Commanded to Love
John 15: 9-17
God of love, in you we abide. In you we find our ground for growing as a community of disciples, seeking to know and do your will. May we be strengthened to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, loving others as you love us. Amen.
Today is Mother’s Day. In some countries, Christian communities have expanded Mother’s Day to include a celebration of the entire family. For example, some churches in
including the celebrate this day
as Christian Family Sunday. We are
encouraged to celebrate all types of families, including families with two
mothers, single mothers, no mothers or adoptive mothers, friends that form
family bonds, those whose natural families are no longer living and all of
God’s family. United
The reasons range from not wanting to participate in the brash commercialism of Mother’s Day to recognizing that this day can be especially painful for women who have wanted to be mothers and not had the opportunity, women who have lost children, and people who have lost their mothers. Let us remember that some of us here have already had to bury their children.
One of my colleagues admonished me not to be too sentimental about motherhood because, for some, motherhood is an accident, and not always a welcome one; for some, biological motherhood isn’t possible; for some, mothers weren’t all that nice; and for some, motherhood under the very best of circumstances is still less than a bed of roses and a primrose path. Someone has said, to become a mother is not so difficult; on the other hand, being a mother is very much so.
It is important to recognize that the definition of family in the Bible is a wide and varied one – from polygamous marriages and blended families, to two women, Ruth and Naomi, for instance, unmarried couples and Jesus’ own definition of family as “Anyone who does the things God desires.” The so-called nuclear family is a modern invention, and is specific only to certain cultures. Accordingly, this day can serve as a wonderful opportunity to affirm homes and families – however they may define themselves – as places of love and nurture.
There is a Korean saying, “Even a porcupine loves its young.” What that means is that, for the most part, our parents, especially our mothers, love us no matter what. It seems to be that mother’s love is not a choice, but a gift of nature. Fair enough, but what about our love for others? Isn’t our love for others a choice and very much conditional? Sometimes it appears to be unnatural because we tend to be hostile against strangers.
According to the passage from the Gospel of John we read this morning, Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you (v.12).” It is very familiar. But I wonder why we need to be commanded to love others. Do we need someone to command us to love one another? Unlike our mothers’ love for us, does our love for others require some kind of enforcement beyond a nudge?
I am told that a certain Aboriginal people in
use dozens of words for the one word, “love,” in English. For example, they differentiate their love
for their children from their love for their partners. In English, we love our family, our friends,
even our pets, Celine Dion, Maple Walnut ice cream, Kimchi … . We use the word,
“love,” everywhere and anywhere. Australia
In Western culture, we tend to have such romantic notions about love. We believe love is something you “fall in and out of” and have little control over. It is not easy to understand how we can be “commanded" to love someone. We wonder how arranged marriages can possibly work.
However, Jesus is not talking about our love for our friends. He is not talking about our love for our cats or dogs either. His commandment to love has to do with someone we are not directly related to, like strangers on the street.
As today’s reading from John’s Gospel reminds us, the choice of who belongs to God’s household is not ours to make. “You did not choose me,” Jesus says, “I chose you.” If Christ does the choosing, then we too are included—and so are those whose presence disturbs us. We are reminded that a community of faith is not a social gathering of like-minded people, but a called community built intentionally by Christ. One reason for belonging to the church, then, is to learn how to be inclusive of the poor, refugees, feminists, Jews, Muslims, environmentalists, social activists, the handicapped, the abused, and all those who bear put-down labels which sting every bit as much as “Gentile” did in the first-century Palestine.
We well know how Jesus continually welcomed and included those whom others rejected as unclean and sinners. It was this very inclusion that seemed to most rankle the religious authorities and which they tried to use to discredit his ministry. This kind of love can be commanded. It is not a feeling, but an attitude that must be cultivated and put into action.
Recently, I have discovered that there are many in our city hall who need to be commanded to love. Last week, Jean brought me an envelope containing several documents about the City’s new garbage pick-up fee on charitable and non-profit organizations. That reminded me that Jane, Chair of our Property Committee, reported this issue to our Council last month. Starting this July, over 1,000
charitable organizations will be charged for waste pick-up for the first
time. This is the result of a City
Council decision last December to end the exemption that charities and
non-profits have had for many years. Toronto
While reading the documents prepared by Social Planning Toronto, one of the city’s non-profit organizations, I felt that the City’s decision was outrageous. Apparently, there was no proper consultation when the City Council made this decision last year and even many of the non-profit organizations are still unaware of it. Of course, our church will be affected by this and we have only recently been informed of it.
Our church is one of the hardest-hit organizations. You probably have noticed the many garbage bags piled up on the west side of our building every week. Why do we have so many garbage bags? It is because we run the Food Bank and Community Dinners. We receive food from the Daily Bread Food Bank. Most of the food is good. But sometimes we receive loads of poor quality donations like boxes of rotten vegetables or fruit, which wind up in the garbage. And not all the food containers are recyclable. Further, despite the notice about not accepting more donations of clothes, some people continue to leave bags of clothes, often unwearable clothes, on our church steps.
Social Planning Toronto estimates that, when fully implemented in 2015, these charges will take around $3 million out of the charitable organizations in the city; it would cost our church around 1,6oo dollars annually. It sounds even more outrageous because the city recently announced an almost 300 million dollar surplus at the end of last year: the surplus from the city’s solid waste management system alone was nearly $40 million. Our Church Council is working on this absolutely unjustifiable charge, joining other organizations in reversing or reducing the impact of the city’s ill-conceived decision.
Today is Mothers’ Day or Christian Family Sunday. Together we remember our mothers’ unconditional love and celebrate all types of families. As Jesus loves us, we love one another beyond our families. Jesus calls us friends. We look to Jesus the Christ as our beloved and loving friend who leads us as we continue to witness to the Good News in our community and beyond. Amen.