We are continuing our sermon series, Love Is the Answer, as we go through John’s first letter, a book that talks

extensively about love. Last week, we learned about the level of love that God has for us. We have become children

of God! That is a high honor, but before we get too prideful about that, we have to remember that we are children

of God. No matter our age or how long we have been followers of Jesus, God will always think of

us as children, always learning and growing.

 

This week we are learning more about what love looks like when we practice it. Yes, I said practice. Sometimes

love can be easy when it’s for someone we’re related to, someone we are drawn to, someone with whom we have

a lot in common, someone who agrees with our worldview. How many people are there out there that honestly

fit in that category compared with the population of the whole world? Probably a miniscule percentage.

 

Often love can be hard, even when it is with friends and family who are making decisions that we don’t understand,

we think are going in the wrong, or they are doing things that are hurtful to us. That’s with people we already like.

What about people we don’t know or people we don’t like, people who are doing things that we don’t understand

or think are harmful? That’s when it can be hardest to love.

 

Today’s Scripture addresses what love looks like when we put it into practice.

 

 1 John 3:16-24 (NIV)

     16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our

lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need

but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with

words or speech but with actions and in truth.

     19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence:

 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him

anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command:

to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one

who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us:

We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

 

The first verse of our Scripture today has a very interesting connection to another verse in the Bible. “16 This is how

we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers

and sisters.” It is a very high bar. We are going to look at different ways that we can “lay down our lives for our

brothers and sisters,” but I want to draw your attention to the location of this verse. It is 1 John 3:16, and it has a

very interesting connection to another John 3:16. It is going to help us today. The other John 3:16 is a very famous

verse, but it comes from the Gospel of John.

 

 

 “16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish

but have eternal life.

There is so much that we can learn about love from just those two verses, but there is one thing that I want to draw

your attention to today. It is telling us what kind of word love is. For the author’s purposes it is not this feeling that

makes our heart go pitter pat. It is action. Love is Jesus taking the action of laying down his life for us. God loves by

giving, giving us what we cannot obtain for ourselves so that we might have eternal life.

 

Eternal life is another one of those terms that we use in the church a lot that a lot.  May think we know what it

means, but do we? What do you suppose it means? Do you think of it as the time after we die? [Show of hands.]

We might think of it as the time when this life ends, we enter a new plane of existence. We get a new body that

won’t age or decay. We get to, quote unquote, “be with the Lord,” but isn’t the Lord already with us?

 

We are in the Easter season. We live in Resurrection time. We know that Jesus was raised on a Sunday. Sunday

is the first day of the week from a biblical perspective. When know this from Genesis, where there is a poetical

description of the creation of the world.

 

On the first day, God created the heavens and the earth. He said, “Let there be light.” God separated the light from

the dark. “And there was evening and there was morning — the first day.” (Gen 1:1-5) And creation keeps

happening on each successive day for six days, and God pronounced it all very good. Then on the seventh day,

the Sabbath, God rested. So much of the Bible is centered on this cycle.

 

Now, move forward to Jesus’ crucifixion. After Jesus was crucified, he was placed in the tomb before the seventh

day, the Sabbath, began, and there he stayed. And on the eighth day, he rose. The eighth-day, the first day of the

new creation, the day that eternal life began for those in Christ Jesus. For those who live this life of love that is

described in our scripture passage today, eternal life has already. We have left our old life behind. As the Apostle

Paul would put it, with Jesus’ death, we have died to death. When he was raise, we were raised with him into this

new life, that is the real life, and it is indestructible.

 

What does that life look like? It is a life where love is not merely some transitory passing feeling. Love is a verb.

Love is action. God loved us by sending Jesus. Jesus loved by giving his life for us. In the same way, John is

telling us that we love by doing.

 

One of my favorite stories about this comes from Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective

People. He recounts an interaction that he has with a man at one of his conferences. The man is afraid that his

second marriage is falling apart. Why? Because he doesn’t feel the love for his wife that he used to. Covey’s

advice, love her. The man is confused.

 

“Didn’t you hear what I just said? I don’t love her anymore.”

 

Covey continues to insist that the man love his wife. He goes on to explain that he is not insisting that the man

manufacture feelings for this woman, but that he do loving things for her. If he does this, the tender feelings may

return.

 

I see this kind of love expressed in this congregation all the time. I might embarrass some people as I share just

some of the examples, but trust me. You will live through it. Last year, when Gary went to Sharon’s house in

Enterprise to get the yard under control, that was love. When so many people recently provided food for

Katherine as she is recovering from her concussion, providing rides to appointments, even respecting her needs

for quiet and rest during her recovery, that is love. When you offer a sympathetic ear to someone in crisis, provide

food and clothing to people in need, that is love. When you stand up and advocate for someone that cannot speak

for themselves, that is love.

 

Allowing yourself to be killed or martyred is the most extreme form of loving of laying one’s life down, but a

person can do this in other ways, namely to change from being most concerned for our own needs and focusing

on the needs of someone else.

 

Jesus tells us that we should love our enemies and pray for those who curse us, to do good for those who hate

you. (Mt 5:44) Have you ever genuinely tried doing that? It is challenging to say the least. It’s hard enough

when it is family and friends. I can find it difficult when I see what I think of as objectionable posts on Facebook.

Imagine when it is someone sitting across the room from you. Jesus didn’t only tell us to do it. He did this from

the cross when he prayed, “Forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34) They were murdering

him, and he still loved them.

