#BCCSundaySchool2019: “Continue Ye in My Love”

tristan-billet-731063-unsplash

Photo by Tristan Billet on Unsplash

Readings: John 13–17

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35, all cited scriptures are from the New Revised Standard Version translation)

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. . . . I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” (John 15:12–14, 17)

What does it mean to love as Christ loves?

Christ reveals to his apostles in John 14 that His love is God’s love, and though the disciples would soon be separated from Christ, He would not leave them isolated:

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” (John 14:18–21)

What is God’s love or Christ’s love like? Many have tried to describe it:

“Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God’s love encompasses us completely. He loves us because He is filled with an infinite measure of holy, pure, and indescribable love. We are important to God not because of our résumé but because we are His children. He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken. God’s love is so great that He loves even the proud, the selfish, the arrogant, and the wicked.

What this means is that, regardless of our current state, there is hope for us. No matter our distress, no matter our sorrow, no matter our mistakes, our infinitely compassionate Heavenly Father desires that we draw near to Him so that He can draw near to us.”

—Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Love of God”

Do I love the “flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, and broken”? Do I love “the proud, the selfish, the arrogant, and the wicked”? If we are to love one another as Christ loves and God loves, does this mean I must not only strive to love those with whom I agree and understand, but also those of whom I disapprove, who threaten me, who anger me and insult me? I’m not entirely sure. Human minds are not the same as godly minds, and certainly a “love everyone” rhetoric could be damaging in instances of abuse and psychological manipulation. All the same, I think there are very few exceptions to the people whom I should strive to love. I wonder what it means for a liberal to love Donald Trump as a human being. Or for a conservative to love Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or Elizabeth Warren as human beings. What would this look like? It feels dangerous, doesn’t it? Like losing a battle. But perhaps this is what we are being called to do. You can tell me in the comments.

The Trappist Monk Thomas Merton said a great number of beautiful things about what it means to love with God’s love. Here is a sampling:

“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” 

“We are obliged to love one another. We are not strictly bound to ‘like’ one another. Love governs the will: ‘liking’ is a matter of sense and sensibility. Nevertheless, if we really love others it will not be too hard to like them also. If we wait for some people to become agreeable or attractive before we begin to love them, we will never begin. If we are content to give them a cold impersonal ‘charity’ that is merely a matter of obligation, we will not trouble to understand them or to sympathize with them at all. And in that case we will not really love them, because love implies an efficacious will not only to do good to others exteriorly but also to find some good in them to which we can respond.”

“But the man who is not afraid to admit everything that he sees to be wrong with himself, and yet recognizes that he may be the object of God’s love precisely because of his shortcomings, can begin to be sincere. His sincerity is based on confidence, not in his own illusions about himself, but in the endless, unfailing mercy of God.”

But my favorite Merton musings on love must absolutely be this one:

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world. . . .

“This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. . . . I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.

“Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. . . . But this cannot be seen, only believed and ‘understood’ by a peculiar gift.”

“There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.” His words reflect a fulfillment Jesus’s promise in John 15:9–11: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

To walk around and see strangers, friends, students, teachers, coworkers, grocery store clerks, teenagers, construction workers, etc., etc. walking around shining like the sun—to acknowledge the cores of their realities—that would be to abide in joy. And we are commanded to do it.

What else does God’s love look like? I’ve cherished this musing by our own Chieko Okazaki since I was a young undergraduate in a student ward and our Relief Society President printed this large quotation out and glued copies to brightly colored papers to keep in our scriptures:

“Well, my dear sisters, the gospel is the good news that can free us from guilt. We know that Jesus experienced the totality of mortal existence in Gethsemane. It’s our faith that he experienced everything- absolutely everything. Sometimes we don’t think through the implications of that belief. We talk in great generalities about the sins of all humankind, about the suffering of the entire human family. But we don’t experience pain in generalities. We experience it individually. That means he knows what it felt like when your mother died of cancer—how it was for your mother, how it still is for you. He knows what it felt like to lose the student body election. He knows that moment when the brakes locked and the car started to skid. He experienced the slave ship sailing from Ghana toward Virginia. He experienced the gas chambers at Dachau. He experienced Napalm in Vietnam. He knows about drug addiction and alcoholism.

