top of page

For the Love of God

Text: John 15:9-17

I have been preaching for forty-four years now and I have never preached on the same text on two consecutive Sundays. Well, that practice stops today. In last week’s sermon, I began to explore the moving words of Jesus in the fifteenth chapter of John’s Gospel, but there is much more to say.

John Calvin, the 16th century French-Swiss thinker that Presbyterians claim as their founder, loved this chapter and so do I. So, I invite you to listen once again to the words of Jesus found in John 15:9-17.    

[read John 15:9-17]


For John, Jesus is God’s love in flesh and blood, not an abstract concept but a feet-on-the-floor reality. For John, then, to know love is to hang close to Jesus, not the popular candy store Jesus ready to dispense whatever we want if we are just good Christian girls and boys, but the God’s love in flesh and blood Jesus who keeps walking toward Jerusalem even though he knows that what awaits him in Jerusalem is not a hero’s parade, but a death march. Even so, he keeps walking and he invites us to join him on that love walk.

John’s favorite word in this chapter is “abide.” That is how you and I know the love of God, by abiding in Jesus, setting our hearts on him, trusting completely in him. Listen to John and to abide in Jesus can easily sound compulsory, as when Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” But how can love be commanded? And, if it can be, who is longing for that kind of love?

I am. You and I “abide” in love not to impress God but in response to God’s expansive and inexplicable love for us. That is why Jesus commands us to love and chooses to call us his friends. We are friends of Jesus not because we have taken some friendship oath or have demonstrated ourselves to be worthy of such amazing trust; no, like God’s love, Christ’s friendship comes to us as pure gift.

The Jesus we meet in John 15 leaves us abiding in God’s love, a love that was at the beginning and will be at the end, a love that shadows us step for step all our days. I can say without a moment’s hesitation that the church on its really best days is a community of Christ’s love, friends who gather together not necessarily because of common interests or political affinity or for social show or personal piety, but because that is what Christ’s friends do. They hang together as together they hang even closer to Jesus, the Friend-Maker, who always leads us in the ways of love.

Over my preaching years, I have often preached about public and notable paragons of the Christian faith whose lives are a spectacular model of Christ’s love. It is easy to preach about Archbishop Desmund Tutu who practiced forgiveness and spent his life seeking reconciliation with even the worst offenders of apartheid or about Mother Teresa who did not just send a check to help out the poor but made her home among them or about Martin Luther King, Jr. who practiced not just the rhetoric of nonviolent protest but also the street smarts of nonviolent protest.

Tutu, Teresa, and King are obvious examples of the love of Jesus at work in the world. This morning, though, I want to introduce you to two practitioners of Christ’s love that I suspect are not known to you. Paul and Alice Gruninger were two teachers who married soon after World War I, attended church on Sundays, and lived an altogether unspectacular life. To earn a better living, Paul gave up his teaching job and went to work for the police department.

Tom Long writes, “In April 1939, Gruninger found his way to work blocked by a uniformed officer who told him: ‘Sir, you no longer have the right to enter these premises’. An investigation had revealed that Gruninger was secretly altering the documents of Jews fleeing Austria for the safety of Switzerland. ‘Non-Aryan’ refugees were not allowed to cross the border after August 19, 1938, but all it took was a few strokes of Gruninger’s pen to predate a passport and perhaps save a life, a small action, but one of great personal risk.”

Tom concludes: “Paul Gruninger was not Braveheart. He was an unassuming man whose family and faith formed him in a world – a kingdom, if you will – in which anyone who saw what he saw, ‘the heartbreaking scenes . . . the screaming and the crying of mothers and children . . . could not bear it anymore . . . could do nothing else’ . . . [Years later] At his funeral, a choir sang ‘Nearer My God to Thee’, and a rabbi read from the Talmud, ‘He who saves a single life, saves the entire world’.” (Christian Century)

It is amazing what God’s love accomplishes in us even when you and I think that we are not all that accomplished. Reading this passage from John again this week, I found myself not only thinking about the Gruningers, but about Street Grace, a ministry that I first experienced more than a decade ago during my tenure in Atlanta.     Located in midtown Atlanta, the prestigious North Avenue Presbyterian Church had a rude awakening one day. It was brought to their attention that one of the major corners for the sex trafficking of young girls on the East Coast is located right out their front door. The love of God would not let this congregation turn away from such love gone awry and so Street Grace, a ministry with girls being trafficked and their traffickers was born. It fights a hard and ugly fight, all for the love of God.

But, I hardly need to look to Europe at the time of the Second World War or to Peachtree Street in Atlanta to see what the love of God is accomplishing in the world. I see it as a number of you have learned to love a refugee family from Syria, along with learning an entirely new culture and language. You have hurdled more than a few roadblocks to communication to help a family feel welcome so far from their home.

I look at those who sit in these hard pews or join us by livestream Sunday after Sunday not because you come to worship with all the answers packed into a tidy dictionary of right responses to what every Christian should believe, but because you know that the love of God and the friendship of Christ makes this a safe community. This is a community into which you can bring all your questions and express all your doubts and disbelief.

I stand before you this morning thankful for the love of God made known to me by so many amazing women in my life, from my mother and grandmothers, to my wife, to my daughter. And I stand before you in a continuing amazement that the love of God chose me to be a pastor, a love that forgives me in my darkest and most regrettable moments, a love that as hard as I try to abandon at times, is a constant in life, a love that simply will not let me go.  

If you read John 15 one more time, you will see that it is that kind of love that chooses you, forgives you, and as hard as you try to abandon it, it is the only love that will never let you go. So, on this day when we celebrate love, pause for more than a moment and celebrate the love of God given walking orders in the person of Jesus, a love that no matter the time, no matter the season, simply will not let us go.

For that love, pause for more than a moment and give thanks to God.


Recent Posts

See All

Wild Goose

Text: Acts 2:1-4 When Jesus is baptized in the Jordan, the Spirit of God descends on him like a dove. It is a calm, soothing image, an image communicating that since God is in our midst, we can relax

A Father's Prayer

Text: John 15:9-17 The letter I am about to read is fictional. We do not know if the author of John’s Gospel, had a child or if he ever wrote a letter to his daughter if he did. What we do know is tha

When Water is Thicker Than Blood

Text: Acts 8:26-39 Only weeks after the first Easter, Philip finds himself in the desert in the noonday heat. It is not long before an Ethiopian Jew, who is a eunuch, stops for a break on the road fro


bottom of page