Sunday, June 26, 2022

What Love Looks Like

 1 John 3:13-18

Do not marvel, brethren, if the world hates you.  We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.  Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.  We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.  But whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?  Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

Sermon for 2-SAT                                                6/26/22

What Love Looks Like

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Once again our Epistle Lesson speaks to us about the topic of love.  Here we are again reminded about love for the brethren.   We are told that the one who does not love his brother abides in death – that is, they are not in Christ.  Then John tells us to love in deed and in truth.  Last week was all about love and loving, and so this week our Epistle tells us what that love looks like. So I invite you to consider with me that word of God from the pen of the beloved disciple with the theme, What Love Looks Like.

John writes a lot about love for the brethren, and loving your brother.   The first question, then, is, "Who is meant by ‘brother'?"  Is it our family members, or the population of the world around us, or what?

The answer is found by considering the world of John and of Jesus as the context for that command.  Jesus indicated that it was an "us" versus "them" world for Christians.  He told the Jews who refused to believe in Him that they did not believe in God either, and that they were not really "children" of Abraham.  In the world of the Apostles, it was still a divided world.  Christianity was illegal.  When one became a Christian, they frequently lost their family, they often lost their employment, and they were unceremoniously excluded from the common life of society around them.  The Church was their family.

It feels different today, but it is not.  The world still hates God, and hates anyone who stands with God in truth.  If the world smiles on a believer, it is only for a time, and only for the purpose of seducing him or her from the faith.  If you doubt what I am saying – which the Bible explicitly says over and over again – stand up in polite company, among the friends who do not share your church, or your doctrine, and speak boldly and clearly about the Lord's Supper, or Baptism, about their truth and power and importance, or speak about the vital importance of sound doctrine and see what happens.  They will tolerate you briefly, then try to silence you, then mock you, and finally, if you don't surrender and go back to being more broad-minded in your attitudes and words, meaning that you refuse to compromise what you believe and confess, they will reject you.  Sometimes, when it is in their power, they will persecute you.  You can be as kind and polite and diplomatic as you wish – God's truth still offends.  And standing clearly and firmly on God's truth will still make you a pariah, except among God's people.

A brother is still a fellow Christian – male or female.  We are all brothers in Christ.  The world wants us to take all of this love commanded by God and spend it on them.  They want us to make every person, no matter who or how distant from us in word and deed, in philosophy or religion, to be the intended target of this love.  They want our love aimed particularly at those who reject God, and are enduring life's hardships.  So, it is the murderer in our society whose life is so precious and tender that we cannot consider the God-established recompense for their crime.  Our nation's concern is for the murderous choice of a woman rather than the life of the child within her.  Capital punishment is considered to be too cruel and unusual for the most violent and deadly sociopaths.  But there is no public outcry on behalf of the victims of the murderer, or the collateral victims, the families of those who are brutally murdered.  Although homosexuality is a remarkably deadly behavior, our culture's concern is to preserve their right to an immoral lifestyle, and to find a medical miracle to remove the dangers from their corrupt behaviors.  The world clearly is still the implacable foe of Christ and His people and His values.

The words of John in our Epistle are meant for us, and aimed at teaching us how to treat one another.  First century Israel was shamed by the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Jesus illustrated to them how little they loved one another.  It was the truth of the parable – the reality that those who were brothers in the flesh and those who should have been brothers by virtue of their religion did not love one another – that hurt them so.  Jesus painted a true picture – brother didn't love brother, and it was left to the Samaritan, the hated enemy, to show true love.  And religious affiliation, or public role and position of respect and authority did not change the basic problem.  Brother did not love brother with even the sort of decency which unbelievers would expect.

John tells us to expect that the world is our enemy, that the world hates us.  And the world is sometimes lurking within the visible church.  That is the way it is -- and if you don't think so, either you are not seeing reality clearly, or you are not one of those the world hates.  I am not judging anyone.  I am just telling you the way the Bible says it is.  All we have that we can count on in this world, aside from God Himself, is one another, fellow believers.