“Let me go further. There is nothing you have experienced as a woman that he does not also know and recognize. On a profound level, he understands the hunger to hold your baby that sustains you through pregnancy. He understands both the physical pain of giving birth and the immense joy. He knows about PMS and cramps and menopause. He understands about rape and infertility and abortion. His last recorded words to his disciples were, “And, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20) He understands your mother-pain when your five-year-old leaves for kindergarten, when a bully picks on your fifth-grader, when your daughter calls to say that the new baby has Down syndrome. He knows your mother-rage when a trusted babysitter sexually abuses your two-year-old, when someone gives your thirteen-year-old drugs, when someone seduces your seventeen-year-old. He knows the pain you live with when you come home to a quiet apartment where the only children are visitors, when you hear that your former husband and his new wife were sealed in the temple last week, when your fiftieth wedding anniversary rolls around and your husband has been dead for two years. He knows all that. He’s been there. He’s been lower than all that. He’s not waiting for us to be perfect. Perfect people don’t need a Savior. He came to save his people in their imperfections. He is the Lord of the living, and the living make mistakes. He’s not embarrassed by us, angry at us, or shocked. He wants us in our brokenness, in our unhappiness, in our guilt and our grief.”

There are limits to how I can love like Christ loves. I cannot fully empathize with my transgender friends, my friends who have experienced abortions, my friends who have served in military operations, my friends who have lost children or spouses or parents. But what I can do is love people in their brokenness, in their unhappiness, in their guilt and their grief. Because this is how God loves me.

I don’t have to be embarrassed by people, angry at people, or shocked by people. Not most of the time. I can choose to suspend my judgment, humble myself, and love people instead.

What does it look like?

What does it mean to love the people in the Pride parades in your neighborhood, the neighbors with rainbow flags, the gay neighbors with the little kids, the transgender woman at your work whom you originally met as a man? What does it mean to love the woman in the pussy hat who shouts in front of the grocery story to keep abortions legal? What does it mean to REALLY love them?

What does it mean to love the person on your street who took down your rainbow flags? What does it mean to love the neighbors who have an entire shed devoted to guns and ammunition and an NRA bumper sticker, or the neighbor who pickets in front of Planned Parenthood where you go to purchase birth control? What does it mean to love the coworker who insists climate change isn’t real, or the woman in your ward who persists in teaching your daughter the “licked cupcake” chastity analogy? What does it mean to REALLY love these neighbors?

Even as I type this, I do so imperfectly. I do not love like Christ loves. Consequently, I do not love Jesus as I wish I could, because the way Jesus says we show our love for Him is through the love we show for each other. And “each other” means everyone.

After the Passover dinner, Jesus washed his disciples feet, wiping them dry with the towel wrapped around his body. After he had washed his feet, John records that he said this:

“Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:14)

A question for family discussion: What is the 2019 equivalent of washing your neighbors’ feet? What would this look like at your school? In your work? At church? In your community? Can you think of someone whose feet you wouldn’t want to wash, metaphorically speaking? What is a way you can serve this person and with the hope that love will come in this exercise of your faith?

Stray Musings

  • John 15 reminds me that I sometimes wish all wards were called “branches,” instead of congregations that aren’t big enough to be “wards.” There is something lovely about thinking of our congregations as grafts to a life force that allows us to produce fruit together. I wish we could all refer to our communities as branches.
  • One of my favorite scriptures of all time is John 14:27. Christ’s message is one of love, but also one of peace.
  • Christ compares his disciples’ grief at his departure to a woman’s labor pains in John 16:21–22. The pain is followed by tremendous joy at having brought a new person into the world.
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson uses John’s account of the Last Supper as evidence that Jesus didn’t actually intend for Christians until the end of time to perform rituals of communion or sacrament. It’s an interesting sermon that ends in his resignation of the office of church minister, because he could no longer justify leading an ordinance he found superfluous and unnecessary. I agree and disagree with Emerson throughout, but the portion that I really love is this: “This mode of commemorating Christ is not suitable to me. That is reason enough why I should abandon it. If I believed that it was enjoined by Jesus on his disciples, and that he even contemplated making permanent this mode of commemoration, every way agreeable to an eastern mind, and yet, on trial, it was disagreeable to my own feelings, I should not adopt it. I should choose other ways which, as more effectual upon me, he would approve more. For I choose that my remembrances of him should be pleasing, affecting, religious. I will love him as a glorified friend, after the free way of friendship, and not pay him a stiff sign of respect, as men do to those whom they fear. A passage read from his discourses, a moving provocation to works like his, any act or meeting which tends to awaken a pure thought, a flow of love, an original design of virtue, I call a worthy, a true commemoration.” Emerson reminds me not to take the sacrament as “a stiff sign of respect” but in a way that “awakens a pure thought” and “flow of love.” And I love the idea of loving Jesus as an intimate friend, as a close associate.

