This sermon was originally preached via podcast and Facebook Live at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on May 3, 2020. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church” or search ‘Mission Hills United Methodist Church’ wherever you get your podcasts. If you would like to donate to the ministries of Mission Hills UMC, you can make a secure online gift here.
“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 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 God. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that God will give you whatever you ask in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
When I was a kid, I thought I was too cool for school. After several sessions of therapy, I realized that I was actually pretty insecure about myself at the time, but back then, I thought I was cooler than everyone around me, especially my little sister, Ally.
Ally wanted so badly to be my friend, and I was having none of it. Day after day, she would ask me to hang out, or even just come sit in the same room as me, and I really resisted it. I think there’s an element of that which is normal for siblings, but it still sucked. She was willing to do anything if it meant spending time with me. Because she loved me that much, so much that she would sacrifice her favorite activities to instead do mine. She didn’t love golf, but if it meant that we could golf together, she was in. We both had the same favorite character in Disney Monopoly, but she would let me have it when we played. She loved me in big ways, ways where she was, and still is, willing to give of herself in order to make me happy.
Now today, I’ll assure you that we’re in a very different place, much more mutual than before. Now, we both give and take, being each other’s best friends when we need it. And still, the sacrificial love she showed, even when I was my worst, that sticks with me.
Who is someone in your life who shows you love in an unconditional way?
Today is the first day of our Disney sermon series, and we’re starting off with a relatively recent one, Frozen. The story I told about my sister and I earlier aligns pretty well with the story of Anna and Elsa, but with some magical twists.
Princess Elsa has this special power, where she can freeze things with her hands. There’s a scene where she creates an ice rink for her and her sister in one of their castle’s ballrooms. But she messed up, and she accidentally froze her sister, realizing that her power was risky. When the King and Queen took Anna to be healed, her memory was also erased, meaning that she had no idea that Elsa had powers. Elsa, clearly scarred by hurting her sister, retreated to her room, and rarely left, overwhelmed with her own insecurity. Anna would come and knock on her door, asking to play, and Elsa pushed her away. Anna was resilient though, and she never gave up.
After their parents died, Elsa was ready to take the throne as Queen, when her power got the best of her again, turning their town into an eternal winter. Embarrassed, she ran away, retreated where nobody could be hurt by her again. If you’ve seen the movie, you know that Anna went after her, not because she was afraid, or angry at Elsa, but because she loved her. Because she saw how hurt Elsa was, and wanted to be there for her.
I won’t spoil the rest of the movie if you haven’t seen it yet, but the point is that Anna never gave up on her sister, because she loved her. She loved her with a rich and deep kind of love that those you named earlier demonstrate for you. It’s the kind of love that is bigger than just the two of you, a love that shows what I’d call God’s presence in the midst of it.
Before we see what scripture has to say, I want to hear from you. What is one word you’d use to describe God’s love?
Right before today’s passage in John is the story of the vine and the branches. Jesus says that he is the vine, and God is the grower of the vines. God removes the branches that bear no fruit, and tends to them to make sure they do in the future. Then Jesus reveals that we are the branches. Jesus as the vine is the one who supports our growth, our life. Jesus is in many ways sacrificing himself in order to make sure we grow healthy, faithful, and strong.
This vine and branches story is important in relation to our gospel passage today, because it names the ways we are connected, the ways we are all a part of one another, called to help each other grow and thrive, remaining faithful and healthy and strong.
Jesus says this:
“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 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. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
Now, we don’t know anything about Anna and Elsa’s religious upbringing, but to me, I notice a parallel here, to how Anna loved her sister, how Jesus loves us, and how we are to love those in our community. Jesus appoints all of us to go and bear fruit, lasting fruit. Jesus is practicing a little bit of tough love here, in the sense that he has a direct message for each of us. Lay down your life for your friends.
The word friends is bigger than simply those in our social circle, those we spend the most time with, those we agree with. In the body of Christ, friends extends to include everyone. It’s a leveling word, which means it puts all of us on the same platform. Jesus says that he no longer calls people servants, but friends, which is to say that the limits that once were implied or in place, no longer apply. In the body of Christ, friends includes everyone. It includes our family, our favorite coworker, and definitely our fur children. And, friends, if we understand friends the way Jesus teaches, includes the people you can’t stand, the relative that voted for a candidate you despise, the aggressive driver, and the people society sees as outcasts. Those are the ones for whom we are to love, everybody.
Who are the people in your life who are hardest to love?
It’s easy to love people you like, right? It’s easy to love the people who make you feel good, the ones who fill your cup, the ones who you choose to hang out with. It’s much easier to practice that sacrificial kind of love with them, the kind where you lay down your life for them. But the real challenge is being honest with ourselves about the people we don’t want to love, and then finding ways to love them anyways.
Jesus calls us to love like him, sacrificially. That means we must love without limits, letting go, to use the famous words from Elsa, and embracing who we are and whose we are. This is Jesus’ instruction and promise to us. Anna loved Elsa so much that Elsa could let go herself, and in turn, learn to love both herself and those around her.
The good news is that even when it is hard to love, love is contagious. It spreads, which I understand is not a great metaphor to use at this time, but it’s true. When we let go of our limits of love, I truly believe it makes an impact.
As Easter people, our lives have been transformed by love, true and sacrificial love. How will our love transform the life of another?
That is my challenge for all of us. May we learn to recognize love in all its forms. May we practice selfless love when it is easy, and especially when it challenges us. And may we, like both Jesus and Anna, believe in love so strongly, that we take holy risks to live it out, laying down our lives for our friends. Amen.