Live Love! – John 13.31-35

Once upon a time, a woman wrote the following love letter to her beloved:

Dearest Jimmy,

No words could ever express the great unhappiness I’ve felt since breaking our engagement. Please say you’ll take me back.

No one could ever take your place in my heart, so please forgive me. I love you, I love you, I love you! Yours forever, Marie

P.S. And congratulations on winning the state lottery.

Hmmmm . . . there’s something wrong with this picture!

In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus tells his followers of every age,

Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. John 13.34

And yet on Friday (and we could have picked any day, really!) we read in the local newspaper about

+    a mother in Chile who apparently allowed her three day old baby to be killed because she believed the end of the world was near and the child was the anti-Christ; and

+    the owner of the garment factory in Bangladesh that collapsed ignored a police order to evacuate, and instead, coerced workers to go back to work; and

+    a man in Manchester, IL, stormed the house where members of his extended were staying and killed five of them, apparently because of a custody battle over one of the children.

Hmmmm . . . there’s something wrong with this picture.

In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus tells his followers of every age,

Your love for one another [i.e., among yourselves, within the community of faith!] will prove to the world that you are my disciples. John 13.35

And yet how often do we gather after church with our friends or family and share a meal of “church roast” or “pastor flambé”? And then, there’s the sad, ongoing story  of Grace Lutheran Church in Eau Claire, WI. Perhaps you’ve caught news reports about their drama. The congregation there has split into two factions,  and one side has sued the other over  which group is really the church with legal access  to the congregation’s building and assets.

Hmmmm . . . there’s something wrong with this picture!

In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus tells his followers of every age,

Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. John 13.34

I am blessed with a wonderful family, but I must confess there are times when it’s difficult to love them as Jesus wants. More often than I care to admit, I detect judgment or frustration or a spirit of “they shouldn’t do that” bubbling up inside of me. I’ve been serving in my current congregation (as an interim pastor) long enough to know that there aren’t too many families there like June and Ward Cleaver or Little House on the Prairie.

I would imagine anyone who has gone to church more than a handful of times has likely heard a preacher say that we are supposed to love others as Christ loved us. That tells me that the problem isn’t ignorance. The problem is the brokenness of our human nature. The apostle Paul nails it when describes the fundamental struggle within himself that is within all of us:

I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate. I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn, I can’t make myself do right. I want to, but I can’t. When I want to do good, I don’t. And when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway. Romans 7:15,18-19 (NLT)

We are caught in a paradox. Jesus calls us to do something in this life – to love one another as Jesus loved us – that we cannot do until our human nature is fully transformed by Christ at our death.

Does this let us off the hook, then? After all, how fair is it for God to tell us to do something that we can’t do in this life?! Nope, were still on the hook for doing what Jesus wants us to do. It’s part of the same paradox. Jesus calls us to love, and we can’t, at least, not fully. But we’re not excused from loving others even though he knows we can’t do it as we ought.

The more I think about this, the more my gut tells me there’s something wrong with this picture. It’s not fair. We can’t win.

But then, that’s the point.

It’s not that there’s something wrong with this paradox.

It’s that there’s something wrong within us.

We may not be very quick to accept this. We spend much of our lives kidding ourselves that we’re really pretty good people; certainly not as bad as “those” people. At least our family isn’t as dysfunctional as “they” are. For we can always find someone against whom we can compare ourselves more favorably.

Sure, we might take the occasional unsubstantiated tax deduction, or fudge an expense sheet, or “borrow” some office supplies to use at home, or speak more harshly to our kids or our spouse than we’d like. But let’s face it, who doesn’t do that?!

The problem within us is more than we’re just a little rough around the edges. The problem within us is sin, a condition of brokenness that describes the core of who we are as well as the quality of our behavior. And all of the teachings in the Bible do two things: they point out the depth of our sin problem, and they describe in joyous detail all that God does to restore our relationship with God and with others.

So what does this mean for us? How are we supposed to “live love”?

We begin by realizing who we are. We begin with an honest appraisal of our spiritual condition and of our need for what only Jesus can give us through his life, death and resurrection: forgiveness for our sins and the restoration of our relationship with God and those around us.

This is how Luther describes Jesus’ gift to us in his explanation of the Apostles’ Creed:

Jesus has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person. He has purchased and freed me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. He has done all this in order that I may belong to him, live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in eternal righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he is risen from the dead and lives and rules eternally.

We can’t do that for ourselves. If we could have, we would have. Instead, this new life that we so desperately need is a gift that God offers us in Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit; again, as Luther reminds us when he describes the work of the Holy Spirit,

I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith. All we can do is take this gift and hang onto it with joy and thanksgiving.

We begin to “live love” by knowing who we are. We continue by trusting in whose we are. As forgiven children of God, we belong to God no matter what. Paul tells us this when he writes to the Romans,

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. Romans 14:7-8

Because of our unbreakable relationship with God, God’s transforming power is at work in us. We’ve been called by the Holy Spirit and enlightened, already, right now, in this life with the gifts of the Spirit. These gifts begin to reshape our lives like a potter shapes a lump of clay. Perhaps only beneath the surface of our lives, unseen by anyone. But God’s transforming power changes us, bit by bit into the fully human person God intends for us to be.

And as we’re being shaped, we also being released for ministry, to share the gifts we’ve first been given. To live love in ways that brings God’s transformative power to the hurts and needs of our community and the world around us.

This power at work in us means we don’t wait  to love one another until we’ve finished transforming.  It means we don’t have to love one another perfectly.  And it means we have access to forgiveness when we blow it – and we will blow it.

For now, however imperfectly we may do it, we love one another. In the words of St. Augustine,

What does it look like? It has hands to help others, feet to hasten to the poor and needy, eyes to see misery and want, ears to hear the signs and sorrows of others. That is what love looks like.

About Allen

Child of God, husband, father of two brilliant daughters, pastor and recent dmin graduate at George Fox University near Portland OR. My spiritual home is in the North American Lutheran Church, where I am currently between positions and upgrading my landscaping and home repair skills. "diakonia" (pronounced "dee-ak-on-ee'-ah") is a word found in the Greek New Testament used to describe (variously) either a specific kind to help any people in need, or a more general serving at table or the distribution of financial resources. In Acts 6, Stephen and others are chosen to serve the early Christian community there in Jerusalem, and the Church has had a "deaconate" in one form or another ever since. I've given my blog this title as a reminder that our faith is lived out where our faith and our service intersect.
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