 

Comments

  1. Timely. Thank you

  2. GEOFF -AUS says:

    You quote John 15:9-11 v 12 says “This is my commandment, That ye love one another as I have loved you.” So the commandments we are to keep are to love one another, and I think becoming a person who is a loving person.

    There are steps. First step in loving is to not discriminate against anyone. Not on race, not on sex, not on sexuality, not on wealth or poverty, not because they need an abortion.

    There are also scriptures that show there is collective responsibilities, so wheather we vote to help those in need, or to punish them for not behaving as we would.

    After we have a loving attitude to all, and there are others we know who are easy to love, then we can apply ourselves to loving individuals who are more difficult to love.

  3. What is the 2019 equivalent of washing your neighbors’ feet?

    It is actually washing your neighbors’ feet.

    What is a way you can serve this person and with the hope that love will come in this exercise of your faith?

    Do what the Lord has commanded, and he will give you his love.

    He commanded:

    1. Love them – by building them up and furthering their goals.
    2. Do good to them.
    3. Pray for them when they spitefully abuse and persecute you.
    4. Lend to them, fully expecting nothing out of them.
    5. If they strike you on one cheek, present your other cheek to them so that they may strike you again without resistance and without reviling.
    6. Pray for good things to happen to them when they ask for bad things to happen to you.
    7. Give to them when they ask.
    8. Forgive all their debts to you.
    9. Do not condemn them for anything.
    10. Do everything to them you wish they would do to you.

    Jesus commanded us to do all these things and he meant it literally – for the short version, see Luke 6:20-49. For the longer versions, see Matthew chapters 5-7 and 3 Nephi chapters 12-14.

  4. Old Man says:

    C.S. Lewis made an important observation that it was likely silly and dangerous to sit around manufacturing the emotion of love for people who habitually did bad or harmful things. A better approach is to act in a manner that blessed their lives and was in their best interest. A call to repentance is a great act of love. Not encouraging an LGBTQ lifestyle could be an act of love. Even turning someone in to authorities, in the hope that a process of reformation occurs, can be a profound act of love.

    Also, we should emphasize the last sentence of Elder Uchrdorf’s quote and note President Nelson’s concerns with the use of the term “unconditional love.”

  5. Thanks, Grover!

    I’ll be honest, Old Man: I have no idea what an “LGBTQ lifestyle” is; the LGBTQ individuals I know live a variety of lifestyles. But it’s my obligation to love them, irrespective. We don’t get out of it by denying the unconditional part of God’s love, or the lack any ceiling to who and how much we have to love.

    Navigating this as a practical perspective is hard—I’m lucky enough that in my life, I’m essentially never confronted with a Trump supporter that I have to love. But I don’t get out of my obligation to love that Trump supporter just because he or she made a deeply flawed and harmful choice at the ballot.

  6. It’s actually so simple that people complicate it too much – we were called to love everyone, regardless of who they are or what they do. We are called to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. The problem is, we like to add conditions to that. If you aren’t like me, if I don’t agree with you, then I can’t love you. Love in this instance means to pray for people no matter their circumstances or their relationship with you. Love in this instance means you don’t turn them away if they ask for help that you are capable of providing, and if you aren’t capable of providing the help they ask for, you point them in the direction of someone who can. You don’t have to hang out with them, you don’t even have to “like” them. You just have to be kind and serve them as you would serve anyone else.

  7. Deseret Defender says:

    I find the Thomistic definition of love edifying: “to love is to will the good of the other as other.” There is no greater good than exaltation. Preaching the Christian gospel is therefore the greatest act of love we can pursue. Encouraging our brothers and sisters to continue down a path that leads to destruction is not a loving act.

  8. Loursat says:

    Thanks, Grover. This is wonderful and helpful to me.

    To know what love requires of us, we must always start with the experience of looking a person in the face and understanding that person on their own terms, as they are. We must set aside any preconceptions or principles that make us think we already know what is best before we truly encounter another person. Love, which is the gift and presence of God, will guide us if we let it.

    It is hard to set aside our preconceptions and principles. Doing that makes us feel adrift and confused, because love’s requirements are so unpredictable. Almost nobody really uses love as a guide to choices in life. We feel much more secure when we try to translate love into some set of principles. We tell ourselves that we can know we are loving if we follow the principles correctly. The truth, though, is that principles are only a very dim approximation of what love demands, and principles are not anything like the actual experience of love.