 

Love your enemies; pray for those who curse you; do go for those who hate you. It is difficult. These are people

who are actively hurting you or want ill for you. This is bad enough when this is directed towards us personally,

but what if it is directed towards someone for whom we have tender feelings? You can do what you want to me,

but don’t mess with my family. If they hurt us or people we care about, we can feel justified, but John says, no dice.

 

But, how can God tell us how we feel? Can we snap our fingers and have our feelings change? No, but we can if

we stop thinking of love as a feeling and remember it as action. We do things, and tender feelings may develop.

Even if they don’t, we keep doing it anyway. Sometime that’s the way we bear our cross daily, as Jesus talked

about. (Luke 9:23)

 

That kind of active love challenges us. It is easy to dismiss the person who considers you their enemy or hates

you, whether they are near or far. It’s easy to cease thinking of them as a person, someone made in the image

of God. However, when you start praying for them, doing good for them, it is hard to keep hating them.

 

Think of the person you hate the most, or a person that you think hates you. Take a moment and pray for them.

I’m not talking about the kind of prayer where we say, “God, why does he or she have to be such a jerk? Please,

make them stop.” I’m talking about a prayer for their welfare, their good, their well-being

 

What was that like? In the beginning, it is a challenge, and you may detect no change in your feelings towards

them. If you can bear to keep it up, you will find that it changes you. You may still find their behavior just as

objectionable, but you will not be poisoned by hate.

 

In the verses just before today’s passage, John equates hate with murder. Life is given through love.

 

Love is action, and this congregation does a pretty fair job with that. We are constantly loving our community

through the things we do. We have already mentioned some of them: making food, offering a shoulder to cry

on … What are some others?

 

In verse 19 of today’s scripture it says, “19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set

our hearts at rest in his presence. How can we be sure? The accuser, Satan, the Devil, is always sowing doubt.

We are on a journey, going through a process of  sanctification, being transformed into someone that is more

and more Christ-like, but we are not there yet.

 

Did you know that both Martin Luther and John Wesley spent much of their lives stressing over whether o

r not they were really saved? I have known many people with the same genuine worries.

 

John give us the answer in the next verse. “20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than

our hearts, and he knows everything. You need not worry because God loves you and knows what he did on

your behalf. He knows how he has changed your heart.

 

I love how my friend Macky described it. Imagine you’re sitting across a desk from Jesus, and there is a piece

of paper on the desk that lists every way that you have missed the mark in your whole life. The list is long,

and you are worried. Jesus picks up the list and starts to look it over. Then he picks up an eraser, and he starts

erasing them off. “No,” he says, “that’s not there anymore, and neither should that.” He keeps doing that

until the paper is empty, the sheet is bare. He did it all. Your slate is wiped clean.

 

Do you have things that plague you in the middle of the night or even during the day? Even though the accuser

has no real power over us, he needles us. We beat ourselves up over what? Have you repented over what you

have done, decided that you don’t want to do it anymore? Have you asked for forgiveness? Then, as far as God

is concerned, it’s gone. We may not have forgiven ourselves, but God has.

 

I now invite you to do the Confession and Pardon with me.

CONFESSION AND PARDON.

Merciful God,
we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.
We have failed to be an obedient church.
We have not done your will,
we have broken your law,
we have rebelled against your love,
we have not loved our neighbors,
and we have not heard the cry of the needy.
Forgive us, we pray.
Free us for joyful obedience,
      through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 All pray in silence.

 Leader to people:

Hear the good news:
Christ died for us while we were yet sinners;
that proves God’s love toward us.
In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!

 People to leader:

In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!

 Leader and people:

Glory to God. Amen.

The good news is that you ARE forgiven by God. You can have confidence before God. When we pray, John

says that God will give us anything we ask. This is not John’s version of the prosperity gospel. No, God is not a

slot machine. This verse is a continuation of the thought behind our confession and pardon. Our hearts condemn

us, but God will give us the forgiveness we ask for, no matter what the reason. We can have confidence before God

that God loves us no matter what. The act of forgiving, pardoning, redeeming us is God’s act of love. Ours is to

follow Jesus and do what he told us, as in the Gospel of John chap 13. Jesus says:

 

 “34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

 

It means saying to someone or thinking about someone you disagree with, maybe even vehemently, “I think you

have it wrong, but I love you anyway.”

 

There was this wonderful woman I knew in Idaho. We were participating in a gathering where people of

different faith backgrounds would sit together in groups of five or six and get to know each other. We would

clarify some misconceptions the others might have about our faith. We would come to understand some areas

were we didn’t understand where they were coming from. There was a simple ground rule. No one was to try

to persuade anyone else. People who had fought with each other in the past were learning about each other and

becoming friendly if not taking the leap to friendship yet. That takes time.

 

So, this wonderful woman told me the attitude that she brought to these gatherings. If confronted with an

idea that was different from her faith, she would say, “You might be right.” Did she think they were right,

and she was wrong? Probably not, but she left the possibility open. That allowed them to have a conversation

and demonstrate love to one another.

 

There is another quote I love by Dandamis, a philosopher from the 4th century B.C. “Do not condemn the

judgement of another because it differs from your own. You may both be wrong.” Naturally, we don’t think

we are wrong, but a little humility can go a long way. When we maintain this perspective, it can help us love

the person across from us. Humility from us. Respect for this other person who is also made

in the image of God.

 

How can we do this as we are living our eternal life with God? By remembering that love IS the answer.

Really, it is the only answer. If everything we do is motivated by love for people or showing that love, we

will be on the right track.

 

Amen!