As my Abba has loved me, so I have loved you. Live on in my love. And you will live on in my love if you keep my commandments, just as I live on in Abba God’s love and have kept God’s commandments. I tell you all this that my joy may be yours, and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you. There is no greater love that to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. And you are my friend, if you do what I command you. I no longer speak of you as subordinates, because a subordinate doesn’t know a superiors business. Instead I call you friends, because I have made know to you everything I have learned from Abba God. It was not you who chose me; it was I who chose you to go forth and bear fruit. Your fruit must endure, so that whatever you ask of Abba God in my name God will give you. This command I give you: that you love one another. If you find that the world hates you, remember that it hated me before you. If you belong to the world, the world would love as its own; but the reason it hates you is that you don’t belong to the world – because I chose you out of the world. John 15:9-17
“Love one another as I have loved you.” Love. Now, that’s a tricky word these days. The word seems to get tossed around often these days. Love is plastered on reality TV promising us a glimpse of what real love is. Love is evoked in the strangest places. Love has become a marketing tool, a way to divide a nation.
This past Tuesday love again was on the ballot, this time in North Carolina. The voters of North Carolina decided to protect or revoke the rights of a group of people. All based on a particular understanding of love.
Many of the proponents of the amendment are good, honest people of faith, as are many of the opponents, good honest people of faith. You have both sides decked in righteousness, seeking to steer the State towards a vision of God’s glory, both holding fast to love.
“Love one another as I have loved you.” On the surface the love at hand here is simple and plain to see. I am not going to tackle the complexity of what the Bible does or does not say about same-sex marriage here today. I’ll leave that for another day. I want to talk about civil rights and what this passage speaks to us today about “laying our life down for our friends.”
This last week North Carolina outlawed any love that does not fit within the defined space labeled “traditional marriage.” In North Carolina this means that only relationships between a man and a woman that are married are valid. The last time North Carolina changed its constitution in regards to marriage was to outlaw interracial marriage.
Something else happened this past week, President Obama said, “I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors, when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together; when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.”
The President continued, “You know when I go to college campuses, sometimes I talk to college Republicans who think that I have terrible policies on the economy, on foreign policy, but are very clear that when it comes to same-sex equality or, you know, sexual orientation, that they believe in equality. They are much more comfortable with it.”
President Obama offers that his opinion on Marriage Equality has “evolved.” He has built relationships with people involved in same-sex partnerships and has reflected upon the rights bestowed to those of us that are allowed to marry. These are some of the things that President Obama cites as part of his evolution. His faith has also evolved “…we are practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated…”
“Love one another as I have loved you.” President Obama evokes part of todays verse in his statement about his evolving faith and opinion in regards to marriage equality. In evoking this divine command from John President Obama has taken a risk. He is locked in a race for reelection and his critics and opponents just got some new ammunition against him in this war for the White House.
The nation has erupted. There are numerous features, articles, and letters to the editor engaging what many have labeled, “The Schism in the Black Church.” In one article in The Los Angeles Times titled, “Complexity in Black Church Reaction to Obama’s Gay Marriage Announcement” the paper interviewed Black pastors of black church’s and received many responses. They vary from support to opposition to support of Obama and rejection of his call to Marriage Equality.
This article begins with the story of Dr. King and Billy Graham. Dr. King was set to join Billy Graham at one of his massive crusades. All he asked was that Billy Graham would speak out publically against segregation. Billy Graham would not do it, out of fear of losing his constituents and support. Billy Graham kept quiet. Billy missed out of an opportunity to love others as God had loved him.
“…love one another as I have loved you. There is no greater love that to lay down one’s life for one’s friends…It was not you who chose me; it was I who chose you to go forth and bear fruit…If you find that the world hates you, remember that it hated me before you. If you belong to the world, the world would love as its own; but the reason it hates you is that you don’t belong to the world – because I chose you out of the world.” It is not a popular choice to stand against the majority to point to its injustice. Marriage equality is not a matter of spiritual righteousness as much as it is a matter of loving our neighbor and risking the world’s hatred upon us.
Today another southern preacher sacrificed his support to embrace an affirming position for marriage equality. Jay Bakker, the son of Jim and Tammy Faye, the founders of PTL and pioneers of Televangelism, lost everything when he spoke out against the denying of civil rights to the Gay and Lesbian community.
Jay felt a deep conviction to stand with those being marginalized and denied civil rights due to who they are. For this, Jay was dropped like a hot potato and discovered the depth of love he had from those that had sought to prop him up. Jay ignored the popular voice in order to embrace the opportunity to love others as God had loved him and his family.
This is not an issue of higher righteousness. Constitutional Amendments are not to be used to limit the rights of anyone. Amendments are used to correct the wrongs of the past and to expand the protection of individuals unjustly persecuted by the majority. The wrath of the many shielded by justice in those inalienable rights we all are imbued with by our Creator.
This call to love one another is not a call to agree on everything. This call to love one another is not a call to settle down with like minded folks and talk about “those” people over there. This call to love one another IS a call to love. Jesus breaks that down further; “there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
We are being called to risk our lives to love our friends. Now, this is not “friends” in the way we like to think about it. In this verse Jesus is connecting “friend” translated from the Greek Philos (to love) to the action of Jesus loving us. Friends as Jesus is using it, calls us to Jesus’ friends and not ours. The “one’s friends” includes those that Jesus has welcomed. This friendship is not contingent upon our likes & dislikes or our values and beliefs. This call to friendship is a call to love all of humanity.
We as the church are to love Jesus’ friends. In this we are called to preserve the full humanity of every being. This is why the fight for civil rights mattered 50 years ago and this is why civil rights matter today. We live in a culture in which many folks have been segregated according to the ideas of another. We live in a nation where the civil rights of some have been robbed to secure the rights of others.
In the eyes of Jesus the trampling of anyone civil rights does not bring justice for anyone. That means justice cannot exist in the light of injustice towards anyone. This is Jesus leaving the 99 to find the 1. If just one is left behind then the love of God is not at its fullest. Every being matters. Humanity is at its fullest when all of humanity is preserved.
The church ought to preserve the full humanity of every being. Is this not the core of the gospel? That God loves all of Gods creation and we are called to emulate that love. We emulate Jesus in relationship with others. We are called to preserve the humanity, the full humanity of ALL.
Do I get to reject the obligation of preserving others full humanity so that I may assert my Biblical understanding over others? When faced with a dilemma, a crisis of faith, then should not the humanity of others rise to the top and love reign? A preferential option of love.
We do not have to agree with the ideas and opinions of someone to preserve their full humanity. We are called to remember to whom we belong as we set out to love. We have not chosen God. God has chosen us and set us apart to live in a manner that preserves the full humanity of ALL. This is what laying down one’s life for the other means. We seek to preserve the full humanity of ALL in the face of adversity.
We are called to follow the love-based command into certain death. As Christ laid down his life for us, to preserve our full humanity we are to emulate this action in laying down our life for others to preserve their full humanity. To love one another is an inclusive love, free from our beliefs and based in the divine call to love as we have been loved. It is the call to pick up our cross and follow Jesus to death to our self that others shall live. And Jesus said, “…love one another as I have loved you. There is no greater love that to lay down one’s life for one’s friends…”