A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church
July 8, 2018
1 John 3
There are plenty of truisms about love. Some are profound. Some are so vague as to be meaningless.
“All you need is love”, as the Beatles sang. Except I need other things too, like heated seats in my car, good coffee in the morning, shoes that support my feet, and universal human rights. I don’t need much.
The theory of loving each other is great. We can sing about it and celebrate it. We can lift it up as something we are called to do. And that’s all good and true and right. Love is all we need.
The practice of loving each other, however, is harder.
Franz Kafka once said about love:
“Love has as few problems as a motor-car. The only problems are the driver, the passengers, and the road.”
Love would be easy, in other words, if it weren’t for all the people we’re called to love.
1st John continues it’s theological instructions about love that we’ve been hearing for the past few weeks. Here, it remind us love isn’t about sappy songs or chocolate hearts, although I know chocolate is the love language of many of you. “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—.”
The love 1st John calls us to is sacrificial love, even to death. Jesus’ death on the cross is how we know what love is. And that verse continues: “and we ought to lay down our lives for one another”.
I’ve not actually laid down my life for anyone, so I’m not going to pretend I have the sacrificial love thing all figured out. Continuing the theme started earlier in the book, it’s clear that sacrificial love is more than words.
We can’t say we love people with our words but then refuse to help them when they are in need. If we claim “family values” matter to us, we can’t support policies that separate children from their parents at the border and put them in cages. We can’t expect 2 year old children to defend themselves before judges without lawyers. We can’t support these policies and claim we love our neighbor as ourself. We can’t stand by, horrified by it, and let it happen. Our love requires action.
I can find all sorts of illustrations from the news, of course, where people have rhetoric of love—Christian love even—but don’t have the actions to prove it. I suspect a sermon where I list all of those out would not be very compelling, but would be plenty judgy.
Where are the illustrations of when I use rhetoric of love but don’t follow it up with actions?
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
The language in this chapter is comforting to me. We will “reassure our hearts before God” when we love in truth and action, which suggests the author knows we’re gonna need some reassurance along the way. Whenever our hearts condemn us, we are reminded that God is greater than our hearts. And God knows everything.
On some level, I hear the “God knows everything” and I cringe a little bit. I’d really like God, and everyone else, to be fooled by the story I tell about myself and the pictures I put on instagram. I don’t really want God to know what I say when someone cuts me off in traffic.
But then I realize that’s not true. I actually want to be really known. Really seen. And loved and valued exactly as I am, because let’s face it—what you see is what you get. I’m unlikely, at this point of my life, to magically become a different, more perfect, human being, a more saintly person who loves everyone perfectly and with compassion. I’m going to go on being myself, a less saintly person who loves as best I’m able, with as much compassion as I can muster. I want people, I want God, to know that about me, and love me anyway.
Isn’t that what we all need—to really be seen, and heard, and known?
To do that for each other, of course, we have to also look, and listen, and understand.
1sr John also attends to time. Both the “here and now” and the “not yet” of time.
Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when God is revealed, we will be like God, for we will see God as God is.
I love the idea that God wants to be known truly, “as God is”, the way I want to be known. It’s yet another way we are made in the image of God—our desire to be truly known.
1st John says when God is revealed, when we see God as God is, then we will be like God. Divine work requires seeing each other, and seeing God, as we really are.
If we want to work toward sacrificial loving, we have to engage in the hard work of knowing each other. We have to move closer to each other, as we talked about last week.
Poet JD McClatchy wrote:
“Love is the quality of attention we pay to things”.
How’s our level of attention?
Earlier in the sermon, I used the phrase “what you see is what you get”. When I was typing up the phrase, though, I first typed it up as “what you get is what you see”.
I think that’s often true too. We become self fulfilling prophecies of proving our stereotypes right because we never take the time to truly get to know another person, to love them as they are.
If we look at another person and see them as “other”, they will always remain as “other”. It takes investigation, and curiosity, and conversation to get past the labels we throw around.
“We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 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?”
This past week was a tough one in Boise. As we celebrated the founding of our country—a country where our ancestors found safety and hope and a new life—we mourn the death of a 3 year old refugee girl from Ethiopia, who had come to our country with her mother, also seeking safety and hope and a new life.
Her father had been in Turkey, waiting for his chance to join them. His visa wasn’t approved until this week, after his daughter had died. He made it here for her funeral. When 9 refugees, 6 of them children, are stabbed in our community, we come together in the crisis and pray, and donate, and attend vigils, plant gardens, and all that.
It’s also been a reminder to me that we need closer relationships when there isn’t a crisis at hand too. What will we, as a congregation and as individuals, do to be move closer to the refugee community—how will we listen to their stories, and get beyond our preconceptions so we can know them as they are?
Boise’s Chief of Police, Bill Bones, said this yesterday:
“You have a moment to create good out of horror, to move forward from the past, and to be an example to the rest of the country in how we treat every single member of our community,” Bones said. “Take advantage of that moment. Take the initiative to become involved, to step forward, to be a voice for the innocent among us, to be a voice for those that don’t always have a voice, for the most vulnerable populations that exist …”
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.
May we go out in to the world, living as though we believe we are God’s beloved. And interacting with others as if we believe they are as well. May we know and be known. May we love in small ways to show big hopes. May it be so. Amen
Today in worship, we also recited the Immigrant’s Creed, written by Jose Luis Casals, Director of World Missions for the PCUSA:
I believe in Almighty God, who guided the people in exile and in exodus, the God of Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon, the god of foreigners and immigrants.
I believe in Jesus Christ, a displaced Galilean, who was born away from his people and his home, who fled his country with his parents when his life was in danger, and returning to his own country suffered the oppression of the tyrant Pontius Pilate, the servant of a foreign power, who then was persecuted, beaten, and finally tortured, accused and condemned to death unjustly. But on the third day, this scorned Jesus rose from the dead, not as a foreigner but to offer us citizenship in heaven.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the eternal immigrant from God’s kingdom among us, who speaks all languages, lives in all countries, and reunites all races.
I believe that the church is the secure home for the foreigner and for all believers who constitute it, who speak the same language and have the same purpose.
I believe that the Communion of the Saints begins when we accept the diversity of the saints.
I believe in the forgiveness, which makes us all equal, and in the reconciliation, which identifies us more than does race, language or nationality.
I believe that in the Resurrection God will unite us as one people in which all are distinct and all are alike at the same time.
Beyond this world, I believe in Life Eternal in which no one will be an immigrant but all will be citizens of God’s kingdom, which will never end.