Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year B)

TEXTS: John 15:1-17 and 1 John 5:1-6

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 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. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:9-11)

This week I want to turn your attention to two of our lectionary readings: the gospel and the epistle—John and First John. These texts are intertwined, playing off each other with a common theme. In fact, their language is so repetitive that it is hard to miss the point being made. Between our two passages, the words “command,” “commanded,” or “commandments” appear no fewer than eight times. Get the message? We’re commanded. So what is it that we are being commanded to do? Let’s look more closely.

In the epistle lesson, we hear that “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.” Got that? Jesus has been born of God, and everyone who believes in him has been born of God—and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.

Now, understand this: the “child” being referred to here is any Christian—not only Jesus, but every one of his adopted sisters and brothers, as well. And, John argues, we know that we love God’s children if we love God, and the way we know we love God is if we obey his commandments.

In the gospel lesson, we hear similar language. Jesus describes himself as “the vine” and us as “the branches.” Jesus was telling us that we should abide in him—be at home in him—and let him abide in us.

Jesus describes in detail what this means. He explains how we go about getting this abiding love: “If you keep my commandments,” he says, “you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” And Jesus makes his point clear: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Then Jesus concludes: “I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

Some 30 years ago, pastor and anthropologist Gary Chapman authored a best-selling book called The Five Love Languages 1 — a work which still informs our conversations today. In it, Chapman explains how problems in relationships occur because people have different understandings of what it means to show love. We all might be able to say “I love you”—but for some, love is only really communicated in a particular way. Chapman outlines five of these, which he calls “the languages of love”: quality time, acts of service, receiving of gifts, physical affection, and words of affirmation. He talks about how knowing someone’s “love language” can help you better demonstrate the love you feel for them.

Now, if you love five different people and they all have different “love languages,” you might have to work very hard to show each of them that you love them. Of course, in your most important relationships, working a little harder is probably worth it. The point is, we often tie love to other things; and Gary Chapman tells us that figuring out how we can best communicate love to others is essential if we want strong and lasting relationships.

Lucky for us, Jesus tells us straight out what his love language is—and it’s not one of those listed in Chapman’s book. Jesus is quite specific. Jesus very plainly relates love to obedience. If we love him, we will obey his commandments. He tells us how he wants us to love him, and he tells us how he loves us. He says, “if you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love … this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you … You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

Now, hold on … is Jesus saying that our relationship with him is contingent upon our following his commandments? That makes him sound like a control freak, doesn’t it? “We’ll get along great as long as you do what I say!”

“You are my friends if you do what I command you.” In any other situation, we’d call this a dysfunctional relationship, wouldn’t we? How can love work if one person is in control? Our independent natures bristle at the thought. You can’t make someone love you. You can’t command love, can you? But there it is: “This is my commandment, that you love one another.”

Well, some background might be helpful. Jesus lived and taught in a day when being a faithful person meant following the laws of the Torah—the laws that had bound the community together from generation to generation. More than that, the people Jesus lived among were people who lived in a very highly structured society, where masters and slaves and every status level in between lived according to rules and customs that governed almost every aspect of behaviour.

You want to talk about commandments? The teachers of the law counted over 600 laws that faithful Jews were supposed to follow. So Jesus comes along, as one more person talking about commandments. However, Jesus’ idea of making rules is to require love. He commands us to love.

The epistle lesson says almost the same thing as Jesus said in the gospel: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments.” Then John adds a tag, as if prepared in advance for our complaints: “And his commandments are not burdensome.”

You know, we are not so different from the people Jesus was teaching, or from the people John was writing to. We also live our lives surrounded by rules and regulations: household rules, school rules, rules at work, rules of order for the church, rules for society, national rules, rules for the international community; even rules of the road, increasingly enforced by surveillance cameras watching our every move.

We live under so much law! So many commandments. Really, to be commanded to love … how can we find this burdensome? If we obeyed this command, this one command—to love—how many of those other rules would we need? And, what’s more, we’re being commanded by Jesus simply to practice the very thing we ought to desire above all.

Thinking again of the Five Love Languages, the real point of Chapman’s book is that no matter how we want to receive love, we do all want it. We want to be loved. On a website called “Sermons From Seattle,” pastor Edward Markquart writes this:

It’s about love, love, love. From the moment you are born until the moment you die; and every second and every minute and every hour and every day and every month and every year and every decade, the purpose of life is God giving you and me the time to learn how to love, as God loves. The purpose of time, of every moment and every day and every year is that God is teaching us what it means to be truly loving people. That’s what it is all about. That is what it has always been about. God commands us to love one another in these ways. It is like God commanding fish to swim. It is like commanding birds to fly. It is like God commanding daffodils to be beautiful. When God commands us to love as God loves, God is simply commanding us to be the kind of people that we were created to be in the first place. We were created in the image of God; we are like God; and God is love.2

In our epistle lesson, we read that Christ’s commandments are not burdensome. But in the gospel, Jesus takes it a step further: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

Complete joy! Have you ever experienced such a thing as complete joy? Think over your life experiences. Think about the times in your life when you have felt joy most intensely. I’m going to guess that these experiences of joy probably have something to do with experiences of love, as well. It seems to me that our experiences of joy are never just about us, but always have something to do with the relationships in our lives.

Jesus speaks to us of commandments, not to burden us, but to free us. He wants us to have this joy not just in fleeting moments, but as a regular part of our living. “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

So let’s be followers of the rules. And of all the rules we’re bound by—of all the laws we can choose to follow—why not choose obedience to the one commandment that promises us everything in return?


1 The Five Love Languages by Gary D. Chapman, Ph.D. Northfield Publishing, Chicago (1992). ISBN: 1-881273-15-6


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