I have no idea what happened to the audio for Sunday’s sermon. It wasn’t in iTalk or in the deleted files when I went to retrieve it this morning. I’m sorry! I hope you enjoy the text.
1 John 3:16-24
Believe In Love
The letter says, “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
Boy, that’ll preach. Friends – let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. I could say that, finish with a rousing ‘Amen!’, sit down and be done with the sermon.
(I won’t! But I could.)
Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. What does that mean? What does love look like? How does love play out in this world? Where is love tangible in our lives? The Beatles said that ‘all you need is love’ but what is love? What does it mean to love? Let’s start to think about that question by listening to a sound bite from the movie, ‘Love Actually’:
Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed. But I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy. But it’s always there. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the twin towers, as far as I know none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge. They were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling that love actually is all around.
If you look for it I’ve got a sneaky feeling that love actually is all around.
Do you think that’s true?
It is hard to believe these days. On Thursday morning I opened up msnbc.com and the top headlines read the following:
After 50,000 deaths, ex-Liberia president found guilty of war crimes
Catholic-school teacher: I was fired for in-vitro treatment
Are North Korea’s new missiles simply fakes?
Cops: Body found in creek ID’d as boy, 10, who was starved to death
Trees poisoned to make highway billboards visible
When I realized that the headline highlighting coverage of the presidential election was actually the most positive and uplifting thing on my computer screen that morning, I quickly decided that I would rather be uninformed than depressed about the state of the world, closed my internet browser and turned on some music.
Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
There are times when I wonder if it is just us – the generations of people living today – who are trying to figure out what it means to love in a world that seems to be full of hatred. Did past generations get it right? What are we doing wrong? Why can’t we find a way to overcome hatred and violence with love and with peace? How are we supposed to live in accordance to the Gospel in a world that seems to always push back?
This morning’s scripture comes from the first of the three Johannine letters (First, Second and Third John, found near the end of the New Testament). The authorship of these letters is debated; it is unknown as to whether or not they were written by the same author who wrote the Gospel of John.
The interesting thing about these letters, though, is who, exactly, they were addressed to. When we look at some of the other letters in the New Testament – Romans, Corinthians, Philippians, Galatians, etc. etc. – we see and hear a lot of context. They were all addressed to specific churches and communities going through specific things. A lot of times some of the issues being addressed are similar to issues that we face today, but we still have to interpret these letters through the lens of the context they were being written in. But we do not have to do this with the Johannine letters. These letters – grouped in what is known as “The Catholic Epistles” – were written as general letters to Christians everywhere who were trying to learn more about this faith that they were being called into and grow strong churches. Yes, they were written 2,000 years ago, but the message that they convey is still extremely relevant to us today.
Some scholars believe that these letters are somewhat of a commentary on the Gospel of John. And, in theory, the author of this letter was interpreting the Gospel message and reflecting on what the Gospel tangibly means for the church.
Well – isn’t that what we do every week around here? Come to think of it – isn’t that what we do every day around here? All of our church programming – our worship services, the church school program, youth group events, adult education opportunities, missions’ projects and Lay Shepherds outreach – are all ways that we are trying to tangibly express our understanding of the Gospel. These letters speak to us not because of what they say, but because of what they are trying to do.
It is easy to think about the ‘good old days’ and wonder if we are the only ones getting it wrong, but I am not sure that is necessarily true. The world has never been an easy place to live in (ask any historian!). Jesus’ death on the cross proved that evil is real, that pain exists and that people hurt in real ways. And just like we do today, the earliest Christians were just trying to figure out how they were supposed to live in accordance to the Gospel in a world that seemed to always push back.
There is evil in the world. But Jesus’ resurrection also proved that God’s love always triumphs over evil.
“Little children,” the letter says, “let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” As it turns out God’s love triumphs over evil, but we are called as Christians living on this earth to be tangible expressions of that love to the people around us.
We are called to love. We are called to be the face of the good news to the people around us. We are called to further Christ’s ministry in the world. We are called not only to remember the commandment to love one another but also to live it out every single day of our lives.
“And this is his commandment,” the letter continues on, “that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.”
Love one another – just as he has commanded us.
On Saturday morning I went looking for good (or at least happier) news stories to offset the horrific ones that I found earlier in the week. I thought that reading those headlines would be a nice way to end my sermon.
Unfortunately – I couldn’t find any. In fact, I think they were worse.
At first I was kind of bummed out. I felt like I was paddling into the wind and getting nowhere with this message on love.
But then a thought crossed my mind. Perhaps I should not go looking for love. After all, Jesus did not call us to look for love. He called us to love – period. He called us to create that love. He called us to be the face of that love. He called us to love wholly and unconditionally. He called us to push forward against a human world that is pushing back. He called us to resist evil and to love even our enemies.
And do you know what? I think it is time to believe in the love that we can create.
It is time to believe that we, as human beings, are capable of loving in a world full of hate. It is time to believe that we can love one another despite the differences that sometimes may threaten to divide us. It is time to believe that we can love both our friends and our enemies. It is time to believe that we have the ability within ourselves to love even when we feel anger. It is time to believe that love exists within each one of us. It is time to believe that we can create the love that Christ called us to see in the world.
It is time to believe that love actually is all around us. And it is time to look at that love and focus on it above and beyond everything else.
The scripture says, “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 has given us.” Christ’s love is within us. God’s power that pushes love to triumph over evil is within us.. And I have to believe that when Christ called us to love he also promised to give us the strength to love in those moments when we feel weak.
Mother Teresa once said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
The 23rd psalm came up in this week’s lectionary. And it was really interesting to think about this particular psalm in relation to the theme of love. When you think about it, the love that God has for us is like the love of a shepherd to his sheep. But even more than that, we rely on God; we rely on God not only to sustain our lives, but also to fill us with love, to teach us how to love and to share that love with the world.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
Believe in love. Believe in the power of love. Believe in the power of love to change your life. And believe in the power of love to help you change the lives of others.
Believe in love. Thanks be to God!