How do we love someone who has wounded us? How do we love someone the world has rejected? How do we love our enemy? How do we love the person across the aisle? How do we love?
Love is a simple four-letter word with a complex application. Challenge yourself to see how many times you use the word “love” in a twenty-four-hour period and see the subject of such affection. I work with teenagers and one of their favorite words is love. I asked them one time what they thought love meant and if they truly loved the new pair of shoes or simply liked them a lot. I gave my teens the same challenge to see how often and to what their affection of love was directed. The following youth gathering one of my teens said, “I use love A LOT, but I don’t think I use it the way you were talking about, Pastor Hannah. I caught myself stopping before I said LOVE because I realized I did not ACTUALLY love my shoes.” As a pastor you like to think you do some things right and, in this moment, I smiled because the student had begun to listen to how they used the word love. Love is more complex and requires more than simply saying we love something, love requires us to know the Father and to remain in the LOVE of Christ.
As we closed last week’s reading of John 15:1-8, Christ asked his disciples to “bear much fruit, showing[themselves] to be [his] disciples”. Our opening of John 15:9-17, begins with the fruit being the product of remaining in Christ’s love and the life lived through love of the other. Ultimately love shows itself not by declarations of affection but by the service we render to the one we profess to love, especially service that inconveniences us or that calls for sacrifice. Believers’ communion and love for each other are natural extensions of their abiding in Christ. When Jesus left the disciples he said, “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.” (v.10) Among people who look, act and believe as we do, it is easy to love but what about the people who are our complete opposites.
Bob Goff, author of Love Does and Everybody Always, spoke at National Youth Workers Conference in Memphis, TN last November. During his talk he challenged people to stop being God’s lawyer because we suck at it and instead, surround ourselves with the very people Jesus surrounded himself with. Stop being afraid of “getting it on us” and embrace the Gospel message of “getting it on us”, are we afraid of loving the world and “getting it on us”? Bob’s talk challenged people to pursue the individuals who completely creeped them out because this is exactly what Christ would do. Do not simply use the cliff notes version of love in the Bible, rather use the love of the ENTIRE Bible. Love people always because you do not want to be responsible for dumbing down the Bible. Who is the “creepy” person in your life needing love?
The conclusion of the passage is simple: “I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another” (v.17). Jesus is suggesting the close connection of effective witness (“bearing fruit”) is intimately connected with “love doing”. We can be the hands and feet of Jesus by our love of the other. Not the easy “I love my shoes type of love” but the love which requires us to look at our enemy and see Christ in them, to look at the person who has made fun of us and see God’s image, to look at the individual who is opposite of us and see someone loved by God, and to step across the aisle to get to know more fully the body of believers Christ loves.
The seventeen verses in John 15 uses the word abide ten times and the word love eight different times, these two words are connected. We cannot effectively love our opposites if we do not first abide in Christ. Our fruit bearing comes from keeping God’s commands and trusting the Gardener to prune the areas of our lives, which do not bear fruit, so we can be fruitier. Jesus raised up the outcast, the liar, the betrayer, the lowly and unwanted as no longer slaves but friends. He is calling us to do the same. Who is your opposite, your “creepy person”, and how are you loving them as a friend?
May we be reminded of the Father’s love for us and the sacrifice of his son, may we be empowered to embrace the world’s creepy people and love them the way Christ loves us, and may we be bold to love sacrificially in a world calling for conformity. As you are pruned by the gardener and wounded by those you seek to love, be reminded the roots of our abiding are strong as we abide in Christ.
 John Wesley Study Bible, NRSV, p. 1310.