Home > Trinity 1-5 > Love as a State of Being. Trinity 1, 2016. 1 John 4:16-21

Love as a State of Being. Trinity 1, 2016. 1 John 4:16-21


jesus and the adulteress brueghelFirst Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

1 John 4:16-21

May 29, 2016

“Love as a State of Being”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

There is a story that has stuck with me my whole life. It wasn’t one I read in college when I was supposed to be reading “great literature”. I think it must have been in grade school. It was called “The Gift of the Magi” by a writer named O. Henry.

 

It starts out with a young married woman who is holding a dollar and eighty-seven cents in her hand in small change. She is crying because this is all she has been able to save for months. Now it’s Christmas Eve and she wants to buy her husband a present, but she can’t get anything decent for one dollar and eighty-seven cents.

 

She and her husband are poor, and they have two things to their name that are valuable. One is her husband’s gold watch, an heirloom that has been passed down from his grandfather. The other is her long brown hair.

 

Suddenly she has an idea. She goes out and sells her hair. The lady who cuts it gives her twenty dollars. With that twenty dollars she goes out and buys a platinum watch chain for her husband’s heirloom watch.

 

She goes home, curls her now short hair, and starts making dinner. Her husband comes home and stands by the door staring at her, not able to say anything. When she finally gets him to talk again, he hands her a package. She opens it up to find a set of beautiful tortoise-shell combs that she had admired in a shop window.

 

She tells him that her hair will grow back and then is excited to give him her present. She pulls the watch-chain out of her pocket and says, “Now you’ll have to check the time every ten minutes, don’t you think?” And her husband sits down on the couch, laughs, and tells her that he sold his watch so that he could buy her the combs.

 

The story loses something when I tell it again. But you see its point. The husband and wife love each other so much that they each sell their most precious possession to buy a gift for each other. Of course the gifts are useless, because they are meant to go with the other person’s prized possession—the combs for the wife’s now shorn hair, the chain for the husband’s hocked watch. But the point is that they have something worth more than those possessions. They have their love—a love that is willing to give up everything to give the other person joy.

 

Many of us who are older probably have a hard time hearing this story without closing our hearts. The longer you live, the more you realize how rare this kind of love is and how, even when you have it, it passes away. People change. Love often dies. Promises are broken. And even when it doesn’t, we lose those who have loved us and whom we have loved. So many of us close up our hearts to love. We become very skeptical about love. While it is wise to be careful to whom you open your heart, it is also dangerous to shut it too tightly.

 

Why? Because love and life itself are connected. Self-giving love is not a fairy tale for Christians. For us, it’s everything. “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:16)

 

But have you heard the criticism that people frequently bring against Christians? It goes something like this: “Jesus taught that we should love one another. But Christians love so little. They are some of the most judgmental, unloving people in the world.”

 

Do the critics of Christianity have a point when they say that Christians are unloving? I think they do.

 

We often forget that the ten commandments can be summarized in a single word—love. What does God demand of the world in the ten commandments? He demands love. He commands that we love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and that we love our neighbor as ourselves. So it is not simply that God commands that you worship no false gods; He commands that you love Him above all things.

 

In a way it seems like a strange thing for God to do—to command that you love. Does anyone ever love because he is commanded to do so?

 

Yet that is what God says in the ten commandments. He commands us to love Him and our neighbor—not just a little bit, but Him with our whole hearts and our neighbors as ourselves. And to these commandments He adds a threat—whoever breaks these commandments He will punish in this life, in death and in eternal damnation.

 

The commandment to love can be the most terrifying thing on earth. Anyone who seriously tries to love God and his neighbor will quickly experience how unloving he is. How much self-love and selfishness is in his heart. And if he believes he has to eradicate that selfishness to be saved, he will easily become what all the critics of Christianity say Christians are like. He will become fearful. He will do a lot of deeds that appear loving and spiritual not out of love for his neighbor but to prove to himself and others that he has love in his heart and is saved. He may convince himself and become self-righteous. Or he may inwardly struggle with despair. But either way peace—and real love—will elude him.

 

In the Epistle for this Sunday St. John is describing a different reality than the commandment to love. He is talking about the love of God for us.

 

  1. Henry’s story described the love of a married couple in which both people freely gave up their treasures to give joy to the other one. When they did this, were they forced into it? Did they do it because they were scared the other one would leave if they didn’t? Were they sad and grieving over what they lost for the other person?

 

No, the only crying in the story was the wife’s when she thought she didn’t have anything to give to her husband. Both sacrificed their treasures freely and confidently. They didn’t do it to make the other person stay or manipulate each other, but simply to give the other person joy. That’s the way real love works.

 

St. John says this kind of love is not a fairy tale. It is the very reality of our lives as Christians. “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.” (1 John 4:16)

 

God loves us. That is the foundation of our lives as Christians. We know His love; we believe in it; we trust it.

