Agents of Love In A Loveless World

I preached this sermon last Sunday.  I offer these words to help the church incarnate the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The text is 1 John 4:16b-21.  

“Give me some love,” was the favorite saying of a good friend in university.  He use to go around the dorm and when he would greet people it would not be a customary, “How you doing?” but it would be, “Give me some love” as he held out his fist.  This saying got old real quick for me.  I can live with the statement, “How you doing” because I think this is a normal statement.  But please, don’t go around telling people, “Give me some love.”

One evening I got tired of this saying and so we are sitting in my room and I say to him, “Is this what love has been reduced too?”  Has love been reduced to a customary greeting?  Has love been reduced too simply going around giving love to one another in the form of patting fists?  Love has got to be something more than this, doesn’t it?

I would hope so, but I am not sure.  I think culture would say that love is more than a greeting and the patting of fists, but than I see the actions of culture reducing love to conditional, self-gratifying and of course driven by emotions.  Culture says love is conditional because when the going gets tough we can walk out the door.  As one lady said to me, “I want you to meet my future ex-husband.”  “Your future ex-husband,” I said, “Are you in the middle of a divorce because it looks to me like your in love.”  “No, were not going through a divorce,” came the reply, “But there will be a time when we quit loving each other and then he will be my future ex-husband.”  Culture says that love is conditional, that love has boundaries and has stipulations.  Of course we can see this with the rising divorce rates in our culture and with lawyers advertising “Quick Divorce Settlements.” 

Culture says love is self-gratifying.  Just listen to the words people use when they show us something new they have just purchased.  Don’t you just love this new car?  Don’t you just love this new home?  Don’t you just love these new pair of shoes, clothes, and hair cut?  Love has become self-gratifying.  If something gratifies us we instinctively fall in love with it.  And of course we cannot forget that culture’s view of love is usually driven by emotion.  Just watch American Idol and see how many signs that say, “I love you!”  They are in love because emotionally they are caught up in the experience.

My good friend walked around saying, “Give me some love,” as he held out his fist.  Now I have to agree with what my friend was saying, “Give me some love” but give me love that will sustain me when the dark night touches my most inward being.  Give me some love that holds no boundaries or stipulations.  Give me some love that is unconditional and will love us no matter how ugly we are.  Someone please give me some love!

   Jesus Models Love

We don’t know much about the letter called 1 John.  We really don’t know the audience of this letter.  We don’t know where it was written or to whom it was written to.  We can’t say what the culture was like when this letter was written.  We simply just have a letter called First John.  As we read this letter we begin to hear the language of love.  At first, because we are accustomed to Hollywood’s view of love we might simply skip over the letter without recognizing what John is saying.  John however provides us with what true love looks like.  John says these words,

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 (1 John 4:8b-10).

True love, says John, is a love that passes hatred.  True love is loving someone even when they do not love you nor will not love you.  True love is dying for people.  True love is sacrificing what is most valuable so that people can have life.  Of course, we who are followers of Jesus know that true love is seen in Jesus Christ; Jesus the one who loved even his most outspoken opponents: those who hung him on the cross.  Jesus is the one who models for us what true love is because he died for the world, he died so that as the familiar song says, “we can have life.”

 The Story Continues

This is where I think the story should end and if it ended here I am sure Hollywood could make a great movie.  Hollywood is always looking for a great love story.  Pretty Woman where the businessman falls in love with the prostitute, played by Julia Roberts.  The Notebook where the husband tells the story of how he fell in love with his wife who just happens to be suffering from Alzheimer’s and has no recollection of any events in her life.  We watch this movie and every wife says to their husband, “You do love me enough to stand beside me no matter what.”  Take even Shrek, did you notice the love story in this movie?  Hollywood loves a good love story.  So why doesn’t Hollywood make a film of Jesus dying for creation?  Why doesn’t Hollywood make a film depicting the love of Jesus in action?  Well, they did, Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, but they only told half the story.  The part they forgot to tell is that just as God/Jesus loves, so do his followers.

Listen to the words John writes.  By this we may be sure we are in him: whoever says ‘I abide in him,’ ought to walk just as he walked” (1 John 2:6).  As he is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17).  We love because he first loved us.  Those who sayI 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” (1 John 4:19-20).

