Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Love, Love, Love

This is what I preached on Sunday, April 22 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text was the second lesson, 1 John 3:16-24

Last week we talked about being witnesses by verbally sharing our faith. This week, we celebrate Jesus the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep. The reading from 1 John can be summed up in one word: click here. Yes, that's right--love. Today’s emphasis is on the importance of actions over words. 

In today’s reading from 1 John, we see love exemplified, love enacted and love rewarded.

Concerning love exemplified, John writes, “This is how we’ve come to understand and experience love…” (v. 16). What is the “this?” It is the love that was demonstrated by and has its model in Jesus, who sacrificed his life for us. He loved others to “completion” or “perfection” in his decision to sacrifice himself on behalf of others. Jesus is the One held up as the great exemplifier of love. In the gospel reading, Jesus speaks of laying down his life for his sheep. Our second lesson from 1John is like a commentary on the gospel reading. John writes, “This is how we’ve come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us” (v. 16). Jesus’ sacrificial death distinguishes divine or agape love from all other loves by its costliness, its unconditional acceptance of another, and its accomplishment (Barker). 

“When disciples truly receive, believe, and love they imitate the example of Jesus, God’s Son, as they live out their lives as God’s children” (Alicia Myers). Look to Jesus to see what real love looks and acts like. Such love is the denial of our selves and our selfish desires for the benefit of another. 

Writing about love enacted, John gets down to brass tacks regarding the practical aspects of enacting love, writing, “If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear” (v. 17).

We may never be called to literally, physically lay down our lives as our Lord did, but we have many other opportunities to share with those in need. The emphasis is on the doing rather than talking about love. All expressions of love are the fruit of the love of God within us. Anyone can talk. 

The living and acting out of God’s love in our lives leads to confidence and comfort for our own hearts. As John wrote, “This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it” (vv. 19-20). 

John provides words of comfort for those who condemn themselves. God does not find fault with those who believe. In fact, God provides a way of assurance to prove to ourselves that we really belong to Christ. This is done through the work of the Holy Spirit in us, which demonstrates itself by the love we show to one another. 

Actions reveal who a person is. We know one is a child of God or of the devil because of their actions. Earlier in chapter three, John gives us the example of Cain, who murdered his brother. This is lifted up as a negative example. John goes so far as to say that those who do not love their brothers and sisters in the faith are murderers (1 John 3:15). Actions speak louder than words. 

Love is rewarded with confidence before God. Knowing our identity as God’s children makes us “bold and free before God” (v. 21). We can ask God for help with the assurance that we will not be turned away. This confidence comes from the unity or abiding that exists between the Son, the Father and God’s children who have received the Holy Spirit. 

There are two ways we can know that we’re living in the truth of God’s reality. The first is because our actions demonstrate that love. The second is because God assures us that we belong to the truth because “God is greater than our worried hearts…(v. 20).

Further along in this letter, we hear, “…this is God’s command…” (v. 23). Can anyone remember back to Maundy Thursday? Maundy comes from the Latin word “mandatum,” meaning command. What was the commandment Jesus gave his disciples on Maundy Thursday? It was to love one another. John writes that we’re to believe in Jesus and to love. Loving actions emanate from that mutual relationship of belief and love. “Belief comes first because it is the basis for love, but love is the only expression of true faith” (Barker).

Another way love is rewarded is that we experience Jesus’ “deep and abiding presence in us: by the Spirit he gave us” (v. 24). This is the first reference to the gift of the Holy Spirit in this letter of John and echoes the Holy Spirit promises Jesus made to his disciples in chapters 14-16 of John’s gospel. God’s seal on this lifestyle of love is the power and presence of the Spirit.

How does faith in the risen Christ call us to live? What shape does one’s life take? Laying down our life for another can take many forms. At the very least, it means extending help, as much as we are able, when another is in need. 

We are already doing so for hungry children through the 5 & 2 Ministry. We help the homeless with mats they can take along with them. There are also the many activities of Caring and Sharing and many other things that each of us is involved in. But where it’s really hard, is the face to face interaction with people in need. It could be at one of the nursing homes or helping to feed the hungry at St. Susan’s Kitchen or it could be someone you come across on the street or in a store. It’s when we look into the eyes of those in need all around us, just as Jesus looks into our eyes that the proverbial rubber meets the road. Jesus’ response to such need was compassion. What about our response?

There is no distinction between believing in God, following Jesus and loving our neighbors. They can never be mutually exclusive because love is a way of life. It can be done but left unspoken, but it certainly can never be spoken but left undone. At its essence, the Christian life consists of faith and love, the new commandment of Jesus who embodied self-giving love. 

Joined to the risen life of Christ, the lives of God’s children are shaped by generosity and sacrifice. We witness to others of God’s love by giving of our lives, resources, gifts or whatever we hold most dear for the sake of another. It is love and an act of faith. Laying down our lives is not something we need fear, but rather, it is a death-defying act as we trust that, washed in the waters of baptism, we already live in the resurrected life of Christ (Sundaysandseasons.com).

Amen.

M. Eugene Boring & Fred B. Craddock, The People’s New Testament

Glenn W. Barker, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 12. 

Jody Fleming, asm.org

Carl R. Holladay, Preaching Through the Christian Year B

Robb McCoy and Eric Fistler, pulpitfiction.com

Alicia Myers, workingpreacher.org


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