5/6/12, Love One Another

 Acts 9:26-31,  I John 3:16-24, John 15:1-8


This is the fifth Sunday of Easter in the year 2012.  Have you noticed that during  the weeks of the Easter season in Year B, all the second lectionary readings have been from the first letter of John?  Today I’m going to depart from the usual emphasis on the gospel reading to pay attention to the importance of this short epistle reading. Its message is an important one for us to consider today as many of us desire to remain strong in our faith even as we struggle with our connection to the institutional church.

One of my commentaries notes that the First Letter of John was written to encourage believers to embrace the light of God’s truth and love in a time of church conflict.  Leaders of the church were of divided opinion concerning their understanding of the nature of Jesus.  Like issues of doctrine or church law today, such conflict created much confusion about what was central and nonnegotiable to the Christian faith.  John’s pastoral writing urges believers to remain simply faithful to what they have experienced in Christ.   

What was it that was experienced in Christ? Let’s look back over the Easter season readings from I John and notice the common theme in all of them:

Week 2.  The love of God consists of this: that we keep God’s commandments, and these commandments are not burdensome.

Week 3. We can be sure that we know God only by keeping the commandments.  When anyone does obey God’s Word, God’s love comes to perfection in that person.

Week 4. See what love Abba God has lavished on us in letting us be called God’s children.  Yet that is in fact, what we are.  We know that when it comes to light, we will be like God, for we will see God as God really is.

Week 5.  The commandments are that we believe in the name of our God’s own, Jesus Christ, and that we love one another as we were told to do.  Those who keep these commandments live in God and God lives in them.

Week 6.  Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God.  Everyone who loves is begotten of God and has knowledge of God.  You who do not love have known nothing of God, for God is love. 

Anyone who reads this little book towards the end of the Bible will be impressed by its continuing emphasis on love as the defining mark of those who are living out the faith Christ modeled.  The Gospel reading for next week, from the 17th chapter of John, fully explicates Jesus’ final teaching: “This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you.  There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  I tell you all this that my joy may be yours and your joy may be complete.”

The point to be seen in all this is simple.  Love apparently does not consist in blind obedience to rules that have been established by human authority. Jesus was a prime example of this kind of love.  He refused to accommodate the religious authorities of his day when their actions did not exhibit compassionate care for others.  True love consists in the willingness to sacrifice one’s own comfort and well-being for the sake of another.  Jesus was a prime example of this kind of love.  He was willing to yield every last bit of his own life in order to prove the lengths to which love will go for another. 

 

Years ago I head this story about a pastor who ended up writing an influential book called Disciple.  For many years Juan Carlos Ortiz was the leader of the largest evangelical church in Buenos Aires,  Argentina.  One Sunday he had prepared a sermon on ‘loving one another’. He had spent hours on this sermon and prayed over it.   But as he got up from his chair to preach, the Spirit spoke to him.

"How many sermons have you preached on this theme of loving one another?"  "I don't know Lord, maybe a dozen or more." "And how many times have you exhorted the congregation in other sermons to love one another?" "I don't know Lord, maybe a dozen or more also." “Have they done any good?”

Pastor Ortiz thought to himself, "I have preached dozens of sermons on love. What good have they done? This congregation still spends more time looking after their own interests than the interests of others. They barely know one another. They are not friends with each other. They barely talk to one another after the church service."

The  congregation waited for him to preach. Pastor Ortiz began his sermon, "Love one another." 

He then went and sat down. People looked at each other thinking that they had missed something. They were used to hearing a sermon of nearly an hour, not 3 seconds. The congregation did not know what to do. After what seemed like an eternity, Juan Carlos walked back to the pulpit. Again he said, "Love one another," and then he sat down.

Some began to murmur. No one knew what to do. Pastor Ortiz again walked to the pulpit. For the third time he said, "Love one another". Then he returned to his chair behind the pulpit.

By now there was a restlessness stirring. What did their Pastor mean? Finally, an elder stood up and spoke. He said, "I think that I understand what Pastor Ortiz means. He wants me to love you." (Pointing to someone in the pew behind him) "But how can I love you, when I do not know you." With that, he introduced himself and began to meet the people behind him.

 Others got up from their pews and introduced themselves to people they had seen, but not met. Phone numbers were exchanged.  Dinner invitations extended. Arrangements were made for financial assistance. Before the service ended, someone raised enough money for bus tickets so a family could return to their village. Another man arranged employment for a man out of work and someone offered an apartment to a homeless family. The most powerful and most remembered sermon Juan Carlos Ortiz  ever preached was just three words. 

Love is what we do more than what we say. People, the word from God in this Easter season is “Love one another.”


By Sandi DeMaster