Sunday, April 26, 2015

Boldness of Love

Boldness of Love from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

John 10:11-18

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away - and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

I John 3:16-24

16We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us - and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

18Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

23And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.

I had the opportunity to be the Best Man at a wedding in Atlanta this weekend. One of my best friends from college married a dear friend from Seminary. Both of them have theological degrees, and one of our Seminary Professors officiated. Every moment of the service was full of depth and beauty and sound theology.

A great deal of love filled that room yesterday afternoon, some of it was the romance of the couple standing front and center, but that wasn’t all of it, or even most of it. A marriage is an opportunity to practice love, but it is not the only picture of what love looks like. Love can show itself in the excitement of a new relationship, or in a gathered family celebrating a 60th anniversary. Love can revel itself in the interaction between a parent and a child. We also see love in the shared stories and laughter between old friends. Love can bind communities and families together in more powerful ways than we can imagine.

The expressions of love may look different, but it is not from these examples that we most clearly know love. “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us - and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” The love of God in Christ shines forth in all the varieties of human love, and defines us better than we can even begin to grasp.

We know love because Christ our Lord showed us love by laying down his life and challenging us to do the same for one another. Confessing Christ as Lord means a life-changing and life affirming love. “The union we have with Christ is evident when we share mutual love.” The mutual love we have in Christ us pushes us forward into a cynical world to share, and be, a message of hope that love is not a romantic notion, but a powerful action.

“Therefore, little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”

But we don’t always get it right, do we? Sometimes we fail to love one another as we ought. Old friends sometimes lose touch or have a falling out. Parents and children sometimes cut one another out of their lives. Long marriages sometimes end abruptly, or can become twisted by abuse. New relationships sometimes grow toxic. Communities and families sometimes split.

No human has a perfect track record for loving in truth and action, because we are a broken, limited people, and our regret over the love we have lost or wasted plagues us and holds us back. Our own hearts condemn us for the love that was not in truth and action, and many of us struggle to recover from it. We can get caught up in our own fears and sins and see ourselves a one who is not worthy of love.

But that’s not who we are. Our opinions of ourselves, whether puffed up or beaten down, is not what determines who we are or whose we are.  We have the reassurance that God loves us irrespective of our successes or failures. “We will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” God knows about our failings, and loves us anyway. God knows about our successes, and loves us totally apart from them. “The sort [of reassurance] offered here by John finds its basis beyond the believer, in God, his faithfulness and knowledge, and in actual obedience to his command.” We are connected to Jesus Christ, who is the Truth, and Jesus’s love for us is what defines who we are, not our own arrogance or self-doubt, not our own hope or regret, not our own strengths or weaknesses.

We are free from all those things, no longer held captive to winning and losing, our own limited ability. Love is connected to something greater - to the good shepherd and to God our father, who knows us better than we know ourselves, and who fills us with our true identity as Beloved of the Lord. All the depression in the world can’t shake our identity in Christ, because the God who speaks into being things which do not exist looks lovingly upon us and calls us good. Whether we like it or not, whether we believe it or not, we are beloved children of God.

As Christians, our task is to share that challenging love, even when we might be afraid of what that love will cost us. It’s not enough to politely and quietly keep the peace, we must love boldly! For the love we have in Christ Jesus is the kind that lays down one’s love for another.

Jesus lays down his life, but he does not stop being the good shepherd. Loving in truth and in action, and laying down our lives, is an expression of who we are as people of the cross and resurrection. In laying down our lives we are claiming who God created us to be, who Christ saved us to be, we are not abandoning ourselves or dissolving into whatever else is around us. When lay down our lives for one another, we and giving action to the beliefs which we hold so dearly. 

For John, belief and action are inseparably linked. We cannot say that we believe and not also show love through our actions. “In a time of schism and dissent, what is most threatening is that Christians should continue pontificating about love while they turn hatefully from one another and ignore each other’s needs.” The author of I John challenges the church of not just proclaim love, but to show it! I think this is something our church is very good about doing. It’s doesn’t have to be a huge, global action, it’s a matter of seeing a brother or sister in need and reaching out to show love by helping them. When a person shows up at this church with a need, the members of this congregation are eager to help them.

At the youth Christmas party, a family came into the PAC where we were gathered just because the light was on and they had a need. They had no food, but the folks who prepared dinner that night had leftovers and without a second thought gave them to this family. One of the youth parents pulled some cash out of his wallet and gave it to them so they would have enough fuel to drive to where they needed to go.

Later on, the women of the church stepped up and bought christmas presents for the children, and a microwave for the mother, so that she could heat food for her family. That’s love, and every step of it mean laying down our plans for our own life, and showing love in truth and action. 

This is a congregation that is very involved in our community, reaching out to those in need around us, even when it means laying down our plans for our own lives. That’s the love we learned from our heavenly Father and from his Son, Jesus Christ. We are the people who enact that love now in a thousand different ways, living what we believe in a world that doesn’t always listen.

But we don’t have to change the world by ourselves, the world is already changed through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, when the good shepherd laid down his life for us. We've been given a grave-splitting mutual love, shown in the way God filled the cross and emptied the tomb. How can we possibly keep that to ourselves? It’s not enough to just love in word or speech, Christ’s redemptive call means showing love for one another, and for our neighbors. “Believing in Christ means believing that Christ saves us by making us like himself.”  In becoming more like Christ, we grow closer to God and to one another.

From there, we are able to answer God’s call to “obey his commandments [and] abide in him, and he abides in [us]. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.” We have a Spirit which encourages us to not just confess our faith, but to live it, expressing love in friendship, in families, in communities, and in marriages.

The Spirit fills us with the love God, and human love reflects that into a world that is sometimes struck with cynicism. But we show our love nonetheless, because it’s who we are, it’s who God has created us to be. We are God’s beloved children, how can we not share that love with one another and with those in need.

The Spirit is at work in this place, among these people, for God is with us, filling us with a boldness of love that challenges us to grow in faith and love, and sending us out in the world so that we can show God’s love through the way we serve and love our brothers and sisters.

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