We’ll start this morning with three verses from John’s gospel, chapter 15, starting at verse 9. Listen to the word of God
9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. (NRSV)
That ought to sound a little familiar…
we heard echoes of those words in the first chapter of 1 John.
There is a deep connection between our joy and God’s joy
There is deep connection between our love for God, for Jesus and for one another, so much so that love is the key to our abiding in God.
Living in Love, remaining in love…
This is how we keep the commandments
This is how we show the world who God is.
Our final passage from John’s first epistle takes this idea and runs with it. Listen again for the Word of God to you today… this time from 1 John 4:7-21
7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world.15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God.
16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love because he first loved us.
20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. (NRSV)
If you asked me what the Bible – in particular the New Testament – has to say about what it means for us to love one another, I would probably point you to 3 passages…
Paul’s “most excellent way” of living as the Body of Christ, which he outlines in the 13th chapter of his first letter to the church in Corinth.
The back half of the letter to the Ephesians, in particular where the household structure is described in terms of mutuality, rather than hierarchy.
And of course, I would point to this exhortation from 1 John, starting with beloved, let us love one another…
I know… those just scratch the surface of what we might say about love. And if you asked me to choose another three from the gospels, I don’t know that I could narrow it down that far.
After all, Jesus tells us over and over again what the kingdom of God looks like. And over and over again, it looks like grace, forgiveness, healing, hope… all stacked up on a foundation of love.
Love for God.
Love for neighbor.
The law of love, we call it.
The first and greatest commandment and the second, which is like it.
And which – according to our letter – flows directly from the first
…those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
But let’s back up just a bit.. I want to look again at a couple of segments closer to the start of this letter that will help us see more clearly what John means when he speaks of abiding in God’s love.
First, we need to recall how John summarized God’s commandments back in chapter 3, verse 23.
1- We are to believe in Christ
That Jesus lived, died and was resurrected
That this man Jesus was and is the Christ – the Messiah.
And 2- we are to love one another.
In ways that reflect and honor the light of the world,
rather than remaining in darkness of the world
We are to love one another
In ways that reveal the power of resurrection in us
In ways that show that we are alive in the love that Christ has given us…
Rather than living as though our hearts are dead, as if Christ remained in the tomb, and love died with him.
Those are pretty high expectations for what love looks like, if I’m honest. And yet, I don’t hear any doubt in this letter. I don’t see any reason to think this sort of love is unattainable.
Beloved, he writes… Dear ones…
Let us love one another because love is from God;
everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
And in fact, my friends, my siblings in Christ…
God is love.
God is love.
God’s very identity.
God’s very being.
And here’s the what John has been building to in the letter:
Because we are from God.
Because Christ is in us.
Our love is from God.
Our identity is in God and from God
Therefore, because God is love, our identify ought to be expressed in ???
When we abide in God, we are abiding in love,
Steeping in love, marinating in love.
And when we are living in love, sharing that love,
When we are embodying that love, we are abiding in God.
Yes, it is our duty.
You could say that love is the work to which we are called, and you’d be right.
You could say that love is the work for which we were claimed, and you would not be wrong.
The bigger truth, dear ones, beloved ones, is this:
Love is the work for which we were made.
It is who we are.
if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
When we love one another, we are transformed
The one who loves, AND the one who is loved.
BOTH are changed.
It is how we reach our potential… how we are perfected…
Yes, perfected, though not in the sense of being flawless.
There’s not a great English term for the original word here… telos.
Telos is more like a goal… or like a fervent hope.
When the Apostle Paul speaks of Christ as the telos of life.. .that to which he aspires, but has yet to attain, Paul is saying that to be and live more like Christ is his greatest desire.
God’s greatest desire for us… that which would bring the greatest joy…
God’s telos for us, God’s beloved…
we humans who bear the image of our creator
God’s greatest hope… God’s goal is for you and I to know how deeply we are loved,
To know that same love from one another, and then to proclaim and extend love ever outward, so that all the world might wake up to who they are.
Beloved, we are to love God and love one another,
Not because God needs more people loving and worshiping for the sake of being loved and worshiped…
But because our love for one another, our love for our fellow travelers on this planet, that is how people come to know and believe.
I’ll tell you, I’ve spent enough time with evangelical folks and missionaries to have heard every version of every argument and logical case for the existence of God and the claims of Jesus as Christ.
I have all manner of apologetics from Augustine to CS Lewis to Timothy Keller.
I have read way too many tracts and answered plenty of knocks at my door that led to plenty of long conversations on my front porch.
And you know how much of that helped me to believe in God?
None of it.
Not one bit convinced me they had proof of God’s existence.
Or Jesus’ divinity.
And I am, really, a pretty logical kind of gal.
You want to know how I came to know that God is real?
Being loved by another.
Being loved by a family of faith way before I could contribute anything of value… nothing but some noise in the sanctuary and a dirty diaper in the nursery.
And being loved by that same community of faith when I was old enough to understand how to withhold what I could have given in return.
Being loved by those who knew and know me at my least loveable.
The proof of God’s love came in my being loved and being told that I am loveable when every voice in the world… including my own inner critic… was shouting otherwise.
