6th Sunday after the Epiphany
February 16, 2020
“First Comes Love and Then Comes…Love”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the lesson read earlier from John 15.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
As long as there have been people, there have been bullies and taunting and teasing. The strong have always preyed upon the weak, and our strongest and most effective weapon continues to be our tongues (James 3) and not fists. Kids can be uncommonly cruel to one another; 1 in 7 students in grades K through 12th is either a bully or has been a victim of bullying. Victims of bullying are 2 to 9 times more prone to commit suicide. With that being said, I don’t condone bullying. But I also think that probably everyone here, at one time or another, has either heard or sang the following taunt: “Boy X and girl Y sitting in a tree. K-i-s-s-i-n-g. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes (insert child name reference) in a baby carriage.” It is phraseology right from the “teasing 101” handbook learned on the playground.
But notice one of the main thrusts of that taunt – “first comes love.” First comes love. In today’s lesson the word “love” or its derivation is used 9 times. In the Gospel lesson, “love” is a big deal. Even outside the Church, love is a big deal. Friday was Valentine’s Day and, in 2019, Americans spent more than $20 billion, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). The NRF survey also found that consumers will spend, on average, roughly $162 per person. That’s A LOT of flowers, candy, and cards!
Anyway, we learn a lot about love in John 15. As God the Father has loved Jesus, so also Jesus loves us (v. 9). God loves us not because we are so lovable, but because He IS love. We are also given a “new” commandment as such: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (V. 12). As those whom God loves, we are able to love Him and our neighbors. We also recognize that “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (V. 13 ESV). We call this “foreshadowing.” That’s a lot to take in! But wait! It all starts with God’s love…even bullies know that: “First comes love”…“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” Millions and millions of Valentine’s Day cards spoke of “love,” so what do we mean by “love?”
In the Greek New Testament, there are several words for the concept of love. One word is “hedone.” It is a word for love from which we get the English word “hedonism.” This is the physical aspect of love – the unhealthy lust part. This is NOT the kind of love that we show for God or neighbor. In the NT it is often the word used to describe the unholy carnality that works against God and entices people instead towards evil.
“Hedone” is Satan’s favorite. He just loves to entice people with what they think they want, then show them a way to temporarily get it. Case in point…do you know how many people visit Las Vegas every year? About 40 million, or almost 770,000 people every week. Why? There is nothing out there but sand! Well, sand and topless bars, strip clubs, and brothels. People flock to Las Vegas by the millions because this is their way of getting, buying, and showing love; we even say things like “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” It’s a love too embarrassing to talk about. All it takes is a trip to the wedding chapel (Elvis, Star Trek, Harley, and Camelot themes all available) or to any of the numerous casinos to watch the dazed faces staring intently into the video gaming machine as they feed it their worked-for money for a chance to win money and you’ll find plenty of “hedone.” But that’s not what we’re talking about today.
Another word for “love” in the New Testament is “Philos.” “Philos” is a love shown between friends, hence the name “Philadelphia” or the “city of brotherly love.” I didn’t find much “philos” in Philadelphia, but that’s beside the point. “Philos” is a camaraderie love between people and/or healthy activities. If you “just love to golf,” that’s “philos.” This is an enjoyable type of connection, but it isn’t necessarily long lasting. It is a bond that can be broken by circumstances: time, distance, disagreements, anger, and so on. But that’s not what we’re talking about today.
What we are talking about today – “First comes love” – and the kind of love that Jesus uses in every instance in John 15, is the most special Greek word for love “agape.” This is the ultimate expression of love. “Agape” is a self-sacrificing love; a love that puts a higher priority on the welfare of someone else other than yourself and your desires. “Agape” love is what Jesus not only exhibits but what He calls for: “agape” love God and “agape” love for your neighbor as yourself. The perfect “agape” love of the Father is demonstrated in and carried out by Jesus at both the cross where death dies and the tomb where the grave is overwhelmed by God’s “agape” for you.
Sinners such as us need WAY more “agape” love in life and WAY less “hedone.” We rejoice in God’s greater “agape” love for us such that we are encouraged and strengthened to show forth grace and mercy and peace and love for one another. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (15:13). Are you also ready to live and love – “agape” – like that?
Something came around either on Facebook or email this week about how kids define love. Here are some of their responses. “When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love.” “Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.” “You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.” Yes, they do, little Jessica, yes they do. Go forth to this week and show your “agape” love for both God and neighbor because in all things and at all times, first comes love.