1 John 4:19-21 & John 15:12-17
Sadhu Sundar Singh, a Christian missionary from India born in 1889 wrote:
Once, as I traveled through the Himalayas, there was a great forest fire. Everyone was frantically trying to fight the fire, but I noticed a group of men standing and looking up into a tree that was about to go up in flames. When I asked them what they were looking at, they pointed up at a nest full of young birds. Above it, the mother bird was circling wildly in the air and calling out warnings to her young ones. There was nothing she or we could do, and soon the flames started climbing up the branches.
As the nest caught fire, we were all amazed to see how the mother bird reacted. Instead of flying away from the flames, she flew down and settled on the nest, covering her little ones with her wings. The next moment, she and her nestlings were burned to ashes. None of us could believe our eyes. I turned to those standing by and said: “We have witnessed a truly marvelous thing. God created that bird with such love and devotion, that she gave her life trying to protect her young. If her small heart was so full of love, how unfathomable must be the love of her Creator. That is the love that brought him down from heaven to become man. That is the love that made him suffer a painful death for our sake.”
Love is not an option in the Christian life. It is the summary of what the Bible teaches. It is the essence of what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus. It is the litmus test of faith—what it means to believe. The Greek word used for love in both our readings this morning is agape. It used 22 times in 1 John 5. It signifies the self-sacrificing love of God in Christ. It is the humble, self-giving, self-sacrificing love God calls us to.
Those of us who have experienced grace and forgiveness in Christ have the best foundation and motivation to share the forgiveness we have received and give grace to all others unconditionally.
None of us loves perfectly. We all struggle with our own insecurities and blind spots. Yet, the more we allow God’s love to fill and influence us, the more loving and Christlike we become. The freedom of the Gospel that we have sung about and will sing about again in a few minutes is freedom not just from sin and its punishment, but the freedom to love others the way God-in-Jesus has loved us.
One of the things I learn from Kasey and from Kasey’s moms is the larger picture of God-in-Christ loving all people unconditionally! Thank you Kasey!
Four times in our readings from the 1 letter of John and the Gospel of John we have the word “command” or “commandment” which comes from the Greek word εντολη. The writer for the Gospel of John is quoting Jesus. Note that the section in our bulletin begins and ends with the command to “love one another.”
Jesus commands us to love one another as He has loved us. He even goes on to define that love. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” He then goes on to say we are His friends. We are not servants, but friends.
Jesus also says He has chosen us and appointed us—He has called us out by name to change the world by how we live and how we love. The fruit that Jesus mentions in our Gospel reading is the outflow of loving each other the way He loves us. His comment about the Father giving whatever we ask in His name is directly connected with the outflow of love in our lives.
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus says this knowing that in just a few days He will lay down His life for us. Knowing that in three days after His crucifixion He would take up His life again—that He would be raised up. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection changes us and empowers us to live our lives in that type of selfless, self-emptying love.
This past week, as we suffered yet another school shooting, we have also read and heard the story of three young men who acted in a selfless, loving way by taking down the shooter.
Kendrick Castillo saw the shooter pull out a gun and dove for the him. His friends Brendan Bialy and Joshua Jones joined him and took down the shooter, wrestling the gun from him. Kendrick died as a result of being shot. Brendan said it all happened so fast they had no time to think. The just acted. Kendrick died a hero.
Jesus calls us to follow Him, to move on the planet, to make a difference by how we relate to others, by how we live. God give us courage to love His way. In Jesus’ name. Amen.