“I believe in a thing called love” - The Darkness“Can’t help falling in love with you” - So many to count, but Ingrid Michaelson’s cover is my favorite“Modern Love” - Matt Nathanson “Can you feel the love tonight?” - from The Lion King“I would do anything for love…” - Meatloaf“What is love?” - Haddaway as featured in A Night at the Roxbury“Endless love” - Lionel Richie and Diana Ross“Crazy little thing called love” - Queen“Love is a many splendored thing.” - The Four Acres“All you need is love” - The Beatles

In fact, it looks like everyone wants to fill the world with silly love songs.  And if you’re familiar with Paul McCartney and the Wings, you might want to add, what’s wrong with that?  I’d like to know?  I mean, one, these are all great songs.  I know some of you might not know all of them, but the ones you did know, it was easy to sing along with them in your head.  I know that I spent the better part of Wed afternoon humming at least the chorus of many of these classics, new and older.
But, as Haddaway says, “What is love?”  and “What’s love got to do with it?”  Why is everyone trying to fill the world with these silly love songs?  And more importantly, what does this have to do with the Gospel message we heard this morning?

Well, in case you missed it, Jesus says “love” or a derivation of it 8 times in five verses.  That’s the equivalent of him saying it 8 times in about 2 minutes.  Which is only slightly less times than the word “Yesterday” is used in a 3 minute song.  Clearly love is important to Jesus and to God.  It’s kind of a big deal.  

But again, what are we talking about when we talk about love?  To put it another way, what is Jesus talking about when he talks about love?  Is Jesus talking about the passionate steamy love that we can’t stop watching in our movies and tv shows?  Is Jesus talking about the romantic love that propels so many novels and adventures?  Is Jesus talking about the bubblegum pop, feel good love, that we hear repeated over and over again?  Or is Jesus talking about something completely different?  What is love?

Well, the word that Jesus uses in the Greek is agape.  Which is not to be confused with the only Lutheran hip-hop artist in the country, if not the world.  Instead, agape is used in Greek to describe a certain kind of love.  It’s not the romantic desire or yearning that we have for those we are physically attracted to or that we so often experience in the “honeymoon” phase of our relationships.  Nor is it the kind of friendly we love we have for those we’re close to.  Instead, agape is something different and wild. 

Agape is the unconditional love that we come to expect when we talk about God’s love for us.  It’s unconditional love.  Love that knows no bounds.  Love that will do anything, even “that.”  It’s the love that parents have for their children.  It’s the love that dogs have for us - and us for our pets.  It’s a transformative, caring, nurturing love that is kind, patient, enduring, never loud or rude.   You might even say it’s a crazy little thing, this agape love.
And this is what is most often used to describe the love that God has for us, and for all humanity.  This is the love that Jesus is talking about when he says, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.”  God agapes Jesus, Jesus agapes us, and God agapes us too.  We are able to experience this crazy, little, agape love from God in what Jesus has done throughout the Gospels.  This agape love is endless, it wants to heal and make whole, it wants to forgive sins and restore relationships.  This agape love wants to serve instead of being served.  In Jesus Christ, we know agape love.
So, Haddaway, that’s what love is.  Now on to Tina’s question, “What’s love got to do with it?”
And no, love is not this secondhand emotion.  Instead, love IS the emotion.  So we look to the Gospel again to see just what love has to do with it.  It says that Jesus commands the disciples to love one another as he has loved and is loving them.  To quote Martin Luther in the Small Catechism...what does this mean?
It means that we are called to love one another with the same kind of selfless, endless, crazy love that God loves us.  It means that we are to go out into the world, loving others the way that God loves them.  We get the chance to share this many a splendored thing with everyone we meet, forgiving sins, feeding each other, caring for the sick, actually taking the time to get to know our neighbors, to pray for the ones we like and don’t like equally, to spend time talking to the homeless on the street corner, finding out why she got there, or what his story is.  We are commanded, better yet, we are invited to participate in this ceaselessly loving task of building relationships and not filling the world with silly love songs, but with actual love.

This isn’t a love that judges or condemns.  This isn’t a love that is pushy or in your face.  It’s a love that speak quietly and humbly or grace and mercy and welcome.  It’s a love that meets us where we are in our lives.  More excitingly, it’s a love that loves us too much to leave us in our sin and mistakes, lifting us up where we belong.  A love that offers forgiveness and second chances.  A love that says, “”you are my sister” or “you are my brother” and I want to know how best to care for you, how best to show my desire for your well being.  How much I want you to know what I’ve experienced in God.  And how much God loves you so much more than I could ever show.  Amen.