I am pretty sure Hollywood would not make a multi-million dollar movie with the point of the movie encouraging us to be a “little Jesus” in this world.  Who would go to a movie that encourages us to die like Christ for a stranger because we have such an outpouring of love?  Who would go to a movie that teaches us to love even the Afghanistan soldier that wants to kill us?  Who would go to a movie that teaches us to love the terrorist when their sole mission in life is to kill the innocent?  Who would go to a movie that teaches us to cross ethnic boundaries because of our love for the other?  Who would go to a movie that reminds us to love the unwanted child?  And yet this is exactly what John is telling us to do.  John is telling us that just as He was, so are we.  Just as Christ lived so shall we live!  Just as Jesus was an agent of love in a loveless world so we are agents of love in a loveless world!

 The Early Christians As Agents of Love

The early Christians, especially in the 2nd and 3rd centuries can easily be described as agents of love in a loveless world.  The ancient world of the 2nd and 3rd centuries was marked with danger from wars, disease, and sickness.  History shows us that catastrophic plagues raged through Europe between the years AD165 and 260.  These plagues killed hundreds of thousands and quite possibly millions of people.  At the height of one epidemic 5,000 people were dying a day in Rome.  One report suggests that 2/3 of the city of Alexandria was killed.  To put this in present day realities imagine if an epidemic hit the city of Newmarket, a population of 70,000; it would only take 14 days in order for every person in this city to be killed.  We can only imagine the catastrophe that would follow.

An epidemic is raging across Alexandria and reports are surging that over 5,000 people are dying each day.  If we are one of the fortunate ones who have not taken sick we can only imagine what are reaction would be: to high tale it out of dodge, out of the contamination area.  Amazingly though, Christians who lived in the city of Alexandria instead of high tailing it out of dodge risked their lives and waded into the horrific maelstrom of death, ministering to the sick and dying in the name of Christ.  The dying pagans took notice.  According to one witness, “Heedless of danger, [the Christians] took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in the name of Christ . . .  Once the plague had passed, countless survivors owed their lives to the followers of Jesus who had nursed them.  And because of this the survivors were never the same again.  And yes, the church grew.[1]  In a world that was loveless because the survivors were caring more for their own survival Christians became agents of love: agents of love to the dying, the sick, the tormented, the hopeless.

These early Christians were living out what true love looks like.  True love, as John tells us is a love that is willing to die for the stranger.  True love is a love that puts the other before the self.  True love is a love that is willing to wade into a deadly situation when all others are fleeing.

 Words For Our Time And Place

Today in the 21st century we have seen what true love looks like.  It is the Manhattan Church of Christ that places a large emphasis on the inner-city children that live daily with drugs, guns and abusive parents.  The Manhattan Church has hired a full-time staff to work with these children, to build and establish a safe camp for the children where they can learn about Jesus Christ.  The Manhattan church models what true love looks like: willing to go the extra mile for the inner-city children who are strangers in their midst, willing to put the other before the self, willing to live with the children in the midst of dangerous situations.

We have seen what true love looks like: Mother Teresa.  Mother Teresa who willingly put the stranger before herself, who willingly went out onto the dirty and slimy streets of Calcutta, India to work with the dying and the desolate; Mother Teresa models for us what true love looks like. 

We have seen what true love looks like when we have seen churches build, not a building that will sit empty six days a week and not a building that will primarily be used  by the church but rather they will build a building that is used for ministry in the name of Jesus seven days a week.

Now we are left to answer what true love looks like in our own situation.  How can we be agents of love to those few individuals who are homeless on the streets of Newmarket?  How can we be agents of love to our aging parents or to the aging seniors?  How can we be agents of love to the teenagers we encounter everyday?  How can we be agents of love to our co-worker who absolutely annoys us to our inmost being?  How can we be agents of love to those we encounter everyday?

 

As John says, “We love because he first loved us.  Those who say, ‘I love God’ yet hates his brother or sister, are liars; for those do not love their brothers or sisters whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.  The commandment we have from God is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.


[1] Darryl Tippens, Pilgrim Heart (Leafwood, 2006), 55-56.

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Published in: on June 12, 2007 at 10:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

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