“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (Read the rest of 1 John 4:7-21)
So like I said before, last week was time at General Conference in Tampa. It was pretty wild, to see how legislation and changes happen in the church, to see how the body of delegates tries to speak for the whole denomination. Some politics, certainly, and plenty of nonsense. So 1 John 4 turns out to be pretty appropriate.
Remember, it was written at a time when it wasn’t enough for someone to say, “Hey, I’m a Christian” or “I follow Jesus.” Not unlike today, those phrases could mean very different things for different people. The early days of the Church were over, and enemies had gone to work. So the writer of this letter wanted his people, other Christians, to be able to survive — to know how to recognize their own in the world, to handle strife in their own midst, and to hang onto the Truth of all truths. It was a good reason to write, because, well, what was at stake after all? How about the fact that the most powerful, awesome, miraculous event in the history of the universe — Jesus’ resurrection — might be forgotten, changed/misused, or watered-down/weakened over time?
Again, the stakes are no different today. Every single day. Even the most faithful among us, who hold strongest to Jesus, find it a great challenge to actually live like Resurrection people, like people who have been Passed Over. Do you know that there are forces at work, throughout your day, that would have you forget about the Resurrection? Have you ever gone a day, a week, or longer, without remembering that you claim to believe Jesus is alive and you’re alive in him? Do you know that your day lines up sometimes so that you might brush aside the Resurrection? Maybe it dawns on you, you reflect on it, or have a moment of devotion, but very soon you set it aside as something for later, something that will be important one day when you die, but not today. Sometimes things happen daily that have you question, or make minor corrections to, the Resurrection. And so on.
So how do we respond? Do nothing? Ride out each day and just see what happens one day in death? Throw in some Sunday mornings here and there? Give a little of our time/money to people in need, do a good deed here and there? Nope, there’s more to it, it’s very different than all that. Just like John’s people, there’s one special way we recognize our own, we handle strife, we uphold the truth, and we live the Resurrection: love. We live love. They’ll know we are Christians by our love. Shout-out to the UMCMA campus ministers at GC2012.
Now, is that news to anybody here? No. Can we agree that love is THE big deal with our faith? Love God and then love our neighbors, love everybody. Yes. Then take that for granted and we’ll talk about something new today. Or, kinda new. Something we all have experience with but aren’t honest about very often. Here it is: you and I just don’t seem to like Love very much. I’m not trying to be funny or controversial, but we just don’t. I know that love is at the center of our art, our music, our stories; we let it shape our biggest decisions and do the bravest or most foolish of things. Many of us even do a good job going out of our way to love the people around us, and show Christ’s love. Sometimes. But if we know how important love is, and we know that God desires it, even commands it, and we should know that all our mistakes and shortcomings boil down to failing to love, and all our success as people comes only from how well we truly love, then there must be an explanation for why we fall short in it. John and the Gospel and other Scripture promises that we are ABLE to love, even perfectly; we are to pursue holiness as Christ is holy. So it’s not that we can’t do it, but that we don’t. We won’t. It’s like we don’t want to. We act like we just don’t like Love.
I won’t prove that to you, I want you to discuss it with yourself. We’ll use this piece of 1 John 4 to do it, as I see a few distinct qualities to Love emerge. Qualities that we need to wrestle with. So I’m going to name them, and I want you to answer to yourself two questions: what do I like about this? and what do I dislike about it?
First, we find here that Love sacrifices. Love sacrifices. What do you like about sacrifice, and when do you like it? Okay. Then, what do you NOT like about sacrifice?
For me, I think about the origin of the word, that throughout history people have made sacrifice to their gods. It meant turning something over completely to the gods. Sacrifices were usually things of value — animals, crops, water, wine, bread, even children — because the idea was that if my gods see how much my sacrifice matters to me, I’ll get more credit for it. So, no, I don’t think people have hardly ever liked sacrifice itself, but only what we receive in return. Sacrifice is okay if it somehow benefits me. We have a word for something given or lost that doesn’t end up helping us any: waste.
By nature, sacrifice costs. Giving out of our surplus doesn’t qualify. Like the sacrifice bunt, it might benefit another but ultimately do myself no good. And in our faith system, unlike the ancient days, it’s not something we use to trade for God’s favor, or to buy good luck, but it flows out of Love. Like it, or dislike?
Second, the passage makes clear that Love abides. Abides, as in dwells, makes home, takes up room, and sticks around.
In some ways we LOVE that about love. In a fairy tale riddle entitled “The Magic Mirror” by Kristen R. Morsy, a troll asks a boy named John to name the strongest bond in the world. John thought and thought. He said to himself, “If my brother the sailor were to guess this riddle, he would say the strongest bond in the world is the horizon. It joins the sky and sea together and gives us our place in the world. If my brother the farmer were to guess this riddle, he would say the strongest bond in the world is the rainbow. It joins the rain and sun together so that the crops can grow. But I guess the strongest bond in the world is the bond of love. Not even death can destroy it.” Good story, and there’s the typical idea that if anything is eternal, it’s love. We like it.
But abiding as we know it is hard. Sharing space with other people, for instance. Just invite family to visit. You’re bound to have your own version of the Griswolds’ cousin Eddie. Or even spend a week or more with close friends. Human beings, confined in one space, do strange things. We smell bad and pass gas; we have different levels of cleanliness, and understandings of personal space. We have different bed times, and ideas of entertainment, and opinions on an appropriate “inside voice.” Abiding together is no joke. And if God is love, AKA, love is a person/God, then there’s going to have to be some getting along together, some communication, apologies (on our part), and more. But this is what Love does. It abides. Like, or dislike?
Last one, Love transforms. As we sacrifice and build community, abiding happens. As we abide together, and interact in the long-term, change happens. We start to do/live/look differently. t the heart of transformation, there is always a “before” state, and an “after.” It’s nice to change for what seems like the better. It’s not so nice if we liked the “before” a whole lot, or if we’re not so sure about the “after.” Or if the transformative process itself is less-than-comfortable. But Love certainly transforms. Like it, or not?
And now if you’re expecting a great one-liner to tie the post together, or send us all on our way with simple homework, it’s too bad. ‘Cause I don’t got one. I don’t know, for you, what circumstances lead you to like Love enough to follow through with it, and which ones have you bail on it. I’m figuring that out for me. But I’ll conclude by saying that it’s worth figuring out.
If Love truly is the thing of deepest substance, the most vital and life-affecting force ever known, that flows from God, is God, and is commanded of us by God, then what on earth else should we be delving into? What else is there worth doing? Nevertheless, we fall short in Love. The most blessed among us, those who feel most forgiven, we know what it is to dislike what Love asks of us, and to choose a different way. Go, then, and dig into your heart, offer it up in prayer, and wait on the Lord. Go, and discern your dislikes and set to work at their destruction. Go knowing that we’re not striving after just an idea, or a nebulous feeling, or a fickle emotion, but we are pursuing Love-in-person. Love that knows us and can be known, and shared. We are the Passed Over ones, and it is ours to go, in Resurrected Love.