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Fifth Sunday of Easter Sermon

            I have a personal connection with today’s passage from 1 John.  I don’t expect any of you who attended my wedding to remember this, but I chose the first ten verses of this passage as the second reading for my wedding last year.  Many couples choose 1 Corinthians 13 for their weddings…maybe some of you did…because it has become known as the Love chapter.  But I think this passage could give 1 Corinthians 13 a run for its money.  I’m going to tell you why I intentionally picked this passage…it has relevance for what I’m talking about today.

            One thing I liked so much about this passage was that it reveals a truth that is extremely important to our faith…love is from God…love IS from God.  When my husband Robert and I were getting married, I thought it was important to remind us that our love for each other needs the foundational overflowing fountain of God’s love as its source.  1 John reminds us that it is God’s love that comes first…God chose, first, to love us.  That wasn’t as easy as it sounds because we can be so unlovable, we can do such horrible things to each other, we can find so many other interests that we put before our love of God.  But God’s love was not waiting upon our love to come first…God loved us first and sent Jesus, that we might live through him.

            I liked that reminder as I headed into the covenant of marriage.  It was helpful to remember that even God recognized that we were never going to live up to God’s expectations, but God chose to love us anyway.  It was helpful to hear that only God has ever loved perfectly…not me, not my husband, not anyone else at the wedding nor anyone else in the world.  Love originates with God, and God expresses that love toward us.

            That doesn’t mean we can’t love or shouldn’t love…in 1 John it means we will love, we must love.  But we cannot love all on our own…it requires our experience of God’s love for us.  It is the love that God has poured on our lives that makes it possible to love one another.  God’s love is like this tent that we dwell in, that we live in every day…it is something we have every minute of our lives.  Our connection to that love allows us to love one another.  As a result of that love, we are also compelled to love one another.

            This seemed to me like an important message to hear on my wedding day.  It was a great reminder that God is really the source of all love.  It also reminded us that as recipients of God’s love, we also became givers of God’s love.  This was a very helpful message for the day that we pledged to love one another for the rest of our lives.  But all of this teaching on love is just as appropriate and important for all of us as we live out our faith every day, particularly as we face the challenges of appreciating and living out God’s love in the messed up world in which we live.

            One challenge to understanding this teaching today is the repetition of the word love in this passage.  For us, love can be a loaded word…but it can also be a meaningless word.  We have all kinds of thoughts about the word love…we “love” a lot of people…we “love” a lot of things.  We love Sophia Vegaro or George Clooney, we love the Indians or Grey’s Anatomy but what kind of impact does that love have on these people?  We love inanimate objects…our house, our car, using FaceTime, the stained glass window, the new movie that was released last night, the Oreo Blizzard at Dairy Queen.  How powerful can love be in these cases? 

            Love has also been connected with an internal feeling, something within us, affection felt toward someone who is close to us, someone who is good to us.  Love has become a word that describes how we feel, and it is very difficult to change how we feel.  How do we describe and understand the “feeling” of love…how do we figure out how the “feeling” of love develops?

            The problem is that this love that is described in 1 John is NOT just a feeling.  Look at verse 9:  God revealed God’s love to us by sending God’s Son…God’s Son revealed God’s love for us by being the atoning sacrifice for us...in other words, by dying for us so that we may have life and love through him.  God had this love for us but we would never have known it unless God revealed it through some action, which God did when God sent Jesus.  In this case, love is not just a feeling of affection…it is seeing people in need of something, experiencing real concern for them and being compelled to do something to help them. Rather than the word love, a better word might be compassion.

        God demonstrated compassion by seeing us in our sin, experiencing real concern for the ways in which sin ruins our lives and sending Jesus to save us.  Since God had compassion on us, we are compelled to have compassion toward one another…to see when someone is struggling with a need, to have real concern for them, to be compelled to do something to help.  More than just a feeling of warm fuzzies, this is a genuine concern for the life of others.

            When we talk about loving others, we often believe that the first step is to have some feeling of affection inside us to help us act in a loving way.  But when we talk about having compassion, we focus a little less on our feelings and a little more on the other person’s situation.  We may not feel love toward someone we don’t know, a complete stranger or someone we view as an enemy.  But by the grace of God we can experience compassion toward someone who grew up without knowing a parents’ love or was imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit or who has suffered domestic abuse and feels powerless. 

            Compassion pushes us outside of the confines of love as a feeling, outside the confines of people who we know, who have been good to us, who will love us in return…it pushes us to the people who are struggling in life.  It pushes us to see them, to listen to them, to walk with them for a little while, trying to understand and eventually working together.  This love thing is a lot more complicated when it’s not just a feeling…compassion takes time and effort…compassion will probably change our lives, even as we seek to change the lives of others.

            Maybe that is why it is easier for us to have compassion in the case of sending money to the earthquake victims in Nepal than it is to have compassion for those who are protesting in Baltimore, New York City and Ferguson.  We feel bad for those in Nepal, having lost family and homes, wiping out almost everything, so of course we will without question send donations overseas to help support them.  That is great…that is compassion…but we will experience no real impact on anything but our checkbooks.  When it comes to the concerns about racism closer to home, however, we have a lot more trouble seeing what the problem is, seeing who is suffering, understanding what the commotion is all about.

            Compassion in this case will require more from us.  It will require us to listen to stories that are nothing like our own experience.  It will require us to look at the situation from many different perspectives.  It will require us to not pass judgment quickly because passing judgment will not solve anything.  It requires us to intentionally tune in to an experience that is nothing like our own and accept the fact that just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  And this is where compassion, where love becomes difficult. 

            But that is when you suddenly understand that the love and compassion of God are so important, particularly for those times when love and compassion are difficult.  It is only by the strength of God’s love and compassion that we continue forward to wrestle with the difficult issues, continuing to listen, trying to understand, willing to see what people who are different from us are going through.  And yes, that wrestling may just change your perspective, change something inside you.  But what I’ve learned about those kinds of changes, as difficult as they may be, is that they allow our understanding of God’s love, God’s compassion to growing within and that is how the Spirit grows our capacity to live out love and compassion.  Amen.


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