Love is a many splendored thing. All you need is love. What’s love got to do with it? Where did our love go? You’ve lost that lovin’ feeling. I just called to say I love you. I can’t help falling in love with you. I want to know what love is. Love will keep us together. To know, know, know him, is to love, love, love him and I do. Crazy little thing called love. And I will always love you. Those were the song titles about love that popped into my head… and those songs are all from the 45 and LP era. I’m sure the CD and I-tunes generations could add as many or more titles. What strikes me is that in none of these popular expressions is love commanded. Love is something you fall into or out of. Love is something you find or lose. Love is a feeling, hey, more than a feeling. But a commandment? Not in the songs of my generation. It is for Jesus: “I give you a new commandment: love one another.” How can there be a commandment to love? “I command that you love me.” Obviously what Jesus commands is not the same thing the popular song celebrates. What Jesus means by love has little to do with hearts and flowers. Love in Jesus’ commandment has more to do with the iron of the will.
Think, for example, of the loves we know best – the love of a husband and wife and the love of parents and children. While there are certainly heart and flower moments in those loving relationships there are also times when the love manifests itself by needing the iron will to hang in there. Spouses who have been together for a few years find that those quirks which seemed endearing when they were first married get irritating over time. They need to summon up the will to learn to communicate in new ways as their love matures over the years. And parents and children find their love can quickly move from warm and fuzzy to cold and prickly. I remember one mother saying to her acting out teen: I don’t like you very much right now but because I love you I am working to help us get through this. It is those kinds of love that Jesus has in mind when giving the commandment to love one another. Love isn’t what we feel but how we act. Love is as love does.
How does Jesus’ commandment to love look for us here at St. James? I was struck by the words of Our Lord: “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” We don’t need our big, old, beautiful church in order to be disciples of Jesus – we need only to love one another. We don’t need a magnificent bell tower ringing out our presence in Bronzeville to be disciples – we need only to love one another. We don’t need a majestic organ echoing celestial choirs to be disciples – we need only to love one another. As much as we might value and appreciate those sacred spaces, that is not what defines us. What puts St. James on the map as disciples of Jesus is the love we have for one another.
This disciple love is not a feeling. It is a verb, an action. Disciple love is what we do. We have love for one another when we are welcoming to others, particularly those unlike us. We have love for one another when we forgive those who hurt us and are willing to receive forgiveness from those we have hurt. We have love for one another when we are generous with our time in support of one another. We have love for one another when we can recognize in those who are in need the face of a brother or sister who deserves our care.
“This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Is there enough evidence to convict us of being disciples if we were hauled before a judge. “I accuse those St. James people of being disciples – look how they love one another.” Or would the case be thrown out for insufficient evidence? Let me make one concrete suggestion for homework. One of the simplest ways of showing our love for one another is to learn another person’s name. So your homework – there are people that you see each week here in church but you aren’t sure who they are. Go up and introduce yourself. Call them by name. Who knows the judge might convict us of being loving disciples after all!