You know that I love to tell stories in my sermons. And from your reactions over the years, you love to listen to them. Shortly after I announced my retirement three months ago, I let you know that I hoped to retell some of my favorite stories. The story I am about to tell you happens to be among my favorites. Listen!
In 1940, Nazi Germany was already well on its way in displaying its military might in an effort to bring the entire world under the rule of the fanatical Adolph Hitler. In that same year, the armies of Germany invaded its neighbor to the north, tiny Denmark. After just a few hours of fighting, the Danes surrendered. One of the first edicts handed down to the people of Denmark was that all Jews would be required to wear sewn onto their clothing a yellow Star of David.
Now the king of Denmark at this time was a popular king by the name of Christian, Christian X. Christian was famous for riding often down the streets of Copenhagen on horseback, and often unattended. The day after the Nazis had issued their edict that all Jews should wear the Star of David, King Christian, in a bold act of defiance, was the first person to be seen on the streets of Copenhagen, riding his horse, and wearing, sewn onto his coat, the Star of David.
The Nazis protested. “You must not do this! We want only the Jews to wear the star.” King Christian replied, “If even one of my subjects is required to wear the star, then I shall wear it too.” Soon everyone in Denmark, Christian and Jew alike, was seen wearing the star.
But the greatest act of defiance against the Nazis was not that all of the citizens wore the Star of David, but that secretly, one by one, the Jews of Denmark began to disappear. In an effort that had no central organization, but happened rather spontaneously, the people of Denmark were able to smuggle the Jews out of Denmark – in boats of every shape and size – across the sea to neutral Sweden.
As a result – even though 50 Danish Jews did meet their end in the death camps – more than 7,000 Jews were saved from Hitler’s gas chambers. Denmark would prove to be the only country that did anything on a national scale to protect its Jews in World War II.
After telling that story at the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem on one of my visits to Israel, our guide then told us that to this day, the Jews have never forgotten what the Danish people did. And the Jewish people learned a valuable lesson from the courageous acts of the Danish people. And what they learned is this. They learned that the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is not hate. It is apathy.
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus is sending a message. He is sending a message to his disciples, and by extension to us as well. And the message is this. Love one another. Love one another as I have loved you. This was not – this is not – a suggestion. He calls it a commandment. Listen!
“This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you.”
What can be said about the love of Jesus is that it is real. It is authentic. There is nothing phony about Jesus. Please don’t forget what I have been saying to you for many years now – “God loves you – Jesus loves you – just the way you are. But he loves you too much to let you stay that way.” And he loves you – he loves every single one of you – even though he knows everything there is to know about you. Jesus loves you through and through even though he knows you through and through. Chew on that for a while!
But don’t miss that part where he says, “Love one another.” Again, not a suggestion. Not a request. But something that we are commanded to do.
Now, let’s be honest – not that we wouldn’t be honest – but let’s be honest. We all know that there are just some people who are difficult to love. Sometimes loving somebody is just plain hard work. Most of the time it’s not – but sometimes it is. Sometimes – like King Christian and the Danish people – it involves taking risks. And it always involves being vulnerable – because you know when you love that other person – when you love as Christ loves – you risk being hurt.
Now – in the Greek language in which the Scriptures were first written – there are a variety of words that mean love. Philos refers a brotherly or sisterly love. Eros refers to the romantic love between two people who are married to each other, or those entering into marriage. Here – when Jesus says, “Love one another,” the word is “Agape.” This is a self-giving love – the kind of love that Christ loved us with – a love that led Him to give Himself for us.
This is a self-less love. We might even call it a love that nourishes. It’s the kind of love that says, “You are important; you are special; you are someone I believe in. Just because – just because you are who you are.”
Isn’t that the kind of love we’d all like to have? Even at those times when we are not all that lovable! What we need is someone to listen without judging. Without condemnation. Someone to love us unconditionally.
Let me tell you – most folks don’t need a critic. What they need is a coach. A cheerleader. Moms and dad, listen up! Your kids don’t need a critic. Be a coach, not a critic.
Listen! If we are to love as Jesus loved – then our love needs to be genuine. It needs to be authentic. It needs to be unconditional. And yes, that’s not always easy. And by the way – I think this is a good point to say this – although to love unconditionally is to love the way Jesus loves – that does not mean that anyone – man, woman or child – should ever stay in an abusive relationship. No one should ever have to put up with abuse or bullying. That’s not love. That’s self-centeredness and control. But it is not love.
Do you remember what I Corinthians 13 has to say about this? I like Romans 12 starting with verse 9 and following, by the way. But I Corinthians 13 is a great way to understand what agape love is all about. Many of you should be familiar with I Corinthians 13 because it is highly likely that these words were spoken at your wedding. Or, I am sure, you have attended a wedding where this passage was read. Even though the love that I Corinthians talks about has nothing to do with the romantic love between two people – it is often read at weddings. These are words that every one of us should memorize and take to hear. But do you remember the words? Again – the word used here is the word Agape. Listen!
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
Really – I can think of no better words than these to describe a love that is authentic. A love that is real.
And of course any one of you could rightly ask, “Well, Randy, why should I love like that? Why should I love other people in this way?” Glad you asked. Well, first of all, it is by the Lord’s command. “Love one another as I have loved you.” Challenging? Yes. Sometimes daunting. Downright impossible? Well, yes, sometimes it seems that way. But just because it isn’t always easy – most of the time it is – but just because it isn’t always easy doesn’t mean you should give up.
Why? Because the benefits are unlimited. You see, not only will others be built up – not only will others be encouraged – but so will you. So will you!
Remember, the opposite of love is not hate. It is apathy. You cannot say you love someone – and not care for them or about them.
Preachers like me often lift up Mother Teresa as an example of selfless – giving – agape love. And although she is no longer with us – many of you will remember how she dedicated her life to the thousands of hungry, sick and dying people of India. She wrote a book that offers excellent ideas about loving others as Christ loves us.
Referring to the parable of the bridegroom and the wise and foolish maidens she writes, “Do not imagine that love to be true must be extraordinary…. See how a lamp burns, by the continual consumption of the little drops of oil. If there are no more drops in the lamp, there will be no light,…”
“My children, what are these drops of oil in our lamps? They are the little things of everyday life: fidelity, punctuality, little words of kindness, just a little thought for others, those little acts of silence, of look and thought, of word, and deed. These are the very drops of love – the very drops of love that make our life burn with so much light.”
The Bible tells us that we love because God first loved us. We learn to love – we gain the capacity for love – when we ourselves are first loved by someone else.
We all need to be loved. All of us. And because this is true – everyone here today – myself included – we need to ask ourselves, “How am I doing? How am I doing at receiving and then demonstrating the love of Christ? The love that first loved me? How am I doing? Am I loving in ways that others experience and know that I love them? That they know the love of Christ through me!
For love to be love it must be real. It must be authentic. It must be genuine. Like little drops of oil in our lamps that never run out.
Remember that! As the weeks are counting down now to my final Saturday/Sunday with you – my joy will be complete to know that just as you have been doing for so many years in my presence – so you will continue to do in my absence – to love one another just as Christ loves you.