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On Love

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13, 34

By this EVERYONE / will know that your are my disciples / if you have love for one another.

In this Dayspring faith community, do we recognize each other as Jesus’ disciples by the love we have for one another / , by the way we demonstrate love for one another?

When we leave this place are we recognized as being different in the secular world by the way we treat others……all others? ….. & if not / why not?

Wouldn’t one hope / that churches be places where one could reliably find love in action? Sadly that’s not always so. There are faith communities that chew their ministers up & spit them out, there are ministers on power trips terrorising their congregations, there are members & factions of congregations who seem bound & determined to inflict as much grief personal & corporate as they possibly can – in exactly the same way as in the secular world.

If our faith is worth a jot, / or if the way in which we practise it is worth a jot, surely we ought to be recognizably different from the secular world?

But in the context of a faith community, what does “love” mean, what is God commanding us to do? Is he commanding us to be best buddies with everyone we meet?

The Greek in which Paul wrote has several words for love: the early Christians avoided using “eros” – the ordinary word for human love, especially sexual love, they occasionally used “philia” – connoting friendly affection as in brotherly love but the word “agape,” little used in secular Greek, is the characteristic term Paul uses to describe God’s love for human kind & the Christian’s love for God & neighbour.

What does love mean for you & me / & the way in which we are challenged to love our neighbour. What is “agape?”

In the often-told Good Samaritan story, a traveller is mugged, severly beaten & left for dead. The “righteous” pass him by. An unbeliever / stop & helps, perhaps putting himself in danger. Not only does he stop & help, he pays the innkeeper to look after the victim while he recuperates. Nowhere / nowhere, are we told that the Samaritan knew the traveller, we are offered the story as an example of loving one’s neighbour in the Christian sense: agape at work.

But I need more direction: / It’s not every day I run into people who’ve been beaten, robbed & left for dead. What other guides are there to help us know what’s involved in practising “agape?”

In Romans 13 ” for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The comandments no adultery, murder, stealing, coveting; / & any other commandment / are summed up in this word ” love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”

So that helps me a bit – if I refrain from adultery, murder, stealing, coveting etc that must be a part of practising agape. But I can avoid doing all those things & still be a miserable human being – I don’t think God wants that, what other guidelines are there?

1 Cor 13 ff ” Love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude; it does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice in wrong doing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, endures all things, …………love never ends…………..& now faith, hope & love abide & the greatest of these is love.

(As an aside, Nesta & I had our 25th Wedding anniversary almost 10yrs ago & the musical setting of that passage with which we opened this morning was composed by Steve Sturgess & performed by Steve with Esther Link, both of whom were active in this congregation at that time. )

When I realize the importance God places on love, I am stunned. Paul tells us it is superior in value to all other human -qualities. It is considered more valuable than having a faith so great, so profound that it can produce spectacular results, that it can move mountains. That rolls off the tongue very glibly – can you imagine having a faith so strong it can move Mount Robson from the Rockies to Regina, Saskatchewan? Compared with love, that means nothing at all!

Here then we get to the crux of the matter – When we examine the way in which we treat anyone else with whom we come into contact, ANYONE ELSE, can we put our hands on our hearts & say I ‘M always patient, I am ALWAYS loving, I am always KIND, I ‘m never envious, I am never / arrogant / or boastful, ME? insist on my own way? NEVER! Irritable or resentful? You must be joking!

…………… if we cannot say those things then we are falling short of the standard God sets for us……………… and that’s OK as long as we sincerely repent, ask God’s forgiveness & equally sincerely undertake to try harder. What is perhaps more difficult is to recognize our failings, swallow our pride & ask for the forgiveness of the person we’ve hurt or offended.

When I look at my relationships with neighbours in the light of what’s been said this morning, it seems to me that I can put them into 4 categories: 1) Those that I love in the sense of eros or philia – my wife, my family or friends – those with whom I choose to spend discretionary time: these are the people I carry in my heart. 2) Other with whom I cross paths in the day-to-day business of life, strangers or acquaintances / whom to the best of my knowledge are not in need of help. 3) Those who are in need – some of whom we hear about from this pulpit- those in Pakistan homeless after the recent earthquake, desperate for tents for shelter over the winter would be a recent example, 4) Anyone with whom I am experiencing disagreement.

