April 28, 2013
Fifth Sunday after Easter
"The New Command"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
What do you call an apple that plays the trumpet? A tooty fruity. Why did the banana go to the doctor? Because it wasn't peeling well. What did the father tomato say to the baby tomato while they were out on a walk? Ketchup!
Coming home from Traverse City, there is a billboard on the lefthand side of the road just before Honor, right at the bottom of the hill into town. It currently reads "Name five kinds of apples." Not too tough. Off the top of the head, there's Braeburn, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Jonathan, MacIntosh, Honey Crisp, Fuji, Ida Reds, and that's just eight of the varieties I remember.
I think it's an ad for an insurance company, but still, it got me to thinking: how many different kinds of oranges can you name off the top of your head? Going back to that picture in my mind of a grocery store, I don't see different categories of oranges, unless you talk about navel vs. un-navel, tangerines and blood oranges. The internet says there are over 600 varieties, tho.
Then I wondered about what other fruit would have several known varieties, so I thought about pears. How many varieties of pears can you list off the top of your head? Members of Nugent, Smeltzer or Putney families may know this, but I about fell off my chair when I discovered that there were over 3,000 varieties of pears in the world. Not all are pear-shaped, but still, over 3,000 varieties - which brings us to this morning's scripture passage.
The writer of John puts this scene just after Jesus has washed the disciples' feet at his last Passover. Jesus has just announced that one of the twelve would betray him, and Judas left the upper room.
31 When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. 33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Thank you, Bill. So the question is, how many kinds of love are there? Being the proud seminary student I am, I knew there to be three. But for kicks and giggles, I asked the internet how many varieties of love there were, and I discovered answers of 15, 10, 4, 5, 9, 6 and probably every other number not just mentioned. When talking about kinds of love and the Bible, I had learned that the three were: eros, philos and agape. It was interesting that my little internet search revealed another type found in the Bible - in a round-about sort of way.
The Greek word - in this round-about way - is storge, which refers to the love between family members: brothers and sisters, a mother and child, between aunt and niece. That word, storge, is not mentioned in the Bible directly, but astrogos alludes to "without natural affection." The only two times this word is used in the Bible refers to people being so evil that they lack even natural affection for members of their own family.
So one day my little nephew, Torval, was asked to answer some questions for the school secretary. The secretary asked him, "What is your father's occupation?" Torval answered, "He's a magician." "How interesting. What's his favorite trick?" Torval answered, "He likes to saw people in half." The secretary replied, "Wow! Now the next question. Any brothers or sisters?" Torval answered, "One half brother and two half sisters."
For those who have spent a little time in a pew, you are perhaps eros, philos and agape. Eros is that erotic love or romantic love based more on physical or mental traits. It's based more on the self-benefit of what can benefit you, and not as much on the other person. "I love you because it feels good and makes me happy loving you" The emphasis here is more on me than us or you. Philos seems to have the reputation of being the more base or primitive kind of love.
Philos is the love based on friendship between two people. (In splitting hairs, this is where storge goes off on it's own tangent.) Philos is love based on successful relationship - true whether it is between family members, co-workers or good friends. This is the love that realizes you miss each other when you are apart, and it is the love that takes time and is patient - as in the famous Bible passage says, "love is patient, love is kind."
If eros sees only each others' strengths, everything as being rosy, and as (dare I say) mushy feelings of happiness, then philos sees love as give-and-take, seeing the relationship through all the colors of life, and is not based on emotions alone.
Some folks like to put an order to these three kinds of love, with eros being at the bottom, philos being a higher form of love and agape love as the highest form. It is at the very least the noblest of love, because it is selfless, and gives out love to another person even if that act doesn't benefit him/her in any way. (Here is your extra credit question: if you "ordered" these three different kinds of love, how would you do that - what might the mechanism look like?) I'm thinking it my order would be more of a ball, because they are all connected and part of a whole.
Agape is the kind of love that we choose - most especially when we don't want to love, when we feel rather unloveable our selves, or the other person isn't so lovely at that moment. Agape love is the sort that can inspire people to join the armed forces, the peace corps or to go on mission trips. It is the love that is not boastful, proud, rude, self-seeking, easily angered, doesn't keep records of wrong, rejoices with the truth, doesn't delight in evil, always protects, always trusts, always perseveres, and never fails.
I wonder about this highest kind, this truly divine sort of love and it's potential danger. As I was writing this message, I wondered if you aren't careful with agape love, if it can turn into an obsession. Since I didn't have time to think it out entirely, if anyone has a thought on that, I'd be glad to hear it. But I came across someone who included the following into their description of agape love. "You take insults from your partner without hitting back, all the while forgiving and praying for your partner to amend his/her ways."
Most people attribute Albert Einstein as saying, "Doing something over and over and expecting different results was the definition of insanity." That quote appears in the Basic Text of Narcotics Anonymous. Our passage for this morning uses the word agape. All four instances of the word love - in loving one another - are about the larger-than-life kind of love. I don't think we can simply look at the "love one another" command by it's lonesome. It needs the backdrop of the first part of the passage to become the healthy, divine, ulterior kind of love.
I don't know about anyone else, but I've never really been able to put into words what Jesus is saying in the first part of the passage. "Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him." If we change out glorified for exalted or honored, maybe it might make a difference in the hearing and meaning. "Now the Son of Man is exalted/honored and God is exalted/honored in him."
Maybe it's a little clearer, but are you seeing any kind of a pattern? 1) Now the Son of Man is glorified - Love one another. 2) As God is glorified in him - As I have loved you. 3) If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. If I've confused anyone, I apologize. One of the big secrets to understanding the ancient writers is that when they repeat something, you're supposed to pay attention. I'm wondering if Jesus' statement about love is a sort of repetition of his comment on God being glorified. I'm wondering if there was something big going on here - bigger than maybe what could be put into words, bigger than love, and it has everything to do with God.
I was listening to or reading something recently that talked about the Old Testament and the New Testament. The presenter was making the point that we sometimes overlook two very little but highly important words: old and new, as in the Old Testament and the New Testament. For Christians, the Old Testament is that - old - it was. The New Testament is just that - new and is.
We need the Old Testament to understand why the New Testament is such a big deal, especially because Jesus didn't say, "I give you the same tasks to fulfill as those in the Old Testament." For hundreds of years they hadn't worked, so because of God's love of us, Jesus was sent with this new approach. The old way of making sacrifices and buying offerings was messy and consumed so much attention to details. The new way of Jesus making his life an eternal sacrifice freed us to stop looking at the details and allows us to look at the people - the love of God's heart.
Jesus could have given us so many different commands. But he chose to command us to love - with the higher, divine, noble, right, humble kind of love. We may not do it perfectly, but we do love, and sometimes one of the most powerful things you can hear to a command is the affirmation of your ability to keep it. So let us pray.
God of all love, we thank you that you created each of us in your love. Help us to love one another. Help us remember that as you have loved us, so are we to love one another. When we have failed to do so in the last week, Gracious and Merciful God, forgive us. When anger or fear or any other walls stand in the way of us doing the loving we are to do, help us to see them for the impediments they are to carrying out your will. Help us to remember, too, that this high love of yours is anchored in Jesus, and so we do it not completely on our own strength, but in yours, too. To the answer of that new command given to us, all your people say, Amen.