1 John 3:11-16 – Live in the Realm of Love

Love One Another

For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (NIV)

It would be good for us to get a few words defined and explained before we look at the message of the Apostle John. “Death” and “life” are full of meaning in Holy Scripture. Whereas we tend to use death and life as referring chiefly to the body, they are primarily relational terms in the Bible. So, then, death is a separation from God and others; and, life is connection with God and others. In addition, death and life are biblically understood as forces or realms of being within or without. When someone moves from death to life, they are leaving the realm of separation with its loneliness, lostness, lethargy, and lack of meaningful and helpful interaction with God and others to a place of connection in which there is love.

There is no love in the realm of death. Love is not a solitary affair – it requires another. Death is awful in the sense that it places one outside of love. Like death and life, love is also a relational term and a force or power which exists. In fact, love is such a huge realm of being and such a large domain that it almost defies definition. We are mostly left to describe love because all attempts to nail down love with a precise definition will never do it justice. Therefore, the Apostle Paul, in his great ode to love, did not even try to define it, but merely attempted to characterize love:

Love is patient. Love is kind. Love isn’t jealous. It doesn’t sing its own praises. It isn’t arrogant. It isn’t rude. It doesn’t think about itself. It isn’t irritable. It doesn’t keep track of wrongs. It isn’t happy when injustice is done, but it is happy with the truth. Love never stops being patient, never stops believing, never stops hoping, never gives up. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, GW)

Consistent with the force and relational nature of death, life, and love, hate is not primarily a feeling toward another but exists as a stance toward another within the domain of darkness and death. To hate is to deliberately and volitionally separate from another person and/or from God. It is to consider someone as the “other” who is not like me, and so, I will neither associate nor interact with “those” people.

Love, however, thrives in the vast multi-dimensional realm of life. Love seeks connection with another and desires to act through discovering needs and meeting them. Although emotions of love are very real, those feelings are the result of calculated actions and words which benefit humanity and the common good of all persons.

With all the understanding of hate and death, love and life, now plug that into the Apostle John’s message. We need to make clear decisions to pursue life and love others. And Jesus is our model for this. Christ is the ultimate Connector, bringing vibrant life, even eternal life, through loving actions. Jesus intentionally entered the dark realm of death and absorbed all the hate of the world for you and me. In a great and loving reversal, Jesus Christ’s death – his separation from God and others – brought connection with God and others.

MLK quote 3

Likewise, followers of Jesus will learn to take on the world’s hatred, not fearing death’s ability to disconnect, and love others as they themselves have been loved by Christ. Christians are known by the way they act toward those in the realm of death who use the tool of hatred to stay there.

On the flip side of love, the biblical character Cain is Exhibit A of modeling the way of hatred and death. He separated himself from his brother, Abel, in every way possible – relationally, emotionally, mentally, and finally, physically through outright killing of the body.

The message from John is this: Do not be like Cain. Be like Jesus. Love others, and not hate them. Live for others, die to self.

Murder is also a relational term in Scripture. It is, of course, a tool forged from the flames of hell to be used by the hand of hatred to bring death’s realm of separation. Jesus clearly understood murder in this manner:

You know that our ancestors were told, “Do not murder” and “A murderer must be brought to trial.” But I promise you that if you are angry with someone, you will have to stand trial. If you call someone a fool, you will be taken to court. And if you say that someone is worthless, you will be in danger of the fires of hell. (Matthew 5:21-22, CEB)

Christians are people who put love where love is not – which means they brave death’s door to pull others from the flames. As the little New Testament book of Jude says:

But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love. And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives. (Jude 20-23, NLT)

May your soul be blessed with love’s kiss.

May the grace and kindness of love bring you life and continue to be life-giving for you.

May the hardness of hatred be far from you.

May death’s destructive power dwindle to nothing in the face of Christ’s love working in and through you to the glory of God.

Ephesians 5:1-6 – Follow the Way of Love

Love sculpture

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk, or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure, or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. (NIV)

Humanity is loved and is therefore meant to love one another as the ultimate rule and guide of life. Just as God loves, so we are to do the same. We are to mimic divine love in our daily lives. The healthiest of relationships are characterized by a continual dynamic of giving love and receiving love. Failing to submit to this basic rule of life leaves one exposed to the gravity of God’s wrath – which exists as the extension of God’s love to put a stop to unloving words and actions in the world.

