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.

John 13:1-17 – Do as I Have Done for You

Jesus washing feet

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not everyone was clean.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (NIV)

One of the reasons I like Jesus Christ so much is that he loves me as I am, and not as I should be. Jesus loves me even with my dirty stinky feet, my herky-jerky commitment to him, and my pre-meditated sin. Jesus loved even Judas and washed his feet. Jesus serves people because they need his love, and not so that they will love him back.

I recently read about a man who lives in Paris. His wife has Alzheimer’s. He was an important businessman and his life was filled with busyness. Yet, he said when his wife fell sick, “I just couldn’t put her into an institution, so I kept her. I fed her. I bathed her. Through the experience of serving my wife every day, I have changed. I have become more human. The other night, in the middle of the night, my wife woke me up. She came out of the fog for a moment, and she said, ‘Darling, I just want to say thank you for all you are doing for me.’ Then she fell back into the fog. I wept for hours to know this grace.”

Sometimes Christ calls me to love people who either cannot or will not love me in return. They live in the fog of some sort of disability, depression, poverty, or common spiritual blindness. As I serve them, I may only receive brief glimpses of gratitude. Just as Jesus loves me within my own spiritual confusion, so I desire to continue loving others as they walk through whatever fog they are in.

I can truthfully say that I have no interest in anything but the love of God which in Christ Jesus.  Lord willing, my life will be useful through my words and my witness. If God desires, my life will bear fruit through my prayers, my service, and my love. Yet, the usefulness of my life is God’s concern, not mine; it would be indecent of me to worry about that. I simply desire follow my Lord’s example.

dirty dishes

Neither many Christians nor churches wash feet anymore. So, the following is today’s Gospel lesson put in a slightly different context:

It was just before the biggest and most important feast of the year, Passover. Jesus knew that it was finally the time for him to face the cross and die for the world’s sins. Having spent the past three years loving his followers, he now wanted to leave them with a clear demonstration of his love that they would never forget.

The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already gotten a hold of Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus to those who wanted him dead and gone. But it was all according to plan. Jesus knew that his heavenly Father had given him all authority because he was his Son, and he was ready to do what needed to be done to secure salvation and return to his rightful place at his Father’s right hand.  So, Jesus got up from the meal, rolled up his sleeves, put an apron on, and ran a sink full of hot water.  Jesus told the servants to take the night off, and he began taking the dishes from the dinner table and started washing them, taking care to do all that waiters and dishwashers would do.

When Jesus came to take care of Simon Peter’s dishes and serve him dessert and coffee, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to serve me?” Jesus replied, “I know you do not understand why I am doing this since it seems like something that is beneath me to do, but later you will look back on this night and understand completely what I am doing.”

“No,” said Peter, “this is not right – you are the Master, and this is not what a well-respected rabbi does – you are only disrespecting yourself and making us all look foolish. You are not going to take my dishes and wash them.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash these dishes and serve you, you are not going to be able to follow me anymore and you will have no part of what I am doing in this world.”

“Well, then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “if that is the way it really is, then don’t just wash the dishes – come on over to my place and clean out the fridge and scrub the kitchen floor!”

Jesus answered, “A person who has had a decent meal needs only to wash the dishes so that he can enjoy the freedom of hospitable relationships with me and those around him.  And all of you here have had a decent meal, though not every one of you.”  For Jesus knew that Judas was only picking at his food in anticipation of betraying him.

When Jesus was all done washing the dishes and serving his disciples, he took his apron off, rolled his sleeves back down, and returned to the table.  He looked them all squarely in the eye and said, “Do you understand what I just did for you?  You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master,’ and rightly so, for that is exactly what I am.  So, now that I, your Master, and your Teacher have washed your dishes, you also should wash one another’s dishes.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  I am telling you the plain truth that no follower is greater than the one he follows, nor is a preacher greater than the one he preaches about.  Now that you know that it is your task in this life to provide humble loving service, you will have God’s stamp of approval on your life if you quit thinking about how to possess and use power for your own purposes, and start thinking about how to use the authority I am giving you to love other people into the kingdom of God.

