STAGES OF LOVE
Acts 10:44-48, Psalm 98 26 John 15:9-17
May 4, 1997 by Tad Mitsui
When I saw the Gospel for today, I asked myself, "How many times can I preach on love." The disciple John, the writer of today”s Gospel, lived to be a very old man in Ephesus. He became so old that he had to be carried into the church every Sunday, and had no more strength to give new or long sermons. He repeatedly recited one line, "Little children, love one another." John”s disciples became tired of hearing the same old simple one sentence sermon. They wanted to know if he had nothing else to say, and wondered if he should retire. They asked, "Master, why do you always say this?" John replied, "Because it is the Lord”s command, and if that alone is done, it suffices." I believe that John was right in saying this, though perhaps the poor old man should have retired sooner.
There is no other word that suffer from over use than the word "love". It is like years of inflation which has made our money so cheap. We used to respect the dollar, but we now call them "loonies". Likewise love is so cheap that many people think it is same as sex. This is why some religions prefer to use other words like "charity" in the old Catholic liturgy or "mercy" in the Buddhist teaching. Having said all that, I still insist that we must keep using the word, because love is the most important norm in the Christian faith. After all, we believe that God is love. Love contains the whole universe of truth according to our belief. It should never run out of steam.
For one thing, love has many faces and phases. In fact, I believe that there should be many words to express the whole notion of love. The English language has only one word for it. However, Greek language, for example, has at least three words that have been translated into the English word "love." I want to speak about them today.
The first face of love I want to speak about is self-love. We often short change self-love and give it a bad name. Self-love is not same as selfishness. Jesus said, "Love your neighbour as you love yourself." Without knowing how to love oneself, one never knows how to love anyone at all.
A Sunday School teacher asked the class where God is. One boy answered without hesitation that God lived in the bathroom. He said, "Every morning, my Dad knocks on the door of the bathroom and shouts; My God, are you still there?" Seriously, it would be embarrassing to think about God in the bathroom. In a bathroom you see yourself naked, alone. You see yourself in the most candid form. Most of us don”t want to think about ourselves in a bathroom situation, because we don”t think what we do and how we look in there are socially acceptable. We think it is a bad taste. That is the problem. If we can not accept ourselves with pot bellies and excess fat, how can we love another person who may not be agreeable. To love oneself, one must accept reality. Nobody is perfect. To love others, we must also know how to love real persons, not a dream. And love overcomes reality no matter how ugly it is.
There is a word in Greek "Eros" that is the most misused word for love. Originally what the word had little to do with sex. It simply meant attraction to what is beautiful and ideal. It is also a mysterious force that makes you see beauty in any person and makes you forgiving. For parents any child is the most beautiful thing in the world. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. That”s what Eros does.
However, since the word Eros is often used in connection with sex, I should mention something about the relationship between our sexuality and Eros love. Sex in itself is not love as such. It is a mere biological function for procreation. Sexual pleasures are blessings and incentives given by God, so that we want to continue to exists as a species. Sex can happen without love. We must learn from the notion of Eros in our sexual relationship. Then sex can be an important spiritual part of our life. It can be one of the ways to communicate love like a conversation but on a deeper level. The spiritual aspect of sexuality is what distinguishes us from other animals.
Another kind of love is the love between family members and friends. There is a Greek word "Philos", which is frequently used in the Bible. Philos is forgiving. For example, it never occurs to any mother to hate the baby, even after many days of morning sickness, much discomfort, and excruciating birth pain. Also philos love makes you willing to sacrifice yourself for others. Giving becomes as pleasurable as receiving. When you truly love another person, you would want to give the most precious thing in your life – life itself. Jesus” said, "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one”s life for friends."
However, trouble is that we tend to take this Jesus” saying too dramatically. Many of us think that Jesus commanded us to die to love others. It is wrong to think that to die is the only way to truly love. You don”t run into a friend who is facing a gun man very often, so that you can throw yourself between them. You don”t need to wait until you see a child drowning, so that you can jump into the rapids. It is that faithful, daily, mundane, unglamorous loving – that is laying down our life for our friend, for your spouse, for your child, and for your neighbour. Woody Allen said, "The essence of love is to show up." It is not very dramatic just to be there everyday. But this is where true love happens. If you don”t know how to love in an everyday kind of way, you would not know how to lay down your life.
Finally, there is God”s love. In the Bible another word "Agapé" is used. Often we think that God”s love which is evident in the life and death of Jesus Christ is unattainable for human beings. I don”t agree with that. I believe we are capable of God”s love. We are created in the image of God. Each one of us has a bit of God in us. If we think deeply about the best of the kinds of love we show daily, we will realize that all of them have bits of God”s love in it. Agapé love is found in a sum total of all the best in human love.
If we are brave enough to look at ourselves honestly and to accept ourselves in a bathroom, we have made a good start in a process of learning to love our neighbours. We may learn to accept other people despite their ugly side, and eventually learn to love even our enemies. Jesus said, "It was said