RCL – May 6, 2012 – Fifth Sunday of Easter
1 John 4:7-21
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 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. 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. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.
This passage gives me pause every time I encounter it. This is the Gospel in the proverbial nutshell. It is who we are, whose we are, and what we are called to do all in a few short sentences. It’s exciting and scary and nearly impossible for us to live into.
How many news articles and stories about violence and war were in the news this week? Syria. Egypt. Israel. Iran. How about here in the United States? Too many to count is my answer. And how many more that didn’t make the news? Something is missing. Something really important is missing when there is so much violence everywhere.
A small part of the problem may be that the word “love” is so often misused and overused. I love Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia. I love the writing of Charles de Lint. I love spending time at the beach. I love my cats. There are a lot of things I love. But not the way I love my spouse. Not the way I love God. There is a casualness to “love” these days that detracts from the impact of this passage. This passage reaches beyond the boundaries of pleasure and simple happiness. There is a depth, and truth to love that extends beyond human capacity and draws us out of ourselves and into a sacred identity.
Yes, the johannine writer used the word “agape,” but even this word has lost a bit of its strength. To say that the love of God for humanity, and the love we are called to have for one another is “unconditional,” is insufficient. Anyone can say she or he loves her or his neighbors. It takes more to respond when a neighbor is in need.
What did you think about the Occupy demonstrations on May Day? Did you roll your eyes and wonder why anyone bothers? Did you hope that maybe somebody might listen to what they have to say and head in the direction of changes? Or did you join in? When you hear about the bills being voted in your state, do you get involved or change the radio station? Does the thought, “somebody should do something about that” ever cross your mind? Is that somebody ever you? Do we really love the way we are called to love?
I know there are people out there trying to make a difference. Chen Guangchen is an amazing example of one person trying to make life better by advocating for those with little or no voice. I actually heard somebody say, “Why should I care about that guy from China? Isn’t there American news to report?” We have a long way to go to get to where we are called to be. Love is not about the worthiness of an individual. Love is about the value of every individual person – Chinese, American, Egyptian, Israeli, Iranian – in spite of what he or she does or does not do.
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. We love because he first loved us. 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. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
There are too many stories of hatred and fear and violence. What would happen if the only stories that made the news for a week were ones of grace, mercy, and love? Would you watch the news? Would anyone be inspired to behave differently?
I am assuming that I am not the only one who is tired of the politics of hate. I will also confess that I find it difficult to figure out what to do and how to do it that will bring about any change. I’m often tired and overwhelmed. But I do know that there is no greater gift than the gift of love. Not the schmaltzy Hallmark stuff, but the stuff that changes lives. The day somebody says, “I love you,” and you know that she or he means it, changes you in a very real way. The day that you see yourself as God sees you, changes everything.
So, I guess, what I’m saying is that we, as Christians, need to find a way to say “I love you because God loves you” in a way that changes people in a very real way, in a way that goes beyond ethnicity, skin color, country of origin, gender, sexual orientation, ability, economics, and politics. To put it another way, if we abide in Christ, we have responsibility to bear fruit, much fruit, even. And the world is a very hungry place.