Unfortunately, as a hospital chaplain and church pastor, I daily see the sad effects of individuals who have experienced a paucity of love and, so, have taken on a false self to try and find love in all the wrong places – with damaging consequences.

Three inappropriate unloving ways of acting are mentioned in today’s New Testament lesson:

  • Sexual immorality is the illegitimate attempt to get the legitimate need for erotic love met without any strings attached. It is a misguided belief that one-night stands and clandestine trysts will protect against being too committed to another and getting hurt.
  • Impurity is any other illicit, illegal, or improper kind of behavior toward others which tries to do the same thing as immorality: Seeking to meet legitimate needs in an illegitimate way – to turn a trick for love, trying to avoid emotional, spiritual, or even physical pain.
  • Greed is an insatiable pursuit of addictive behavior meant to numb or stuff all the unwanted emotions which reside deep in the soul because of engaging in the immoral or impure actions.

Three inappropriate unloving words of speaking are mentioned:

  • Obscenity is filthy speech which is a cover for the agonizing unmet needs of love deep within the human heart. Obscene words are nothing more than verbal sexual immorality. They are a twisted attempt at trying to give and get loving words in an illicit manner.
  • Foolish talk, much like impurity, is any other illicit or improper words crafted to manipulate or cajole another. It is the hustle for love. The original Greek word means literally “to talk like a moron,” that is, a person who lacks sound judgment.
  • Coarse joking is crude and addictive speech, much like greed, envy, and coveting, which verbally trolls for love without unveiling any real feelings.

The antidote to all these baseless actions and distasteful words is to realize the true self, created by God, through receiving the love of God and of others with thanksgiving. Within genuine loving relationships, people can express their legitimate needs to each other and satisfy one another. Yet, with the false self, there is secrecy, hiding, and massive amounts of shame.

Love opens us to all that is good and beautiful. Love also opens us to the possibility of devastating hurt and loss. It is when we try to obtain the good and beautiful while trying to build walls of protection against potential pain that we get in trouble. The sinister tools we must use to try and get that impossible job done are manipulation and control with both verbal and physical immorality.

There is no true and authentic love apart from openness and vulnerability. Cheap imitations of love will only lead to hopeless despair. The late C.S. Lewis once wrote:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

The way of love is the way of Christ. Imitating his example of a holy life, compassionate service, helpful speech, and healing actions with a humble heart of gratitude is to be our guide, rule, and direction in life. It is to realize our true selves and nudge the world just a bit closer back to Eden.

O Lord, in the name of Jesus Christ your Son our God, give us the love which never ceases so that our hearts will be enlightened and always burning with holy passion for the common good of all. O Christ, our loving Savior, set our souls aflame so that they may shine brightly with the warmth and glow of unquenchable divine love, and lessen the darkness of the world. Lord Jesus, we pray, give us the light of your love so that we might always see you, desire you, look on you in love, and long after you. Blessed Holy Spirit, send the fire of your love and empower us for loving service so that we may emulate and follow the example of our loving Lord, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Luke 17:1-4 – A Person Is a Person, No Matter How Small

Horton Hears a Who

Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So, watch yourselves.

“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” (NIV)

“A person’s a person no matter how small” said Horton the elephant to all the people that were completely unconcerned for the residents of Whoville living on a clover. The people were uninterested because the Who’s were invisible to them. Dr. Seuss chose to make Horton an elephant, a large creature able to hear with big ears and be attentive to the small.

Largeness can only come through becoming small.

“Little ones,” people who no one sees or notices, matter to Jesus, and so they ought to matter to us, too. Invisible people need to become visible to us. They need to become visible to us because Jesus sees them – they are not invisible to him. Jesus often mingled with little people – children, women who had no rights, social misfits like lepers, the chronically ill, religious outsiders, tax collectors, and prostitutes. Our world is filled with similar people – angry adolescents, unwanted babies, forgotten old people, the mentally ill, moral failures, immigrants and refugees, and, if we have eyes to see and big ears to hear, lots of underprivileged people who reside on the dark underbelly of society. They are around us, even if they are invisible to us.

Jesus envisioned a community that sees, honors, and protects little people. Truth be told, we are all little people before God, and he notices us. And, so, we are to become humble enough to see the little people around us. The only way to become great in the kingdom of God is to descend, not ascend, into greatness. The chief enemy of any community is a desire to be prominent, to be the Big Cheese – it is called “pride” and it will separate us from God if we hold onto it.  Which is why we must do all we can to radically cut it out of our lives.