  9. Since God is love,
    and since Jesus is God,
    and since Jesus told us what to do
    — with actionable specificity —
    and since none who have heard Christ’s law and commandments enters the kingdom of heaven
    except he does what Jesus has commanded of us,
    — all of it, every jot and tittle —
    we know what love requires of us:
    love requires of us to actually do those things which Jesus commanded us to do,
    for Jesus is love.

    Why not therefore be up and doing what Jesus commanded us to do?
    Why not therefore be teaching men to do those things Jesus taught?

    Therefore let us honor him as befits his disciples,
    by abiding in and teaching his doctrine,
    which is not his,
    but God’s.
    Let us praise him by rendering to him his due:
    by both doing and teaching that which he has commanded of us.
    For that is how we continue in his love.

  10. Thanks for adding Chieko to this. I miss her so much. I felt like i could be my true fulfillment when she was around.

  11. Loursat, your comments are always so profound and moving. I’m going to sit with that sentiment for a while: “The truth, though, is that principles are only a very dim approximation of what love demands, and principles are not anything like the actual experience of love.”

    cat, I agree with you about Chieko. I miss her voice. She was so inclusive and so forthcoming. And so hopeful.

  12. I recently read a thread where people weren’t musing over how to love Trump, they were panicking over how to love (or take care of) their Trump supporting parents or grandparents. People whom they grew up loving, but have seen turn into haters of others in the last three years. People who hardly had any political aspect to their lives, but now are consumed by Fox News, Breitbart and Info Wars. People who tell them that they’re taking this Donald Trump stuff way too personally, even though that person is one of the Other that Donald Trump rallies against. These people aren’t worried about Donald Trump, they’re worried about how they can muster the will power to visit or care for someone who is rabidly in support of divisiveness against their fellow citizens.

  13. Billy Possum says:

    A wonderful post, Grover. Thank you.

    To riff on an idea from Sam Brunson’s comment, does love require the intentional broadening of one’s social circle to include – that is, to be “confronted with” – the “other”? Unlike Sam’s, my life isn’t devoid of Trump supporters (what would I not give?). But I have my others just the same – BLM activists, the alt-right, religious fundamentalists. These people are all around me, but I never interact with them (or if I do, I’m unaware of their participation in these ideas).

    Should I do anything about that?

  14. Jared3rd – our family has this problem and until you comment, it didn’t occur to me that this might be widespread.

    And its so painful because the desire to be supportive of the older couple is there, but they turn every visit to their home into a Fox news marathon and feel strongly that is their divine mandate to help others find the ‘true’ path in politics (don’t laugh, but that’s almost a direct quote). The burden of keeping the peace and making the trip to visit falls on the younger generation, but its so unpleasant that the relationships are suffering and visits becoming less frequent.

  15. I am far from perfect, but I have observed people who seem to love others, all others, with near perfection. Thinking about a few of those people now, I actually don’t know their political positions. I’m not saying you can’t broadcast divisive opinions and still love others, but the most perfect people I’ve known don’t.

  16. I think one of the pitfalls of “loving others as you love yourself” is there are a lot of people who don’t love themselves. They really don’t know how to show love to others and what they may be showing is a representation of the self-loathing/ hate the sin/ guilt ridden emotions they constantly bombard themselves with.

  17. I don’t always know what love is, but I know it when I see it.

  18. Brother Oldman, I think that we are increasingly learning that being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer does not come about because someone has been “encouraged” to live a lifestyle, rather It is an intrinsic phenomenology based primarily on complex genetic factors presenting as I see it as part of the diversity of God’s creation, and no persistent quoting of Leviticus will change it any more than it will prevent most Mormons from eating pork. Since the cis-hetero majority has not generally understood the phenomenology or provided a workable social context for its expression, it has been labeled as sinful or destructive. No amount of “love” that turns people in to authorities will change a person, it will only divide further. This is where we are in our church now. I think we may be as wrong about this as we were in withholding the Priesthood from blacks until they supposedly “repented” as a people for some imagined infraction. Blacks did not have to repent for being black because it wasn’t a sin to be black. I don’t have to be fixed for being transgender because I am not broken. But it did take a long time for me to stop hating myself and thinking I had to “reform” or fix it. I feel calm about how y’all see me though because God’s Grace is big enough for each person, the whole church, and world. The more we learn, the more we love, like how Paul said even prophecies will fail but love won’t. I think we should take the Proclamation off our walls (it was a good try) and put 1st Corinthians 13 in its place.