In being told often enough, loudly enough, from deep enough in the heart…
that I am beloved…
And eventually, the proof of God’s existence came from my loving others loudly enough, often enough, exhaustingly persistent enough from the very depths of my own heart…
Beloved, let us love one another…
Because love is from God.
Because opportunities to love are from God.
You know… this time last week we were praying for the soccer team that was trapped in the cave in Thailand. The boys and their coach were all rescued, thanks to the efforts and expertise of thousands of people, including many divers who risked their lives, and one who died, as the team prepared and then worked the plan that eventually brought them home.
I was fascinated by a story in last Sunday’s Washington Post. Shibani Mahtani wrote the piece about the assistant coach who had taken the boys into the cave. It was the title that first caught my eye: He Loved them More than Himself.
Ekapol Chantawong joined the Wild Boars soccer team as an assistant coach about three years ago. But before that, he was a Buddhist monk. See, Ekapol was orphaned at the age of 10. He went to a monastery, where he trained as a monk for about 10 years. But then had to leave when his grandmother fell ill. He moved to northern Thailand to help care for her, spending part of his time working at a local temple.
He also started working with the soccer team part time. Many of the young men he mentored were poor or from minority groups that left them cultural orphans. A friend of Ekapol’s told the article’s author that “he loved the boys more than himself.”
His love for them led him to help the head coach find ways to use the boys’ passion for soccer as motivation for academic work. Good grades might mean new soccer gear. Opportunities to experience a different life. His love for them led him to spend time beyond soccer, getting to know their families, their hopes, their sorrows.
As the world became aware of the boys and their coach, trapped in a cave, friends grew worried for Ekapol. His love for them had earned the boys’ complete trust. That trust is what allowed them to follow him into what turned out to be a life-threatening adventure. His friends knew that he would blame himself for the mess they were in. That his love for them would break his heart, if any of the boys were injured or worse.
But the complete trust that he had earned… this is also what allowed the boys to follow his lead when they needed help staying calm.
When they needed to conserve energy.
When they needed to stave off hunger and fear.
Ekapol was able to teach them how to meditate and slow their breathing to conserve oxygen. He sacrificed his share of the little food they had among them, so that the boys would have more.
It isn’t hard to see why this young coach was and is seen by many in his country, and especially in his community as an almost divine force, sent to protect the boys in their ordeal.
Someone created a cartoon drawing of Ekapol. It shows the coach sitting cross-legged, as a monk would do in meditation, with 12 little wild boars in his arms.
It’s a just lovely, isn’t it?
You know, when I read his story and saw this image, I couldn’t help but think of the drawings on the covers of some of our children’s Bibles – and even in the stained glass right over there – depicting another divine force. The image of Jesus, inviting the young children to come to him.
Whether Ekapol would use the same language for the divine or not, I do believe he was the love of God made flesh- not only in the cave, but as he cared for those boys, saw their potential and worked to give them hope through something as simple as soccer.
He loved them enough that he would have laid down his life for them.
Just as he loved his grandmother enough to lay down his vocation.
He loved them enough to want to keep them whole,
Just as he will be loved back to wholeness by the boys he loves, by the parents of his players and by the community members who know that he is more than one bad decision during an afternoon out with the team.
Beloved, let us love one another,
For opportunities to love are from God
Including opportunities to love people who are not our people… at least not on paper. People like Jim. If you were to draw diagrams of our interests – from sports to pop culture to politics or theology, you would see a really interesting trend. There are probably twice as many areas in which we are polar opposites as there are areas that overlap.
And when there are differences between us, they are in those HARD areas. You know the ones. The ones that can tear families and churches and feels like maybe even can tear a whole nation apart…
But the thing is, Jim and I love each other.
We took the time to get to know each other. To hear each others’ stories. To be part of each others’ lives. So now, it’s not hard to love Jim. And it’s not hard to be loved by Jim, to share concerns and joys, to pray with and for one another and our families.
We love one another, not in spite of our differences.
And not because we ignore our differences.
But because we honor our differences and trust in the love of Christ that binds us together as children of God.
Now – I do think we can make it hard to love one another. We can make it hard to love and to be loved. I think that’s because there are times that we aren’t ready to enter into a relationship wholeheartedly… open heartedly.
Sometimes because of past or recent hurts.
Sometimes because of spiritual immaturity, which has little to do with age, by the way.
Sometimes we aren’t ready because we have found ourselves in a spiritually dry season
For whatever reason, these are the times that our hearts are not open to the kind of vulnerability and courage that living in love requires.
Those are the very moments we need to recall that
we have known and believe the love that God has for us.
We need to recall that
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, [and with shame and embarrassment that feels like punishment] and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.
We need to recall that
19 We love because he first loved us.
And we need to recall that
Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, [or short of hatred, choose to withhold love and acceptance of their brothers and sisters] are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.
Beloved, we need most of all to remember that we are capable of love
We are called to love
We were made to love.
Just as we have always been loved.
If God is for us
If Christ is with us
If the Holy Spirit is in us
Then we can trust that the God of love is coursing through our veins and energizing every molecule of every cell in our bodies.
Beloved, let us love one another… just as God first loved us.