“Greater love has no man than this; that he lay down his life for his friends”
That is a quote from the Gospel of John – to put it in a bit of a context for you, Jesus is talking about being the vine and the branches. He is talking about following God’s commandments. He is explaining to the disciples that they are his friends… and he is talking about sacrificial love.
For Jesus, love is a very simple concept – you are willing to do anything to help the other person. You are willing to risk yourself for the other person.
Last week was All Souls… the day after Halloween is officially the day we remember the dead and their contribution to our lives. Next week is Remembrance Day… the day when we officially remember the men and women who have put their lives on the line for freedom because of their sense of love.
It is a concept that is at the heart and soul of what we believe as Christians – we believe that risking out of love, that helping others with everything we have and do; is the centre of what Jesus taught us. To love, and to love extravagantly, is our mission.
Setting Out in Love
We live in a world where we can understand the lives of Naomi and Ruth. Where people are forced to move in order to find jobs and where economic security is hard to come by… and in this opening passage we are told in a nutshell the life story of Naomi – she fell in love, she followed her husband back to the land of his people. They lived happily, their sons got married… but then, tragedy, her husband and sons die and Ruth has no relatives anywhere near by – so she decides to head home.
In the midst of this her concern is for the well-being of her son’s wives… she begs them to go back to their own homes and find new husbands. It is her love for them that begs them to turn back… and it is Ruth’s great love for Naomi, for her mother in law of all people, which makes her stay.
It is an unexpected moment of love.
I would argue that this is not an exceptional moment in time. I have seen similar things happen a lot. I have seen people stay with strangers by the side of the road at car accidents. I have seen others open their houses to people who are passing by just because they are in need.
I am pretty sure that love really is at the centre of who we are and how we are. The thing is, we do not make a big enough deal about it. We do not celebrate those moments where people reach out and make a difference. We find it hard to accept thanks when we do nice things for other people.
So what do we have to do to put love more at the centre of our lives? How do we recognize that acts of love are happening all the time around us?
I mean, we know some of them – we honour some of them on Remembrance Day – but I want it to be more of an everyday realization; and how do we do that?
Of Sacrifice and Love
Throughout history there have been different ways that we think we get God’s attention. And I mean hundreds of ways… from casting lots to sacrificing animals… prayers and dances, chanting and magic… But the thing is – in almost each and every one of these things there are two things that never change: We need something. We believe God can make a difference.
One of the reasons that Jesus went down in history, was that he internalized this – it became his life ambition: People need something – I can make a difference.
If you believe that, he once told the disciples, you can move mountains!
Do you believe it? Do you believe you can make a difference? It seems to me that as the years go by we get further and further away from belief and get more and more discouraged.
If you think about World War One, or World War Two… I think most of the people volunteered and went believing, completely, that they could make a difference! They wanted to do something to change the outcome of the war. They wanted to make sure their loved ones were safe. They put their love into action; maybe in a dangerous and terrible way - but–that was generally the motivation – to make a difference for those they loved.
This is all circling around what I am calling Sacrificial Love. It is the type of love I think Jesus came to teach us about – the type of love that is willing to put your life on the line.
And although we don’t talk about it, and actually do not get many opportunities to practice it; I am willing to bet that we are all capable of it.
We do hear stories: from Fire fighters rushing into burning buildings to the average person diving into the pool when a toddler slips and falls in. There are people every day who take big risks to make a difference.
This is what Jesus came to teach us. As a “priest” as a religious leader, this was his goal. And I am thinking that he actually did a really good job.
And the Greatest of These is….
What is the most important thing you can do….
Simple question; simple answer: Love… love God, love neighbour, love yourself.
My girlfriend Ali’s grandmother’s house was recently demolished. Annie had lived there in Cape Breton her entire life, a lot of that time spent with four brothers. When they were moving the mementoes out they found a slew of letters written by those brothers, Alexander, Clarence, Peter and Angus… Ali, Clarie, Petey and Angy to those who loved them. Those four brothers had spent all of World War Two as part of the Cape Breton Highlanders. One of them even lied about his age to enlist.
But what was incredible, was that whether they were in Italy, France, Germany or the Netherlands… and if you look it up, the Cape Breton Highlanders have been involved in all of the worst battles in every world war; they wrote home to Annie every week.
They took the time to write, to say who they had heard from and who they had not, and to ask for cigarettes… Apparently nothing beat a Canadian smoke.
It may seem like a little thing, to write home… but at the same time; it shows a level of compassion and caring for each other that echoes Jesus greatest commandment.
Now, a lot of people have had issue with what Jesus said – a lot of people feel that love is a hard thing to find in your heart for some people.
But I really think he was onto something. And I also think that we forget how simple that love can be. It is just about putting other people first and remembering to take the time.
If we love God, we are already living from a place of moral conviction that makes it easier to do the right thing – we are following a way of life that has been laid out over thousands of years to put love and compassion first.
If we love ourselves we are not getting hung up on all the things that make it hard to reach out for others… there is none of this – feeling too scared, or too full of ourselves… we do things from a place of understanding and a place of strength.
And if we love others… it does not mean that we have to accept everything about them, it simply means we have to see them as having value, as being important in their own right.
All My Heart
But it is more than that isn’t it… Jesus said we had to love with all our heart, all of our understanding, all of our strength….
We are not talking about a half-hearted effort here. We are not talking about “trying” to be like Jesus, or trying to love like God. We are talking about commitment. We are talking about throwing everything you have into the arena of loving. We are talking about being willing to risk.
As we go into a week in which we are called upon to remember the sacrifices of others. May this calling echo in our ears and may God’s spirit grant us the courage to follow in those very heavy footsteps. Amen.