Loving Lord Jesus, how shocking it was for your disciples to be served by you in such a humble manner.  But I cannot be spiritually cleansed unless I allow you to love me in an almost embarrassing fashion.  Help me not to be so proud that I neither refuse your humble loving service toward me, nor neglect to offer that same kind of service to others.  May love be the word, the idea, and the action that governs my every motivation and movement in your most gracious Name, I pray.  Amen.

Maundy Thursday

jesus washing feet 2

Love.  We need it.  Without love, there is nothing to live for; relationships devolve into silent standoffs and destructive triangles; and, the world ceases to spin on its axis.  With love, however, all things are beautiful; personal relations have meaning and joy; and, all seems right and just in the world.

Yet, love comes with a cost.  Because we live in a broken world full of pride and hubris, greed and avarice, hate and envy, we are victims of loveless systems and unjust actions.  We need love to rescue us, to redeem us from the sheer muck of existence.  It’s as if we are constantly walking knee deep through sludge so thick we can barely get anywhere.  We need saving.  We need Jesus.

Christians everywhere around the world are journeying through Holy Week, the most sacred time of the year for followers of Christ.  When we think about Holy Week, we are familiar with Good Friday and certainly Easter; but Maundy Thursday?

On this day the church remembers the last evening that Jesus shared with his disciples in the upper room before his arrest and crucifixion.  The experiences in the upper room were highly significant because this was the last teaching, modeling, and instruction Jesus gave before facing the cross.  Jesus was careful and deliberate to communicate exactly what was important to him: to love one another.

Maundy Thursday marks three important events in Christ’s Last Supper with his disciples:

  • The washing of the disciples’ feet (the action of loving service)
  • The instituting of the Lord’s Supper (the remembrance of loving sacrifice)
  • The giving of a “new” commandment to love one another (the mandate of a loving lifestyle).

Let’s briefly unpack these words and actions from Jesus.

For Jesus, his last night with his disciples was all about love, God’s love.  On that fateful night, having loved his disciples for the past three years, Jesus showed them the full extent of his love by taking the posture of a servant and washing each and every one of the disciples’ feet, including Judas.  After demonstrating for them a totally humble service, Jesus said,

“I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15, NIV). 

This was an incredible act of love.  We need to rightly observe that Jesus Christ loves me just as I am, and not as I should be.  He loves me even with my dirty stinky feet, my herky-jerky commitment to him, and my pre-meditated sin.

Not only did Jesus wash the disciples’ feet, but he lifted the cup of wine and boldly asserted:

“Take this and divide it among you.  For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”  And he took the bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you, do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way, after the supper he took the cup saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:17-20, NIV). 

Because of these words of Jesus, the church everywhere throughout the world, for two millennia, have practiced this communion, this supper so that we might have the redemptive events of Jesus pressed firmly into both our minds and our hearts by means of the visceral and common elements of bread and wine.  We are to not just know about Jesus, but are to experience being united with him.

Having washed the disciples’ feet, and proclaimed to them the meaning of his impending death, Jesus gave them a clear commandment:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35, NIV)

Love one another, insisted Jesus, by imitating his humble service.  We represent Christ on this earth when we carefully, diligently, and persistently practice love.  Although love was by no means a new concept for the disciples, in the form and teaching of Jesus love was shown with four distinctions:

  1. Jesus is the new model of love
  2. A new motive of love, that Christ first loved me
  3. A new motivator to help us love, the Holy Spirit
  4. A new mission, the evangelization of the world using the power of Christ’s love to accomplish it

So, you see, Maundy Thursday is a highly significant day on the Church Calendar – one which deserves to be observed, and an opportunity to remember the important words and actions of Jesus on our behalf.  Through Jesus Christ we are to live always in love, modeling our life and church ministry after him.

In Christ we are to allow love to characterize our life together as we proclaim God’s love in words and deeds.  A watching world will only take notice and desire to be a part of our fellowship if we are deeply and profoundly centered in the love of God in Christ.  This is the reality that Maundy Thursday brings to us.