It the Fourth Sunday of Easter, like the very first disciples we have gathered together on the first day of the week to be with our family of faith. Why? There are certainly a lot of other places we could be this morning. But here we are. We are here, together as a community of faith, because like the very first disciples, we have seen the risen Lord!
Somewhere along the way, probably during some of our weakest moments, those moments of pain and despair, those moments of great anxiety and fear, those moments of hunger and thirst, when we needed him the most, the risen Christ showed up. He inexplicably came into our lives, stood in our presence, and filled us with a grace greater than our sin and a peace greater than our understanding.
So here we are, gathered together on this first day of the week, assembled in this place as those who have seen the risen Christ, as those who have experienced the marks of his suffering. We’re here because we believe in Easter. We believe in the wonderful good news that Christ is alive and, even more than that, he is alive for us.
So here we are. Now the question is: what are we supposed to do? How are we to live as Easter people?
There is no more direct answer to this important question than the answer that is found in the book we call 1 John.
When I was in seminary, I had to take two semesters of Biblical Greek and at least one semester of Hebrew. In my first year of Greek, the first book of the New Testament that our professor had us to translate was 1 John.
Why 1 John? Because in all the New Testament, the Greek in 1 John is the most simple and direct. There are no complex, convoluted arguments, no long clauses or other linguistic difficulties that make the translation of some of the other New Testament books a nightmare. 1 John is simple and to the point. In fact, I can sum up the entire book in basically three words: “Love One Another.”
Three of the most simple, most direct, but at the same time, most difficult and complex words ever put together in one command. Yet, this is how God expects believers in the risen Christ to respond to Easter.
Love one another. It is difficult and complex because the “one another” we are supposed to love is not just our friends and family, but also those who have misused and mistreated us. We are commanded to love those who look, believe, behave, and live differently than we.
So, although we have this direct commandment to love one another, we still think, “Surely God must have meant something else.” For it really doesn’t make any sense. We don’t even think it is possible. And let’s face it. There are just some people in this world that are impossible to love.
We can understand God saying something like, “You know, in this fragmented world of sinners, let us learn to live with each other.” Now that’s a good commandment! Despite our differences, let’s just get along! Live and let live.
What about “Be tolerant.” I like that commandment. I don’t have to like him, but I guess I can somehow tolerate him. I suppose I can in someway put up with her.
What about “love the sinner and hate the sin.” Ooh, that’s a good one! I can love ‘em, and at the same time, I can hate everything about them! I am pretty sure I can handle that.
How about, “Let bygones be bygones.” I like that. We’ve got to move on. We can’t nurture our resentment forever. It’s not healthy. We need to get over it. Although that is sometimes easier said than done, I think I can obey that commandment.
But the scriptures say considerably more than that. “Love one another.” And here in 1 John, it is a direct command.
Unable to obey this command, many today have reduced our faith to some sort of selfish, personal and private spirituality. People are fond of calling themselves “spiritual.” And when they say they love one another, I suspect they are only talking in some spiritual sense that is never fleshed out in a tangible way. 1 John reminds us that we need to recover a love that compels us to physically lay down our lives for one another, never refusing to help a brother or sister we see in need. We need to love, not in word or speech by in truth and action.
Rev. Dr. William Barber, puts it this way: “If you say you are full of the Holy Spirit, but if your spirit doesn’t lead you to speak up against injustices and oppression, then your spirit is suspect.”
Yesterday, I counseled a couple planning getting married. I pointed out that nowhere in the ceremony will the minister ever ask you if you are “in love with one another.” As if love is some kind of spiritual thing. No, you will be asked, “Will you love? Do you promise to love?” Because love is not a feeling. Love is action.
This summer, I will celebrate the 30-year anniversary of the day that I promised before God and a congregation to love Lori. Thirty years. That’s a lot of years. That’s a long time. And I know, so before she says it, I’ll say it for her—it’s been even longer for Lori.
When you really love another, you have this wonderful capacity to always look at best that is in that another. I know Lori does that with me, or she wouldn’t be with me today. When I do all those things that annoy her, that get on her last nerve, she somehow has the ability to look past it. And in so doing, my weaknesses, my quirks, and all of my shortcomings grow small, while my virtues, the few that I have, grow large. That is love.
Love necessitates that no matter what the other has done to disappoint us or hurt us, we focus on the positives. Love compels us to look for mitigating circumstances or to devise strategies whereby we earnestly attempt to see the other in the very best light.
If another hurts us, love compels us to ask ourselves questions like, “I wonder what’s going on in his or her life that made him or her treat me this way?” or “I have certain ways about me that antagonize others. I wonder how I antagonized him?” or “I have gotten a lot of good breaks in my life. I wonder what bad breaks she got that makes her view me in this way?”
Because once we decide that love is not an option, once a war begins, once we decide that we can’t look past another’s shortcomings, we free ourselves to demonize the other. In war, all moral bets are off. Once the shooting starts, we free ourselves to only see the worst in the other. You know the old saying? In war, we actually kill our enemies twice. First, we kill any shred of humanity in them, and then we kill them with bullets.
But First John tells us to love one another. This means that when we are wronged, all moral bets are not called off. In fact, according to this ethic, it is precisely when we are wronged that the true moral test begins. Elsewhere, the scriptures remind us that if we love those who show love to us, what is that?
Why are we commanded to love this way? Why does Easter demand such a thing?
Because when the risen Christ showed up, when he came to us offering us a grace greater than our sin and a peace greater than our understanding, we realized that although we had betrayed, denied and abandoned God, God, in Christ, loves us.
God not only puts up with us, gets along with us, tolerates us, but God loves us. God doesn’t love us and hate our sin, because love doesn’t keep account of our wrong doings. God looks past our failures. God sees the very best that is about us, and then calls that best that is within us all to come out. God loves us, and therefore commands us to love one another. “If I have loved you, then you should love others.”
And that’s exactly what we’re going to do!
When they mistreat us, we’re going to love ’em.
When they use us, we’re going to love ’em.
When they hate us, we’re going to love ’em.
When they are unlovable, we’re going to love ’em.
When they belong to another faith, we’re going to love ’em.
When they have no faith, we’re going to love ’em.
When they have polar opposite political views, we’re going to love ’em.
When their sexuality differs from ours, we’re going to love ’em.
When they are differently abled, we’re going to love ’em.
When their race, ethnicity, language or citizenship differ from ours, we’re going to love ’em.
When they’re sick, we’re going to love ’em.
When they’re hungry, we’re going to love ’em.
When they’re afraid, we’re going to love ’em.
When they’re lonely, we’re going to love ’em.
For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, we’re going to love ’em, because we have seen the risen Lord. We’re going to love ’em, because we believe in Easter. We’re going to love ’em because we’ve experienced a divine, unconditional love— A love that demands us, compels us, and commands us to love one another in truth and in action. Let us pray together.
O God, teach us how to love as you have loved us. Teach us to love the unloved and the unlovable. Teach us to see others as you see them; teach us to see ourselves in the light of your forgiving, forbearing love. In the name of the risen Christ we pray. Amen.
Invitation to the table
As we come to these moments of communion, none of us is “pure and blameless.” But because of the grace, love, and forgiveness of Jesus lavishly showered on each one of us, we can come to the table of the Lord without fear or hesitation, trusting that God’s grace revealed in Jesus creates a welcome space for all to come, confessing and trusting in Jesus as Lord and Savior.