Let Us Love – April 15, 2018

Let Us Love

A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

I John 3:16-23

April 15, 2018

Main Idea:  Love is work.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

We all love love, yes? Love makes the world go round, yes? All we need is love, yes? Love is a many splendoured thing, yes? Love lifts us up where we belong, yes?  Love is a Battlefield?, whoops, not all references to love are sweet hearts and roses.  As Christians we believe that love is the essential nature of God.  We believe that love is the power which enlivens and sustains the world.  Love is much more than the sentiments of a pop song or a Valentine card.  When my husband Mark and I were dating, I asked him to define love (that’s how ministers talk with each other!) and he said “Love is work.”  In my naive foolishness, I was surprised by this seemingly unromantic understanding.  But Mark was right, Love is work; it requires attention and commitment, not only in our families but in how we act in the world.

In this season of Easter we are exploring the First Letter of John which was written to a community struggling to discern how to be in relationship with Jesus, with God and with each other.  The letter profoundly and beautifully lays out how Jesus brings us, brings the world, together in love.  Last week we pondered our life together in Christ, lifting up the importance of love and truth.  This week we will explore more deeply what it means to love and to abide in Christ.   We are called to live out our belief in Jesus by loving one another.

As I said last week, the community for which this letter was written was experiencing a conflict regarding the interpretation of the Gospel of John; specifically around the understanding of Jesus’ humanity and what that meant for the community’s life together.  There were stark differences which threatened the survival of the community.  People were choosing sides, casting aspersions on each other, picking up their marbles and going home.  Perhaps they were all talking about God’s love in Jesus but they were not showing that love to each other.  Love was in short supply.

So John frames the understanding of love in this way.  “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” (3:16)  The essential nature of love is revealed through Jesus’ self-giving, self-sacrifice. Jesus, fully human and fully God, chooses to live as we live and die a brutal human death so that we might know the heart of God. Jesus’ life and approach to the cross are the ultimate model for our lives, challenging us to consider others before ourselves.  Now this does not require all of us to die by crucifixion, although some early Christians, including Peter, did die this way. Instead, John gives an example closer to home; “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?”   How indeed?   Obviously in John’s community this behavior was contributing to the conflict.  Part of the problem was that those who questioned Jesus’ humanity questioned the need of self-giving love.  If Jesus did not really suffer on the cross, why should we suffer on behalf of others?   John believes this is selfish nonsense.  Jesus gave his life for us and we are called to give our lives to caring for others.  This is the meaning of love.

John says, “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” (3:18) All the flowery words mean nothing if we do not live out love with our actions.   Love is not simply a philosophical construct; eros vs philia vs agape.  Love is being present.  Love is commitment.  Love is inconvenient and uncomfortable and powerful and life giving.

Through our actions, our work of love, we can know that God’s love is working through us.  Sometimes we will make mistakes but we do not need to fear God’s censure or disappointment.  God knows our hearts and encourages us to boldness. It is better to love too much than to love too little.   When we act out of love we are living in accordance with God’s plan for the world.  We are aligned with God’s purposes “and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.” (3:22)

And the commandment is this; “that we should believe in the name of God’s Son Jesus Christ and love one another” (3:23a).  This is not two commandments between which we can choose or perhaps emphasize one over the other. “The commandment can not be split apart, because Jesus Christ is the concrete embodiment of God’s love.  We cannot believe in Jesus without believing in love, and we cannot have love without action.” (Ronald Cole-Turner, FOTW Year B, Vol 2, p. 446)  We believe in the name of Jesus by loving one another.   It is as simple and as complicated as that.

Our text for today ends with “All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.”   Echoing the language of the Gospel of John, here the letter of John gives the reassurance that those who love abide in Christ and Christ abides in them.   To abide is to stay, to make a home, (an abode).  To make a home in love is to be cared for and to care for others.  It is not easy, not necessarily romantic, not always fun, but it is supporting, sustaining, and life giving.  The work of love enlivens us.  It connects us together with each other and with God.

So what work of love shall we do today?  How shall we show love to each other and to the world?

First we shall listen to each other, really listen and pay attention to those around us.  We can open our hearts and minds to imagine what it is like to walk in another person’s shoes, to take the time to understand another person’s perspective.  After worship today we have an opportunity to share with each other about the needs and ideas of those who mainly attend our 9:45am service and those who mainly attend our noon Karen language service.  By listening to each other and supporting each other we will be showing love for each other.

This past week I learned of a new book entitled Forbearance A Theological Ethic for a Disagreeable Church by James Calvin Davis who is a professor at Middlebury College.  Professor Davis lifts up the importance of church communities listening to one another and striving to be in communion together despite varying opinions and even theological stances. This is such an important witness to a world which increasingly only listens to those with whom they agree.  Committing to remain together even when we disagree is the work of love.

Next, we shall work together.  This spring we are under construction in more ways than just the kitchen; we have new people in positions of leadership and we are trying new ways of governance.  This leads to more work or different work.  Some of us are dealing with lots of stress in our lives outside of church which impacts how we deal with church issues.  Sometimes we are tired.  All of us can be grumpy. But the love we receive from Christ, the love in which we live, empowers us to work together despite any aggravations.  We can remember that all of us are doing the best that we can. We can give others the benefit of the doubt rather than jumping to conclusions. We can reach out to others with honesty about the challenges we each face.  We can celebrate each other’s accomplishments.  We can share each other’s burdens. We can enjoy each other’s company. By living out love in our interactions together we are modeling healthy relationships for our wider communities.  The way we treat each other here can positively influence the way we treat others and the way in which we are treated in our other various circles.

Jesus’ love empowers us to love each other in truth and action. “The good news here is that when we act lovingly, we can be assured that nothing less than the love of God in Jesus Christ is pulsing through our hearts and hands.  Jesus Christ, who is the very love of God incarnate, is always present in our acts of love.” (Ronald Cole-Turner, FOTW Year B, Vol 2, p. 446) When we act lovingly we are sharing God’s love with the world.

And they’ll know we are Christians

By our love, by our love

Yes they’ll know we are Christians

By our love.

Let us pray,

God of love, we thank you for the power and grace and mercy with which you shower us every day.   We are in awe of your love.  We are in awe of Christ who reveals your love to us.  Help us to be more loving.  Help us to recognize your love in all that we do.  Amen.

Notes and Quotes

key verse – 23And this is his commandment,  (not two commandments!)

 that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another,” just like J’s greatest commandment – love God and love neighbor as self.

Love and abiding –  What is to love? What is to abide? (abode – home)

loving others is the “concrete shape that belief takes in the world.” (Brian Peterson, workingpreacher.org

“The good news here is that when we act lovingly, we can be assured that nothing less than the love of God in Jesus Christ is pulsing through our hearts and hands.  Jesus Christ, who is the very love of God incarnate, is always present in our acts of love.”

(Ronald Cole-Turner, FOTW Year B, Vol 2, p. 446)

“We are called to put our own wants aside to do what we can to meet the needs of others, to share the burden, to alleviate pain and suffering when and where we can.  It means looking at one’s glass as always full enough to share, as being content with enough and not hoarding our time, our talents, or our possessions.” (Sharron Riessinger Blezard, stewardshipoflife.org).