May 06, 2018
May I speak to you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Over the last several weeks we’ve been hearing of many miraculous stories from the book of Acts and through John – both his gospel and letters – we have been very repetitively hearing about love, and this last two weeks abiding and obeying commands. It’s an easy time as we’ve reached week six in celebrating Easter with all these repetitions to zone out…to miss it…but there’s some stuff going on here…
The word love is getting thrown around a lot. It’s a word we hear all the time.
We think about it a lot.
The Beatles asserted – All you need is Love
In the musing on love all is not good news – the J. Geils Band in the 80’s exclaimed – Love Stinks
Tina Turner asked, What’s love got to do with it?
The Captain & Tenille claimed (before their divorce) – Love will Keep us Together
Huey Lewis is wowed by the Power of Love
What’s funny in the English language is that we have one word for love: Love. We use the same word to say to our spouse or significant other to express ourselves that we say to express our feelings about pizza: I love you. I love pizza. Love. This concept can seem so vague while being so significant.
No wonder it's befuddling when we hear that God is love.
It helps us to consider the word love in the Greek – the language of it’s writing in the New Testament. In Greek, there are four words for love – Eros, Philos, Storge, and Agape.
In our readings today, the repetitive use of the word love is actually 2 kinds of love (Strong’s concordance helps us here) they are cognates of Philos – friend love or confidant, beloved and the other is a cognate of agape – in its meaning it is wide: a benevolence, unconditional – transcending circumstance or behavior…it just is.
C. S. Lewis helps us tease this out a bit…in his book called The Four Loves, Lewis helps us understand God as love. He muses that he “should be able to say that human loves deserve to be called loves at all just in so far as they resemble that Love which is God.” For Lewis, something is love when it looks like God, resembles God. He further gives differentiation of loves which help us. He called them “Gift-Love” and “Need-Love.” Gift-Love being the other-centered care of another without account to self. Lewis’ example is a parent who works and plans for a future for his family that might not be shared or seen for him but will support and be enjoyed by the family.
Need-Love he simply says is that which is motivated by a need. His example for this is a child who is frightened who runs to a parent’s arms.
Clearly, in Lewis’ example, God’s love is Gift-Love: the other-centered love without account for self.
He proposes that we can only come to God authentically through Need-Love. So that kind of love is important. We need to know and experience that we need God. But, we cannot stay there…love…Gift-Love, Philos, Agape…they are not need driven. They are affectionate (Philos) and unconditional (Agape).
We hear in the gospel today Jesus saying: “As the Father has loved me (Agape), so I have loved you (Agape), abide in my love (Agape).” That’s the unconditional just is love.
In our Christian spirituality, we are invited into the love which exists within the Trinity. David Cunningham in theological reflection on our readings today in Feasting on the Word, says “love in this sense is a theological virtue: an excellence of character by nature and in which we participate by grace.” He further asserts that “for Christians, the true archetype of love is found within the inner life of God.”
This means we look to the Trinity...and when we do we can see three things: a love that exists in union with one another, and in the midst of this union there is autonomy, further in this union there is intimacy and affection. Union, autonomy, intimacy.
And here today, Jesus is saying that we are invited into the same love which exists within the Trinity. Union, autonomy, intimacy. Whoa…that is a big deal. We are loved with the same love – the same stuff - that the Father has for the Son or the Son for the Spirit…and the semantic used is that we abide in God’s love. Abide…not a typical word these days…but the word picture is dwelling…. live there…remain in…continue…dwell in agape…and we are called to love in that way…we are called to agape one another. This love is other-centered and does not have motivation in a particular direction…it is not based on self or on other. It is.
How do we get there? [pause] when our natural propensity is what Lewis called Need-Love?
Jesus tilts his hand to a description as we continue in our gospel reading when Jesus says: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends…I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” [pause]
In this description, Jesus changes the word for love. Earlier he used agape and now he’s using philos. Friend. Beloved. Confidant.
Friendship conceptually is worth thinking on. Aristotle helps us.
Aristotle explores categories of friendship. He speaks of “…friendships of pleasure, friendships of usefulness or advantage, and friendships based on goodness and virtue” (Wadell, 1988, p. 51).
Pleasure. Usefulness. Virtue.
These categories expose our motivations relationally…not only with people but with God. Are we friends with people because they make us feel good? Are we friends with people because they are useful to us or give an advantage to us in some way? Or are we friends with people because they share a morality or ethics with us? For us, this means a sharing of ethic born from our Christian spirituality.
When Jesus says we are His friends, Aristotle’s semantic helps us - this is not friendship of pleasure, usefulness, or advantage, but of goodness and virtue. Paul Waddell reflecting on Aristotle’s categories asserts: “…what sets virtue friendships apart from other friendships is not the way one friend beholds the other, but the substance of the friendship itself.”
This is contradictory to the other categories of friendship – where the substance of a friendship of usefulness or advantage would involve how one friend beholds the other. In our Christian spirituality friendship has the substance of agape love.
The other consideration concerning friendships, is simply that we become who we hang around with. We become like our friends. Here we find a simple approach to our transformation into Christ’s likeness. Jesus has given us description and direction. He says “you are my friends.” This tells us something. What do with do with our friends? We spend time with them. What do our friends do to us? Influence us.
Be God’s friend. Become like God. Love like God. Philos. Agape.
God is love.
We are friends with God.
We love like God.
Cunningham, D. (2008). Theological Perspective: Easter Six, in Feasting on the Word, Vol. 2, Year B. Kindle edition.
Lewis, C. S. (1960). The Four Loves. New York, NY: Harcourt Jovanovish.
Wadell, P.J. (1988). Friendship and morality. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.