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"Love Lost"

Updated: Apr 29

John cannot forget that on the last night with his disciples, his Lord gave his followers a commandment to love one another. It would have been one thing if Jesus had stressed the need to love each other when their bellies were full and the laughter abundant, when love was already flowing.


[i] “Love is the Only Solution,” from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN
[i] “Love is the Only Solution,” from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN

Psalm 23 and 1 John 3:16-24

April 21, 2024

Dr. Todd R. Wright


The list of things we love is almost endless:

We love our spouses and our siblings; our children and grandchildren.

We love our friends and our neighbors and our coworkers.  

We love puppies and pansies, Pepsi and pepperoni pizza.

Many of you love the Pittsburgh Steelers or the color pink.


We love passionately, with all our hearts, until …

Until our spouse does something that relegates them to sleeping on the couch.

Until our sibling gets more of our parents’ love than seems fair.

Until our children start the terrible twos or the rebellious teenage years.

Until we disagree with our neighbors or coworkers or friends about politics.

Until the puppy chews our favorite shoes or Pepsi endorses something we can’t stand.

Until the team we cheer for has a few losing seasons and breaks our hearts.  


And then love is lost and hate takes the wheel.


And if we’re not careful we end up where Cain did. You remember Cain, right?


Adam and Eve had two boys: Cain, a tiller of the ground, and Abel, a herder of sheep.


When it came time to make an offering to God, Cain gave something. We don’t know what.


But Abel gave the first of his flock, the best... and God was pleased!


Cain sulked and stewed. Then he took his brother out into a field and killed him!


When Abel’s blood called out to God from the ground, Cain was cursed, cut off, and cast out!


 

I mention that story because John did, when he writes to a community that is struggling.


They have lost their love for one another.


Like the siblings, Cain and Abel, the act of worship seems to have led to a split.


John has heard about it and now he is writing with advice.


It is tricky. Once love is lost it is hard for the haters to hear…

hard to hear that they have forgotten the nature of the Lord they are called to imitate;

hard to hear where they have wandered from the path, or caused hurt, or failed to live faithfully;

hard to hear that their siblings might be right or that they should be loved even if they are wrong;

hard to hear that they need to change their behavior – to learn, to stretch, to grow!  


Still, John does not hold back. He tells them what he learned from his Lord: that his love was fully on display when he laid down his life for others.


John cannot forget that on the last night with his disciples, his Lord gave his followers a commandment to love one another. It would have been one thing if Jesus had stressed the need to love each other when their bellies were full and the laughter abundant, when love was already flowing. But the commandment came on the heels of predicting that one of his closest followers would betray him. Confusion galloped around the room like a skittish pony. Blame glinted in the lamp light as the twelve eyed each other. Anger welled up and voices were raised. “Who is it?” John remembered asking. But even though Jesus answered, no one could quite process the information.


Tensions were high … and still Jesus said, love one another!


That scene would stick with John for the rest of his life!


And so he tells his worshipping community to show that same level of love!


 

I’m sure when those words provoked some grumbling on their first reading:

How can we love the ones who have left the community of believers?

How can we love people who have called us names and questioned our honor?

How can we love our enemies?

How can we love those who put the health of the church at risk?

How can we love the people who drain our resources and keep asking for more?

How can we love … when our blood cries out for justice, when our hearts are broken, when we fear, when we want to fight?

How?


 

Dorothy Day once said, “Love is the only solution.”


Could she be right? Not rules. Not guns. Not walls. Not shallow toleration.


John seems to agree.


He says, “We know love, [because our Savior] laid down his life for us.”


And that “us” includes a wide variety of people. Love casts a wide net. It applies to all.


Not just the disciples who didn’t betray or deny or flee.


But the failures too! Maybe especially for them! (For aren’t we all failures?)


Not just the members of this worshipping community who stayed, the ones who agree with us.


But the others too! The ones we call heretics and skeptics … and worse.


Christ’s love should flow through us.


 

And then John goes further.


It is as if he can hear the people listening to his letter objecting that they cannot follow Christ in laying down his life on a cross.


You can almost sense John smiling as he gives another way to lay down one’s life:

He asks. “How does God’s love abide in anyone if they have earthly goods and refuse to help a brother or sister in need?”


Our love needs to be more than words. It needs action!


Fortunately, we have lots of opportunities to practice that sort of love.


I know how generous you are. I have seen it in the form of rolls of toilet paper and backpacks full of school supplies. I have seen it when you assembled blessing bags and clean-up kits for those digging out from flooding mud. I have seen it as you served meals to the hungry and comforted the grieving. I have seen it as you offered your time and skills to help others without any thought to what it costs you. I have seen it when you welcomed a homeless person to worship with us, when you overlooked signs of mental illness and saw only a child of God, when you showed grace to people who tested your patience, when you counted friendship and fellowship as more important than winning an argument. I have seen it!


You are generous with your love, but sometimes love is not easy. Sometimes the demands are more than we are comfortable with. Sometimes they feel risky.


bell hooks writes, “The practice of love offers no place of safety. We risk loss, hurt, pain. We risk being acted upon by forces outside our control.”[ii]


Somewhere John nods his head and smiles. Yes, that is how it is when you lay down your life. You risk all that you have, all that you are. As our Lord did.


And the force acting on you, out of your control, the one that nudges you forward toward enemies, and pushes you to the people on the margins, and tugs at your heart, that’s God – who started this whole love merry-go-round! So jump on and join in! Love on


[i] “Love is the Only Solution,” from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN
[ii] From All About Love: New Visions

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