 

How do we come to know and believe in that love? We come to know and believe that God loves us personally through the Gospel that is preached to us. When He proclaims that He so loved us—each one, individually—that His Son became flesh and lived among us. That His Son fulfilled the commandments to love in our place, so that His obedience to the law is counted to us. When He proclaims that His Son took our sins and their guilt as His own and was condemned for them on the cross by God.

 

We come to know and trust God’s love for us by hearing Him proclaim His love to us. Then we come to His table to eat and drink His body and blood as the pledge of His love and our redemption.

 

Believing that God has this kind of love for us, we are free. We have a different relationship to God. We no longer have to live in fear that if we don’t do what He wants He won’t love us anymore. We rely on His love for us, and it makes us bold and confident.

 

The love of God drives out our fear. Fear, John says, has to do with punishment. Are we afraid of God’s judgment, of His punishment? Then we are not yet perfect and complete in His love. We are still thinking, in some way, that His love depends on our performance, that He loves us in response to our love of Him and our neighbor. But the Gospel doesn’t say that. It tells us that His love came first. As one of the confirmands’ confirmation verse puts it: While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8) He died for the ungodly—for us, while we were still weak and powerless to do anything good. He shows His love for us by dying for us while we were still in our sins. As our faith in this fact of God’s love for us grows, our fear of God’s wrath decreases. And the way that our faith grows is not that we try harder to believe it. Rather we listen to His Word; we hear it preached, we read it, we meditate on its promises.

 

The result of knowing and believing in God’s love for us is that the Law of God begins to be fulfilled in us. That is to say—we love. “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

 

We don’t come to God with the capacity to love other people or Him. When the law throws us to our knees, we don’t love Him or other people. Even as Christians, the law exposes our criminal lack of love toward God and others.

 

Then, when we are on our knees, God proclaims the Gospel. Without any love in us that could please Him, He tells us, “I love you. In place of your lovelessness, I give you the passion of my Son, hanging on the cross out of perfect love for me and the whole world. I give you His righteousness as a robe to put on over your sins. I love you and I don’t count any of your sins as your own.”

 

When we receive this love and realize that this kind of self-giving love is no fairy tale, but that it is the kind of love that God has for us, it changes us. Now we have the door of our hearts open to God’s love. And if the door is open to God, it is open to other people as well.

 

“There is no fear in love.” The couple in O. Henry’s story was not afraid. They took risks with each other. They didn’t worry about losing their treasured possessions because they knew when those were gone they had something worth more that they relied on to sustain them. They were confident of each other’s love and it made them bold and fearless.

 

God’s love does this in us. When we receive it, we no longer live in fear that God will stop loving us. So we become free not only to love Him but to love the people around us. We can risk loving others and not having them love us in return.

 

We do this because love for other people is the way we show our love for God. You can’t buy God combs or a watch-chain. He doesn’t need those things. We have nothing to give to God that He didn’t give to us first.

 

But our brother does need what we have. He needs a kind word. He needs someone to listen to him. He needs our forgiveness and he needs to know that he is valued even though he does things wrong. Above all he needs to know that God loves him. He needs to hear that from us not just because it is our duty to tell him. He also needs to see that the love of God that we talk about is also mirrored in us—that we love the people whom God loves.

 

That’s why John tells us “he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20) If we close our hearts against our brother who needs our love, even when he doesn’t want it or doesn’t deserve it, we also are closing our hearts against God’s love for us.

When we consider how much love requires of us, we are liable to be overwhelmed. You see what a powerful thing love is in the story I told. Because of love the husband and wife gave up the best things they had. Love made them find their joy in the other’s happiness. And because of love they did not find this to be a burden. They sacrificed gladly. They considered it a joy.

 

When we look at what love requires of us from the outside, it seems like an impossible burden. It’s one thing to love your children like this, or your parents, or your spouse. But the person in the church who injures you? Or the person outside the church who is attacking everything we consider good and right? How can we love them like this, especially when we know that they will view this love as weakness and use it as an opportunity to harm us?

 

No, that won’t work. It is too much for us, because love is not native to our hearts. How can we love them?

 

John tells us. “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 John 4:16) We don’t try to love these people on our own. We abide, we remain, in the love God has for us. God’s love for us comes to us in the Gospel and the sacraments. We receive His love by listening to the Gospel and not shutting our hearts against it.

 

We listen to Him tell us the story of Jesus who hung pierced and cursed on the cross, bearing the threats God makes against the loveless, making us whole. We remember and believe His promise in Baptism, where He claimed us and snatched us from the death of sin into life with Him. He trust His declaration of forgiveness in the absolution. We eat His body and drink His blood believing God’s pledge that by it our sins are forgiven.

 

Abiding in His Word and Sacraments by faith, we abide in God’s love. It is sincere. It doesn’t seek itself. It has no other goal than our joy and salvation. It transforms us so that we become like God, who is love.

 

O grant that nothing in my soul

May dwell, but Thy pure love alone;

Oh, may Thy love possess me whole,

My joy, my treasure, and my crown!

All coldness from my heart remove;

My every act, word, thought be love. LSB 683 stanza 2

 

The peace of God which passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

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