Tough Love

By Sharron R. Blezard, April 20, 2013

Lectionary Reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

April 28, 2013

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also 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

It sounds so easy. We Christians ought to be able to love, right? It’s a defining mark of who we are. It is fundamental to the faith we proclaim and commanded by the One we follow. So why is it so hard to practice this radical and inclusive love by which Jesus says people will recognize us as his followers?

What is it about love that is so doggedly difficult? Maybe the answer is found by contrasting when and where love seems easy. Love is easy when I love people who think like me, look like me, live like me, and love me, too. Heck, that’s a recipe for a veritable love fest. Love is easy when I Fix Anything!can talk about it, read about it, and think about it. Love in abstract appears mighty appealing. Romantic love and movie love seem so special and charming. Everybody loves a good story, right? Yes, when we look at love through these lenses, it looks downright doable and delightful. Human nature is considerably messier, however, and even the most self-aware and selfless among us can find love to be tough in practice.

That said, we must never give up trying to live into a life of radical love. For those of us charged with preaching and teaching and leading in the beloved community, we must never stop talking about what Jesus says about love, what love looks like in practice and action, and how we get to places of deeper and more mature Christian love. This Sunday’s gospel lesson reminds us of this necessity. Jesus commands us to love.

To provide a way to understand and practice radical love, consider using the letters of the word “love” to describe how to learn, cultivate, and practice love.

Listen—to love is also to listen. It is important to listen intently to the one or ones we are called to love, to hear what he or she has to say, and to be attentive to the other’s feelings and thoughts. Listening involves silencing one’s own internal voices by avoiding the rush to conjure up a response before the person has even finished speaking. Listening also requires willingness to sit with some space to think about and understand what is spoken. Invite people to contemplate their active listening skills and to sit with silence.

Open—to love is to be open to others and to new possibilities. The minute we close our minds and hearts to the possibility of change and growth we also smother our capacity to love. Because love is not static, because love seeks the good of others, radical love calls us to open our Herz in der Handminds, our hearts, and our lives to the new, the strange, and even the uncomfortable. We trust the Spirit’s guidance as we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and open to others,and we pray for help to avoid judgment and prejudice in the process. Invite people to consider what it would mean to be open to the Spirit’s guidance and open to all whom they encounter.

Visible—to love is to be visible. Love does not hide its light. Love goes out into the world and risks being seen with those who are easy to love and those who push us beyond our comfort zones. Jesus never shrank from being seen and interacting with those on the margins or who were unclean and unacceptable in the eyes of the established religious traditions and institutions of his day. Sure, much of love takes place quietly in unseen and unappreciated ways, but love does not hesitate to enter life’s trenches, roll up her sleeves, and be Christ’s hands, feet, and eyes in the world. Invite people to find ways to make radical love visible in the week to come.

Engage—to love is not to sit idly by and watch life parade go past. To love is to engage life fully, to enter into relationship with others in a spirit of hope and joy and love. Engaging in life and relationship can be messy and dirty, to be sure, but there is no other way to experience life in community and to share the agape love of Jesus. We are called to open our faith communities to all, to open our homes, and to open our hearts. Many hands together: group of people joining handsWe risk pain, we risk breach of trust, but we also risk wonder and light and peace. If we believe Christ’s words to “love one another as I have loved you” then we must engage one another as Christ engaged saint and sinner alike. We must practice hospitality, mercy, and lovingkindness. Invite people to find one way to engage in active, radical love this week—either through a ministry or on their own at work or in the community.

When we confess each week that we have failed to love, that we have sinned against God and neighbor, we receive forgiveness and turn anew to try again. Will we get it right this time? Probably not. Will we make progress and perhaps even make a difference in the name of the One who loves us with a love stronger than death? We very well might. The sure thing is that we will never know unless we try, and we will likely not try unless we remind each other that Jesus commands us to love. This is not an option. This is the life, the way, of those who follow Christ.

Lord, help us to love by listening, by being open, in ways visible and invisible, and by engaging ourselves in the restoration of your beautiful, broken world. Amen.

 In Worship

Consider using the Taize hymn “Ubi Caritas et Amor” as one of the musical selections today. If  you have access to projection, consider putting together a slide show of faces familiar and unfamiliar. Allow plenty of time for silent reflection surrounding before and after singing.

With Youth

What does radical love look like? Invite youth to talk about this in small groups. Jesus commands it. We’re supposed to live it, and share it, and that can be really tough in a world that’s full of NO and NOT GOOD ENOUGH and INS vs. OUTS. How to we share God’s big YES in this culture, especially when sometimes even the Church seems to be saying no. If you like Rob Bell’s Nooma series, check out Love Wins: For Teens. Here’s a link to the trailer for the book.

With Children

Talk about Jesus’ love command with the children and tell them that one of the properties of radical Christian love is that the more you love, the more love there is to go around. Love is something that doesn’t require special skills, a certain age, physical ability, or amount of money. We are hard-wired to love and be altruistic. Tell the children that they have a lot to teach us about how to love and share and live. As you are talking, cut out an origami paper doll chain (basic instructions here). Then, while the chain is still folded, place a paper heart on the top doll and tell the children that love spreads like the sun’s light in morning, warming everyone it touches.  Invite the children spread the paper doll chain out and place a heart sticker on each doll. When we share love as Jesus commands us, we can make a real difference–and people will know we are Christians by our love.

Photos: © Bastos –, © Julie Hagan –, © Jürgen Fälchle –, and © mangostock –

About the Author

The Rev. Sharron Riessinger Blezard is an ELCA pastor currently rostered in the Lower Susquehanna Synod. She came to ordained ministry after teaching secondary and college English, working in non-profit management and public relations, and moonlighting as a freelance writer. See more posts by .

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  1. Hi. Thanks for your thoughts they were of help in preparation for this Sundays worship. God Bless Philip

  2. Susan Moe

    Thank you for allowing me to share this with the residents of a nursing home who I so enjoy leading worship to each Sunday. I am thinking we could use this sermon any time of the year. I am a lay minister of the SWMN ELCA. Thank you again.

  3. Sharron,
    As you speak/write of this love as being “radical,” it strikes a chord with me in that…I was considering the recent events in Boston, and how part of the media investigation was focused on how/when the older brother became “radicalized.” I wondered, “How can/do Christians become radicalized in this “love” thing? I don’t have any real conclusions except from the examples of divine love in Scriptures, but is that Gospel? Its late Saturday, and I still struggle.

  4. Thank you, Philip, for your comment. Blessings on your ministry!

  5. Thank you for sharing how you were able to use this reflection in your context, Susan. Blessings on your work and ministry with our wise and treasured elders.

  6. Hi, Bill. Yes, “radical” (or “prodigal”) love is definitely a process and a way of growing and being as disciples. I still struggle, too, especially when all too often the realities of 21st century life in North America collide with what I read in scripture. Although convicted by sin, we can rise each day in the light of grace to try again to live lives worthy of the calling of Christ–lives of radical love and service. Blessings on your ministry.

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