Real Love, Really Possible!

John 13:31-35

One [Lyrics by Bono; Music by U2]

Love is a temple, Love a higher law
Love is a temple, Love the higher law

One love, One blood
One life, You got to do what you should
One life, With each other
Sisters, Brothers
One life
But we’re not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other

U2 and Mary J Blige, performing the song One. It has become known as one of the best songs of all time. Many other artists have covered it and U2 continues to sing it in concerts; it was written back in 1991. Now you may even hear it sung at weddings. The lyrics seem to be appropriate for such settings of unity, commitment, and well—love.

One love. One life. We get to carry each other.

But as often is the case, this song’s meaning has been changed to fit our own projections of romantic love. In fact, the song One, according to its author, Bono, is not suitable for weddings or feel-good gatherings. The lyrics to One reflect a deep pain and an inevitable separation of people. Bono, when interviewed about the song, said this:

I had a lot of things going on in my head at the time, about forgiveness, about father and son angst…It is a song about coming together, but it’s not the old hippie idea of ‘Let’s all live together.’ It is, in fact, the opposite. It’s saying, ‘We are one, but we’re not the same.’ It’s not saying we even want to get along, but that we have to get along together in this world if it is to survive. It’s a reminder that we have no choice.
McCormick, Neil, ed. (2006), U2 by U2, London: HarperCollins

One is addressing the very aspects of love in relationships that we tend to overlook. We say and do things to each other that cause hurt. We choose not to carry each other. We disappoint each other and leave bad tastes in each other’s mouths. We don’t ask for forgiveness. We don’t heal. We find people to blame for our situation. We start to wish that others won’t find love and we stop giving it ourselves. Relationships are broken; we are broken. We might still say that it’s one love and one life and that’s all we need, but the love leaves us if we don’t care for it.

Not necessarily the preferred message to present at a wedding, right? Perhaps this is what happens, too, when we hear the words of Jesus of Nazareth at the end of John 13 and assume we know what they mean.

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.

Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

The words are said in the middle of an urgent story. Jesus is in a hurry to wrap things up with his students, the disciples. Things are about to go bad for Jesus—arrest, trial, crucifixion. It is near to the end of his life. But rather than pass on a new set of commandments like Moses did, or a formulaic set of rules to follow, Jesus chooses to address the disciples with much affection, calling them little children. He realizes that he is going somewhere where both the Judeans [those who were opposing him] and the disciples cannot go. He leaves them with instructions–a new commandment.

Agape love. But was this really a new commandment? After all, in Leviticus 19:18 of the Hebrew Scriptures, the command from God was clear: love your neighbor as yourself.

Ah, but what Jesus said is: Love one another as I have loved you.

Rewind a bit in the story. Jesus just finished washing his disciple’s feet. This was an example of how to love one another. Rewind further. Jesus knows that Judas is going to betray him. Jesus knows that Peter will deny him three times. The other disciples will abandon him. And yet, he washes their feet. He includes everyone in the command:

Love one another as I have loved you.

In betrayal, denial, cowardice, separation, fear, and brokenness—love one another. As I have loved you, love one another. There is no romance here. It is not about being nice or tolerant or only loving someone who loves you back. Love, of this radical kind, is an act of our higher selves, an act that connects us to the acts of a loving and merciful God.

But we often say: love is a temple; love is a higher law.

It’s a love reserved for God and not possible for us. Love is an ideal, a lofty goal, but not a reality on the streets of our lives. Maybe this is why many Christians in this country forget this command of Jesus and focus so much on the rules and traditions. It’s too hard to love. So let’s say the rules are more important. And in the process, we will love the sinner and hate the sin—whatever that means. So we hate the fact that people are gay or lesbian, but we still claim to love them. So we hate that someone is a devout Muslim, but we still love him. So we hate that someone doesn’t have immigration papers, but we still love her.

Or so we say.

This kind of thinking seeks to separate people from their actions. And of course, it lets us off the hook. If we simply love the sinner and hate the sin, we have no real responsibility to live in real, loving relationship with other people who see the world differently. We won’t live in the tension of agape love—a love that says we are NOT the same. We are all one as human beings, but we are all different.

In spite of our differences, we have the choice to love each other and to carry each other, and not to hurt each other.

Friends, it is impossible for us to all get along with each other. There will always be conflicts—always. Relationships are a lot of work, take time, and sometimes will fail. But we are responsible for each other. We are responsible to love each other as Jesus loved us. No excuses, no cop-outs, no bumper sticker theology to make us feel better. We must love.

In the Christian worldview, God’s great love and mercy through Jesus is the foundation for belief and practice. But Jesus did not die on the cross in order to force God to be more loving; Jesus didn’t die to satisfy God’s anger and to take on our punishment. Jesus’ acts, before and during his death were a display of agape love. In spite of the problems and the brokenness, Jesus chose to love. And now we are called to love in the same way—not neglecting our common responsibility to everyone on this planet.

We are one love, one blood, one life. But we have to do what we should with each other.

We have to call everyone [not just Christians or those close to us] our brothers and sisters. We have to recognize our common humanity, but we are not the same! And that’s okay.

That’s wonderful, actually. We are uniquely different, but we can still love each other. We still do have the amazing opportunity to carry each other, rather than to hurt each other.

Jesus clearly told the disciples that what matters most to world was how they loved people. By this you will be known. You won’t go down in history because you followed certain rules, practiced traditions, or even because you went to church on Sundays. You will be known by how you love people. I leave it at that. It’s enough. Accept the joyous responsibility.

Instead of saying to people: Jesus loves you;

How about you say: I love you.

Instead of seeing people suffer in the world and saying:
Oh, God loves them so much, I hope God does something;

How about we say: Oh, I love them so much and let’s do something!

So how will you love someone this week, in the midst of tension and disagreement?

How will you love someone who is difficult to love?

How will you reach out to a stranger and love him?

How will we choose to carry rather than hurt?

All else is secondary. How will you love?

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Josh grew up in the Midwest before completing a B.A. in Theatre at Northwestern College [IA] and a Masters of Divinity [M.Div.] at Princeton Theological Seminary [NJ]. An ordained minister in the United Church of Christ [UCC], Josh has lived and worked in the Midwest, East Coast, Hawai’i, and Mexico. He is the co-founder and Executive Director of The Welcome Project PA, host of the Bucks-Mont PRIDE Festival, and he is Pastor of Love In Action UCC, an open and affirming congregation featured in a Vox Media episode of Divided States of Women with Liz Plank and in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Josh has 20+ years of nonprofit experience, including leading workshops and training in corporate, medical, and academic settings, focused on diversity & inclusion, grant writing, fund raising, and program management. Josh is a fellow of Interfaith Philadelphia, and designs and coordinates HS and University student groups for interfaith immersion service-learning weeks. Josh also co-facilitates Ally trainings for LGBTQIA+ inclusion and interfaith cooperation. He is a founding member of The Society for Faith & Justice, and a Collaborator for Nurturing Justice, and a member of the Driving PA Forward team via New Sanctuary Movement. He also performs regularly with the dinner theatre company, Without a Cue Productions, and has developed theatre arts curriculum for use in religious and secular settings. Josh also enjoys running, singing, traveling, learning languages, or making strange and funny faces. He lives in Center City Philly.

One thought on “Real Love, Really Possible!

  1. how do you do it week after week? you hit all the bells n whistles going on in my life every sunday? you n the big guy you work for are awesome!!!!!!

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