  19. Sam, you said this: “I’m lucky enough that in my life, I’m essentially never confronted with a Trump supporter that I have to love.”

    What? You go to church, right? Around half of our church members voted for Trump and I am certain will vote for him again.

    Still, we must love, and I do. Or at least I try. I just don’t understand.

  20. nobody, really says:

    sch, there is a segment of our society that has decided Trump supporters are not human. Therefore, any commandment to love everyone does not apply, since we are not commanded to love demons, animals, reptiles, excrement tanks, or “them”. Change definitions, and you change everything.

    And for the record, I didn’t vote for him, and I’m under no obligation to defend him.

  21. It is very hard to learn how to love strangers. We tend to make two mistakes when we try:

    On the one hand, we love abstractly those whom we have rarely or never heard or seen, whom we perhaps know of only second-hand and believe in, as it were, by faith. They are those we perceive as having never impacted our lives in any meaningful way. We love them by thinking of them as fellow children of God, without troubling ourselves to learn or even imagine anything about them in their wonderfully human particularity. In this way, we use our love of God as a metonym for loving others. This is an OK place to start, and we really cannot do without it. But it’s insufficient in the long run.

    On the other hand, there are the strangers whom we perceive as having wronged us or our tribe, even if only indirectly. These are the Trumps and the Obamas, the “Mexicans” (i.e. Spanish-speaking brown- skinned folks) and the Muslims and the Westboro Baptists, the Godless Liberal Professors and the Alex Joneses, the undeserving poor and the one percenters. With these people, we have to perform much more strenuous gymnastics to convince ourselves we love even in that abstract, metonymic way we love the unknown strangers. I confess, I don’t know how to love Trump as a son of God; I cannot see Godliness in his countenance. No doubt the fault is as much with my eyes as his countenance; the problem remains. But perhaps I can get somewhere by imagining him as kindred to my ultraconservative father and uncle. I know them, I love them, and I think I know something about what leads them to make political common cause with a man like Trump–something which is, though misguided, at least not wholly reprehensible. If I can love these members of my family, then I can imagine someone loving Trump, which means I can imagine that there is something lovable about Trump. I am still very far from keeping God’s commandment that I love others as I love myself. But by this metonymic process, I can get a little closer to it.

    The danger with each of these two mistakes is that we will treat the beginning as though we’ve achieved the end–as though the commandment requires nothing more of us than an abstract love that is so much simpler and more comfortable than the real thing, because it requires no vulnerability on our part.

    Finally, I come to realize that all (or nearly all) of us begin developing our love of God in just such a metonymic fashion. We hear about God secondhand, are told of his infinite love for us, and such a love seems to call for reciprocation. But we don’t yet know God, so we imagine him as having the best attributes of those whom we know and love on Earth. Most of us probably start out by imagining that God is something like the best version of our Earthly parents, or maybe a favorite teacher–and there is some truth in that. It’s not at all a bad place to start. Eventually, if we sincerely seek it, we may receive a personal encounter with God mediated through his Holy Spirit. Then we begin to really learn to love God as he is and not just in an abstract sense. But it was our love of others that taught us how to begin to love God.

    This, I think, is the genius of the two great commandments: to love God completely and to love others as we love ourselves. Each enables the other.

  22. RR, I really am engaged by your thoughtful comment. It is both beautiful and precise. The thought occurred to me that we start to love God exactly by the process you outline, but that we don’t really come to love God as completely as we can until we realize how desperately we need Him. Perhaps that is the process by which we can love others, even those that seem unloving or unlovable. If we are not one, we are not God’s. Writ small, this pertains to the fact that a divided country that has two sides always only sparring and fighting will be a much more miserable and dangerous place than a country where two sides can sit down together and honestly speak and understand and find give and take and move in common cause and safety. This seems a distant dream in the current climate, but it can perhaps start in families as you mentioned. Writ large, it means that in order to ultimately recieve that same glory that God has, we will need to eventually through effort and grace be able to come to see all their children as God sees them, and to be one with them. Hard to do it, but I am grateful for Grover’s wonderful OP and the thoughts that have followed. Really Love is not only all you need, ultimately it is all there is, just like the Lennon/McCartney hymn says. ;)

  23. This post profoundly touched me. Three days later, and I’m still coming back to read it again and ponder some more. Really compelling quotes. Thanks so much, Grover.

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