This is a big deal to Jesus. So, here’s the deal: We are not to welcome people because they are great, wise, rich, powerful, good-looking, and look like you and me – we are to welcome others because they are noticed by Jesus. Like Horton the elephant,

Christ the Lord hears the cry from the place of smallness and is determined to do something about it.

The proud person who seeks prominence is always looking for greener pastures and impressing others. The proud connect with people who will help advance them up the ladder of success. Through that process of advancement, the proud do not care who they step on along the way. The Christ follower, however, is to be different. Christians are to give small, insignificant people of society the time of day, treat them as important, and advocate for their needs.

It was the Apostle Peter, a guy who learned the hard way about paying attention to those different from himself, who quoted the Old Testament in saying, “love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:9) That is, basic love for another prevents them from committing the sins they would have if they were unloved. If we do not love, it would be better for us to be killed in a tragic millstone death. Jesus does not want people acting like leeches, just sucking the life out of others to get what they want.

So, what do we do about it? How shall we then live? A person’s a person no matter how small. We need humility. We need to lower our sights and our bodies to see little people. We cannot truly see a two-year-old toddler unless we lower ourselves to view them as equal and important.

The way to see another requires slowing down, observing, and stooping or sitting to look them in the eye and give them the dignity of attention they deserve.

The danger of reading a post like this is the thought that all this stuff is really for someone else. After all, I don’t want to hurt anyone or see anybody deprived, so maybe the experts and professionals ought to handle it all. Yet, the fact remains that we do no one any good when we neglect getting on the floor. When we assume blessing for ourselves without the intent of giving it to others, we have come under the judgment of Christ. Perhaps we fear forgiveness – either accepting an apology from another or offering one to someone we have wronged. Out of sight, out of mind, is the approach of the one who causes others to stumble and make them fall.

Christ’s admonition is to watch ourselves, to be vigilant of both overt and covert sins against the unseen and forgotten among us. The pyramid below concerning racism is just one example of many other forms of causing others to stumble and fall:

white supremacy pyramid

Even though I write this warning, dear friends, I am confident of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation, deliverance, and liberation for all persons. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped others and continue to help them. Continue to show this same diligence so that what you hope for may be fully realized; and, imitate those who through faith and patience are doing good work. May the Lord be with you.

For those deprived of their human needs and their human rights: Just God, may they may be given the dignity by others which you confer on all his people.

For all who are forgotten and unseen, especially the poor, the sick, and the aged: All-seeing God, may you move us to love them as the image of Christ.

For all who are lonely or afraid, for teenagers on the street, the elderly in nursing homes, prisoners with no one to visit them, and all whom the world has forgotten: Lord Christ, may you lead us to them.

For those who suffer mental illness or disorder: Attentive God, may we cherish the gifts you have given them, and in their lives hear the voice of your love.

For each human life: Creator God, may we value every person as you do. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen.

1 John 3:10-16

            What’s love got to do with it?  apparently, everything.  The Apostle John makes it clear that love is the distinguishing characteristic of the Christian life.  We only fool ourselves if we say we are lovers of humanity, yet we harbor hate in our hearts.  We deceive ourselves if we claim to be loving persons, yet commit mental murder.  If we either cannot or will not control our tongues through killing another through gossip, slander, backbiting, name-calling, and complaints, then the Apostle John would say that we are evil, period.  There is no fudge factor with John when it comes to love and hate.  Either we are righteous because we love, or we are unrighteous because we hate.
 
            Love is not jealous or unkind.  Love emulates the Lord Jesus by laying down selfishness and hate and taking up the mantle of righteousness through justice and peace.  Saying one thing and living another way is unrighteous.  When words and actions work together, both expressing love, then we are walking in the way of Jesus.  The Old Testament character Cain is Exhibit A of a person who hated his brother.  He was from the evil one because he murdered Abel.  Conversely, Jesus is the consummate example of engaging in a self-sacrificial act in order to love.
 
            Until we come to the realization that our tongues have the power of life and death, we will never learn what true righteousness is and can be.  But when we begin using our tongues as instruments of righteousness, then our actions will follow.  Perhaps the best place to begin is through prayer.  Praying for the welfare and best interests of those we dislike will set us on the road to becoming the Good Samaritan who actively helps instead of passing by on the other side.
            Loving God, I praise you for your Son who demonstrated genuine love.  Help me not to be like Cain who murdered his brother and hated him, but to be like Jesus so that all my words and actions reflect your righteousness – even toward those who do not like me.  Amen.