Let’s spend a bit more time on each of those categories:

1) I find it is with those I love the most that maintaining the standard is most difficult. It’s fine while everything is going smoothly, but it’s when something, isolated or cumulative is said which I don’t appreciate that I find it most difficult to be patient & kind & slow to anger. It’s at times like those that I snipe back in the knee-jerk way I save for those I love the most before retreating in silence to my cave.

I have to be able to ask for forgiveness / & offer forgiveness, to apologize / & accept apology. Sometimes all it takes to initiate that process is the first smile but Good Lord that can be so difficult when I am full of indignation, whether dilute, high-test, or worst of all / , righteous. Sometimes I find it’s easier to hug than speak & somehow after hugging, words come more easily. I wonder if you have had the same experience?

2) Turning to others with whom I cross paths in the course of daily life, an advice columnist named Abigail Van Buren said: “the best index to a person’s character is a) how he treats people who can’t do him any good or b) how she treats people who can’t fight back.”

Several hundred years previously Abraham Lincoln said the same thing but looking from the flip side: “If you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

Does the way in which we treat people who can’t help us, / does the way in which we deal with people who can’t fight back withstand the scrutiny of the love test?

That’s the easy stuff; let’s have a look at the more difficult:

3) How do I respond, in love, to those in need?

1 John 3,17 “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods & sees a brother or sister in need & yet refuses to help?”

Last week we heard the parable of the sheep & goats. The sheep, the righteous, who have received Jesus’ approval asked “Lord, when did we see you hungry & feed you, or thirsty & give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger & invite you in, or needing clothes & clothe you? When did we see you sick or in (sick or in) prison & go to visit you?” – & the king, the Lord, replied “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers & sisters of mine,……… you did for me.”

There is no escape…….. In terms of the world’s goods, I doubt whether any of us are short in this context – & I bet we can all remember a recent time when we said ‘No” to someone in need or a worthy cause supporting people in need.

But how much is enough to give? How much is it OK for me to keep? I don’t have a “pat” answer for you – but I suspect giving away a genuine tenth of income plus tax refunds is merely a starting point.

4) How do I respond to anyone with whom I am experiencing disagreements? I don’t see any explicit instructions for dealing with ordinary disagreement. What can I infer from the guidelines “love is patient, love is kind, does not insist on it’s own way?

I see 4 steps: a) The first thing it seems to me is to avoid jumping to conclusions, to be sufficiently patient to determine where the other person is coming from. – often we are saying the same things in ways so different that we erroneously believe we are at odds with one another. b) Is this truly a conflict of right & wrong, good & evil & if it’s not…….. c) what’s the win-win solution? & d) if we can’t find that together, get help from someone with the necessary skills.

If this is a conflict of right & wrong, in Matthew 18, from 15-17, Jesus gives us some instructions: “If your brother sins against you, go & show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that “every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; & if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

In all of these situations perhaps what is most difficult is that I see no weasel words. Nowhere do I read “love your neighbour as yourself- unless you don’t like them,” “love your neighbour as yourself – unless they are handicapped,” “love your neighbour as yourself, unless he is a man or unless she is a woman,” “love your neighbour as yourself – unless they are homeless or unless you perceive them as socially inferior.

There are NO…. weaselwords.

Around the church you will see framed on some walls “Dayspring’s Relationship Principles.” They are posted as a reminder of some practical steps to ensure we follow the way of love in our relationships here. If we suspect a discussion or behaviour is less that loving, they offer a first place of referral to avoid the disagreement becoming serious. I invite you to spend some time looking at them afterwards.

We are called to love each other, everyone with whom we come in contact. Everyone. Nowhere do I see us instructed to LIKE everyone equally; Jesus didn’t, the New Testament refers to the disciple that he loved the most. Jesus clearly had special friendships & I hope all of us do too! But agape still demands that we demonstrate love & caring to everyone we meet……….everyone – regardless of whether our chemistry is one of mutual attraction or not.

Let’s begin at Dayspring. Let’s begin with the people we touch in our lives outside.

Once we start doing that other people will begin to “know that we are Christians by our love.”

When we start doing that, our faith can light a fire to change the world.

AMEN

© Martin Sawdon, January, 2006. Martin Sawdon is a coach and professional speaker with a passion for creating Sustainable Workplaces™ where everybody wins. He can be visited on the web at http://www.coachingworks.ca/home/ and emailed at martin@coachingworks.ca

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