Particular Love

Imagine that you have recently moved to a big city for a new job. I am thinking about a place like the heart of New York City. Imagine that every day you had to use the elevator in your tall, tall, sky-scraper of an apartment building in order exit the building and make your way to work. In order to make it to work slightly before your 8:30 a.m. start time, you have to hit the street at 7:40 a.m. and then walk a few blocks to the metro station to make your connection. That means your goal is to be in the elevator between 7:30 and 7:35 a.m.
Your routine has become precise like clockwork. You’ve figured out how to get yourself into that elevator between 7:30 and 7:35. Now I ask, what do you notice? I think you notice the speed of the elevator, every bump and button and stop you have to make on the way down. The smell. And well of course, the people: your fellow elevator travelers. The lady with her three-year oldish son. You imagine they’re on their way to child care. Zak the 30 something dressed in business attire who mostly keeps to himself. He wears fine smelling cologne. Maria—you learn she teaches 3rd grade at the school two blocks down the street. Vivian, a lady of grandmotherly age who strikes up a conversation. You learn she swims every morning at the downtown Y.  That explains her beach bag and towel. Then there’s Charles. He’s close to Vivian’s age and a bit gruff. He reminds you of your grandfather.You see that he has a uniform on. You learn that after retirement from a local company he keeps busy as a delivery man. And there’s Ahmed. After several weeks of riding in the elevator together you discover he is a muslim and a heart surgeon—he’s finishing up his last clinical rotation at New York Presbyterian University Hospital of Columbia and Cornell—New York Presby for short.
Every day you look forward to riding the elevator with you new-found acquaintances. You know the floor each of them lives on—since you’re the one highest up you catch them on the way down. When one of them doesn’t show up, you’re secretly disappointed and a bit worried. You wonder if they’re sick or just late. When they turn up again, you hope for an explanation but don’t bother to pry. It’s not that kind of a relationship. Yet, you delight in their presence and each tiny morsel of information you gather about your companions. It’s a way of getting to know them. They keep you company in the loneliness of being new in a large and strange city. They have no idea how much they mean to you. However, you’re not at all sure if they feel the same way.
In John 15, Jesus says to us as he said to the disciples: “I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father (The Message Version).
Jesus is not an elevator friend. On the contrary, he told his disciples and he tells us, “You are more than a servant.” I’ve called you friends. That means he’s letting us in on his life just as we let him in on our life. What a special word, the word, friend. When someone deems me a friend, that places me on a different level than other people. There are intimacies we share.
Are you intimate with Jesus? He’s a friend as well as the Lord your God and brother. Or do you merely see him through servant eyes? Now that is something to consider: your view of God. Each one of us has to come to terms with our view of God because that determines our very life.
But this morning I have another question. Are you more than “elevator friends” with those in this wonderful church? Or is your relationship with those surrounding you one of limited familiarity? The kind of limited familiarity you’d have with elevator friends? Perhaps you can recite some facts about each other, and even know where some work or some vacation or some volunteer. You note when someone is absent from church. But I ask about your life together outside of Sunday morning? Do you have fellowship outside of Sunday morning?  Or is this a Sunday morning elevator experience? What about shared intimacies, the kind families have? Do you have that with one another?
John 15 says there has to be a growing love, a laying down of our lives for one another. And earlier, in John 13:35 Jesus tells us that the world will know we are his disciples by the love we show one another, the sacrificial laying down of our lives sort of love. The world will not know we are his disciples merely by our Sunday morning gathering alone. Sunday mornings are to be an extension of our love for God and our love for one another.
We are to be permeated by love not idealize it.
Such love and intimacy that Jesus speaks of, the love and intimacy among like-family friends takes time to cultivate.  I am not saying anything new. Most of us know this, but as Eugene Peterson says, “…it is possible, and not only possible but common, to think rightly and live badly, live impersonally….Knowledge does not turn into acts of love automatically.” [1] He says we can behave impeccably yet live selfishly and badly.[2]
We might think rightly about love and loving our community or even those closest to us, but live love badly.
Love is particular.
We are called to love one another in this community in particular ways, not in the abstract. Are you and I loving or should I say thinking that we’re loving in the abstract? Love is never abstract. Jesus didn’t love his disciples in the abstract nor does he love us in the abstract. He is quite particular with the love he demonstrates to us, his children. He knows each of our love languages. The kind of particular love we are talking about requires effort, patience, sacrifice, and time.
Time.
I know, I know, none of us live and work in the same place. Our lives take us in different directions.  We are running here and there. We have things to do. We need to take care of ourselves, take care of our families and children and run them here and there. Or if we are single or widowed, we spend our time taking care of those closest to us.
Of course there are seasons in life and we may not be able to love and serve in the same way through each season. Nevertheless, in each season we can demonstrate our love for one another—love for those in this particular community and the others God brings along our paths. Not one of us can love only when it’s convenient or only when we feel like it. There’s be very little love flowing from us then.  And besides, there’s too much of that going on already. We see where it has gotten us in this world. Loving can be painful because it calls us to die to ourselves and our own agenda. Death to self, the kind of death that God calls us to daily is a painful experience. We try to protect our without-God life, our own agendas, because they’re comfortable or so we think. But one way Jesus calls us to die is by loving one another. It’s a kind of death that leads to life even if it encroaches on our time. But really isn’t our time to be one of our gifts to God?
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[1] Peterson, Eugene, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places,313.
[2] Ibid. 314. +

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