Love Lives: Week 4
We continue our celebration of the resurrection of the Lord on this fourth Sunday of Easter. We’re also in the fourth week of our current message series for the Easter season: Love Lives.
Today we will look at two aspects of love that seem to be in opposition to each other, but actually go hand in hand. They form a double-edged sword of love. To really love people we need both these aspects of love we’re going to be discussing. One of them is highly valued in our culture and the other I’d argue isn’t.
To help us out in our reflection, let’s look at the first letter of John.
John deliberately draws attention to a truth that is an incredible truth. God has loved us so much that He grants us this special status, not as servants, but as sons and daughters.
Now, if you’ve grown up in the church, that might not be all that groundbreaking to you because you were taught from the time you were a child that God is Father and that’s just how you think of Him. But this revelation really does make Christianity stand apart from every other faith or religion in the history of the world.
The pagan gods of the ancient world didn’t love human beings. They used them for their own purposes. According to their own mythology, they used and abused people. For Muslims who are people of amazing faith, the idea of calling God Father would be considered irreverent. Muslims acknowledge that we serve God, we honor God, but they would never presume a familial relationship with Him. And even for the Jewish people, our revered forebearers in faith, while God is understood to hold a father-like role, He’s never addressed that way.
And the term that Jesus instructed us to use in prayer is actually entirely informal and intimate, Abba, Papa, Daddy, really amazing level of intimacy, a childlike level of intimacy that God invites us into. And what do we do to earn that relationship with God? What have we done that makes us so special we get to call God Papa? Nothing, absolutely nothing at all.
We’re only favored in this way because of the cross of Christ. And we embraced this favor by believing in the cross of Christ, and what Christ did for us there. And that’s the first half of this love that John teaches about, God loves us and accepts us who we are, as we are, before we do anything for Him. You don’t have to clean up your act or start going to church. There are no conditions. It’s unconditional, immediate and inexhaustible.
Historically, this was a counter-cultural message. It’s really not anymore. Our culture actually promotes and understands this aspect of love. Our society largely promotes and understands accepting people, whoever they are, no matter what. And that’s as it should be. And as a church, we want to reflect this kind of love. That’s why we have greeters. They’re communicating welcome and acceptance to every single person who sets foot on our campus.
A basic expression of love is acceptance, but that’s just one side of that two-edged sword I mentioned. There’s another dimension to love that is equally important.
God loves us enough to accept who we are, where we are, as we are, but He loves us too much to leave us where we are, as we are, who we are. He wants more. God loves us so much that He wants to fashion us into the image of His son. Everyone who understands that God loves us understands that He’s not satisfied with us. He’s not satisfied with our faults, failures, imperfections, insecurities, and all the rest. He wants us to cooperate with His grace to grow, to grow beyond our greed, our anger, our jealousy, and everything that interferes with the best version of ourselves.
This is a part of love our culture, even church people, doesn’t always get, which makes it more challenging for us. Love accepts people where they are, but it also seeks to positively influence them, to challenge, and change them. In fact, one builds on the other. Acceptance opens the door to influence. If you want to influence me, show me that you accept me first, then your influence is going to have a lot more power.
Our instinct, my instinct for sure, is to mind my own business and turn a blind eye on any kind of problems or challenges in other people. Sure, there can be a danger of getting too much into other people’s business, of becoming nosy, but love doesn’t keep quiet when it sees someone who needs to be challenged to grow. Love is patient with people and people’s faults for sure, but it also helps people beyond that, to the better person they can be.
Somewhere around the age of reason, we come to the false conclusion that we can either tell the truth or keep a relationship, but we can’t do both. The reality is that when you hold back truth that people need to hear, you weaken intimacy. It’s a disservice to the relationship.
You might be thinking, well, I don’t care. I’m not going to do that. That’s just not me. I’ve tried it before, and it hasn’t worked out. It’s blown up in my face. People have gotten angry with me and I’m just going to mind my own business.
I understand that perspective. And I understand that experience for sure, but consider what happened and why. Maybe it blew up in your face because you weren’t very good at it. Maybe it blew up in your face because your timing was off, or you did it out of anger and frustration. Lots of times we don’t say anything in our anger and our frustration builds. And then we say something and that’s the exact time when we shouldn’t say anything.
Maybe you came on too strong. If you aren’t going to tell the truth to someone, then don’t lie to yourself and say it’s because you don’t want to upset them. Be honest, acknowledge. I don’t like conflict. I’m afraid. The first step toward loving in this way is being honest with yourself. Then the second step is being honest with others.
As a church, we want to reflect this kind of love too. It’s why we encourage everybody to find a ministry because in those experiences, you’re going to be stepping outside of your comfort zone and you’re going to be growing too. That’s why we believe so strongly in the sacrament of confession. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is only possible because we know God loves us and accepts us, but that He doesn’t want to leave us in the things we are confessing.
In his gospel, John elsewhere puts it this way. He said, “Jesus Christ came to us full of grace and truth.” Full of grace and truth, both together, that’s Christ. Jesus accepted people for who they are, that’s the grace part. But He loved them enough to challenge them to change and grow, that’s the truth part.
And that’s the pattern we see over and over again in the gospels, Jesus would accept people where they were no matter what, but then challenge them to grow. He wouldn’t allow people to deceive themselves into thinking that they didn’t have any faults or flaws or room to grow. Love accepts, but love challenges, and love challenges only after it accepts.
In May, we plan to start a new round of 3 Conversations. For those who have not heard of it, 3 Conversations is a three week small group in which we are challenged to share our faith. If you haven’t been a part of our 3 Conversations, we want to challenge you to be a part of one this time around. Or if you have done it and would like to do it again, please invite a friend! You can sign up by going to our website or with a member of our staff in the entryway as you leave.
Through 3 Conversations we have the opportunity to meet each other where we are by praying together and sharing how God is working in our lives. We also share and are challenged to see if and how we are ministering to the Lord and each other.
Even though we do these conversations over three weeks, we hope that it will become a part of the culture of our parish. We want all of us to begin to pray with one another, to share your story, and to see your life as a part of the work that God is doing here on earth to bring people into His Kingdom. It’s in these conversations that we can share God’s love and challenge ourselves to love like He does.