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Pastor Mary Gilthvedt
Easter 6B
May 5, 2024
True Love
John 15:9-17
What is love? Someone raised that question during our Centering Prayer meeting Thursday evening. After a few people gave their insights as to what love is and what it is not, Pastor Robbie spoke. “I explain love this way,” he said. We all sat on the edge of our chairs to hear his explanation. “I love my cat. I love my dog. I love ice cream. I love my kids. I love my wife. I REALLY love ice cream.”
In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus speaks to his close disciples about love. Somehow, he missed talking about ice cream. But he said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Remain in my love. Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You did not choose me, but I chose you. This is my command: Love each other.”
What is the love that Jesus is describing? I am going to address three aspects of love this morning. The first is this: Where does love come from?
Some people may say that love comes from within. It is something that happens naturally as we become more mature in life. I’m not so sure that is true.
Little babies are absolutely loveable. That does not mean they are born full of love and a kind spirit. The truth is that small babies are born self-centered. That does not mean they are bad. They are simply helpless. In order to survive in this world, they must make their needs known. If you meet those needs, then a baby will grow to love you. 
C.S. Lewis, the famed British scholar and lay theologian, made a distinction between the Biblical Greek words for love. He noted two basic differences between “need love” and “gift love.” “Need love” is the most common kind of love in our world. It is a love born of emptiness and the need for companionship. A person with need love seeks to have their self-esteem boosted by others or needs met by others. Need love says “I love you” because you have a value that I desire to make my own, no matter what the consequence may be to you. “Need love” is birthed from emptiness or lack.
“Gift love” is the opposite. It is born of fullness. The goal of gift love is to enrich and enhance the person we love, rather than to extract value from them. Lewis said, “Gift love moves out to bless and to increase rather than to acquire or to diminish. Gift love is more like a bountiful, artesian well that continues to overflow than a vacuum or a black hole.” He concludes that God’s love is gift love, not need love. Where does love come from? John’s first letter explains, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.” 
The second aspect of love is described when we answer the question, “What does love look like?” It looks like a young guy and a young girl who fell in love. But the guy came from a poor family. The girl’s parents were not too happy about it. So, the young man decided not only to court the girl but to court her parents as well. In time, the parents saw that he was a good man and was worthy of their daughter’s hand. 
But there was another problem. The young man was a soldier. Soon, war broke out and he was sent overseas for a year. The week before he left, the man knelt on his knee and asked his lady love, “Will you marry me?” She wiped a tear, said yes, and they were engaged. They agreed that when he got back in one year, they would get married.
But tragedy struck. A few days after he left, the girl was in a major car accident. It was a head-on collision. When she woke up in the hospital, she saw her father and mother crying. Immediately, she knew there was something wrong.
She found out that she suffered a brain injury. The part of her brain that controlled her facial muscles was damaged. Her once lovely face was now disfigured. She cried as she saw herself in the mirror. “Yesterday, I was beautiful. Today, I’m a monster.” Her body was also covered with so many ugly wounds. Right there and then, she decided to release her fiancé from their promise. She knew he would not want her anymore. She would forget about him and never see him again.
For one year, the soldier wrote many letters—but she would not answer. He phoned her many times, but she would not return his calls. But after one year, the mother walked into her room and announced, “He’s back from the war.”
The girl shouted, “No! Please don’t tell him about me. Don’t tell him I’m here!”
The mother said, “He’s getting married,” and handed her a wedding invitation.
The girl’s heart sank. She knew she still loved him—but she had to forget him now. With great sadness, she opened the wedding invitation. And then she saw her name on it! Confused, she asked, “What is this?”
That was when the young man entered her room with a bouquet of flowers. He knelt beside her and asked, “Will you marry me?”
The girl covered her face with her hands and said, “I’m ugly!”
The young man said, “Without your permission, your mother sent me your photos. When I saw your photos, I realized that nothing has changed. You’re still the person I fell in love with. You’re still as beautiful as ever. Because I love you!”
Where does love come from? It comes from God. We cannot make ourselves ugly enough that God will not love us. What does love look like? It looks like a man nailed to a cross, not because of anything we did or can do for him, but simply because he loves us.
The third aspect of love is a response to God’s love for us. “What does such love require from us?”
Jesus answers that question in our reading for today. “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. This is my command: Love each other.”
We are to love others as he has loved us—not with need love, but with gift love. Not because of anything they can do for us, but because of what Christ has done for us. We’ve heard the saying, “Scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”
Jesus says we are to love people who are incapable of doing anything for us in return. That is gift love, agape love, it is the love of God.
Tom Wilemon wrote a true story in a Nashville newpaper about the kind of love God asks of us. It was a story about a young woman who was working out at a local YMCA. Other Y members noticed that day by day it was getting more difficult for her to do her workouts. Instead of her body getting stronger, she was withering away before their eyes. 
As the Y members watched her decline, they wondered what to do. They finally decided that something needed to be done. So, nine of them staged an intervention with her. They found out that Lauryn had struggled with eating disorders since the age of 10. She hadn’t realized how sick she was and resisted the help of strangers. It was a horrible experience for every one of them, the interveners and Lauryn.
They took her to a hospital and found out that if they had waited any longer, she would have died. Anorexia nervosa
had weakened her to the point that her heart was struggling to beat. 
Lauryn recalled, “I didn’t know those people.” She had seen them as mere acquaintances. Now she calls them her angels. Today, Lauryn is healthy and hopeful enough about her future that she has been able to complete her graduate studies at a Nashville university. That is what love requires of us. It requires that we be like Lauryn’s angels, taking God’s love to people who are in trouble, who have no one else that cares.
Where does love come from? It comes from God alone. What does it look like? It looks like a man hanging on a cross on our behalf. What does such love require from us? It requires us to move beyond “need love” to “gift love.” It requires we give love to those who need God’s love, not asking what they can do for us, but remembering what Christ has done for us.