And John says that we can tell that we are numbered among the people of God by our love for the people of God.  We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren.  Then He tells us that if we have no love, we have no life.  He who does not love abides in death.  Now, with God there is only love or hate.  Either we love by what we do and how we value someone or we hate them.  Jacob loved Rachel and hated Leah.  He has six children with Leah, so I suspect it wasn't the sort of hatred we might call "hate."  It was simply a prejudice, and one that Leah was not responsible for – or deserving of.  God said He loved Jacob and hated Esau – and yet He blessed both richly.  Once again it was preference, choice.  We are called on to love – to prefer and choose – one another.

John also addressed a temptation that the devil throws in among Christians -- the temptation to hatred of the brother.  This hatred is not simply a preference for someone else, but it is that common form of hatred that we all know so very well in this life.  Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.  This is an active, evil will toward a brother.  This hatred is murder – not doing the deed, but desiring it.  We can hear it in the words hatred speaks, "I couldn't care less!"  "Drop Dead!" and, a favorite of those who hate, "I don't care whether you live or die, you're dead to me!"  Burning hatred and blind apathy toward the well-being of a brother is murder – maybe not the kind you go to prison for – but it is judged the same by God.

Christ gave us the example of love. We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us.  This is the school in which we learn what love is, and how it works: Jesus Christ, who loved us.  He chose us and loved us and died for us, even though we were still His enemies, and even though our fellows – people who thought and acted just like us – tortured Him and put Him to death on the cross.  He died for us to save us.  He took our sins and paid our penalty and bore our punishment all the way to the cross, and then to the tomb.  He bore the wrath of God against us – unlovable though we were and are, even by human standards.  Which one of us would live for someone who hated us and mocked us and injured us, let alone die for them?  But Jesus did, and by His stripes, we have been healed.  Because Jesus died for you, your sins have been forgiven, and God has poured out for you and on you the free gift of everlasting life and salvation!  That is our hope, and that is our joy, and that is our salvation, and that is our example!

We are expected to live up to it, as the children of God, brothers and sisters of Christ, brethren by the grace of God.  So John writes, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.  Jesus said that a greater love has no man than he lay down his life for his friends.  Here we are challenged to lay down our lives for one another!

Of course, no one is asking us today to die for each other.  There have been places and times when that was needed, and expected.  Some did, and some failed the test.  There are places today where that price is the price of love, but not here, not now.  Now when we are challenged to lay down our lives for the brethren, it isn't dying for them that is being asked – it is living for them.  We are exhorted to live for each other, setting "me" aside and putting "you" first.  We are to set aside our values and our prejudices, our likes and dislikes, our irritations with one another and our peccadillos, and live for the other.

That means that my needs, and my desires and my plans do not come first – the brothers do.  That means that your needs, and your desires and your plans do not come first – the brothers do.  And who are the brothers?  The Church – in particular our congregation – Immanuel Lutheran Church of Bartlett Township, and each person in her.  They are more important than your plans.  They are more important than your comfort.  They are more important than your happiness.  And if they are not, something is wrong.  But whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?

Love that doesn't act isn't really love.  We talked about that last week.  Love is a behavior more than it is an emotion.  It is an act of will before it is a feeling.  It is doing and saying and giving what is needed simply because we can see that it is needed.  Love is doing what is right, and in accord with holiness rather than what comes naturally, because sin comes naturally.  It means treating one another the way God would have us deal with one another, not just the way it feels satisfying to do it.  

It is love just like the love with which Jesus loved us, and gave Himself up for us.  If it isn't that sort of love, it isn't love, at least not what God means by love here, at all.  And your brothers here need more than just your money or worldly things – although some of them may also need that – they need your ear, your time, your compassion, and sometimes your patience and forgiveness.  The point is that you need to check in and check it out and see what each one that God has given you to love needs.  We are not talking wants, but needs.

True love is in deeds, not merely words.  True love spends itself, and its substance.  True love pays attention, and cares, and we can identify this love because it notices things and acts on them.  True love cannot simply come to church, and then go home and forget for the next 166 hours that the people of God exist.  It doesn't abandon the brethren over some imagined problem and go somewhere else where it is more comfortable.  These are your brothers.  Every single one in the room.  And John says that you love ‘em, or you hate ‘em, and He who does not love abides in death.  Look around you.  These are the people of your life, the ones God has given you to love.  More than your blood family or social friends, these are your true brothers and sisters in connection with Christ. 

Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

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