Sunday, May 10, 2015

Loving Like Jesus

May 10, 2015 –– 6th Sunday of Easter
Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44–48 / 1 John 4:7–10 / John 15:9–17
Loving Like Jesus

Jesus says, Love each other as I have loved you (Jn 15:12b). The Apostle John repeats and emphasizes this theme in his first letter: love one another (1Jn 4:7).

Probably nothing is more misunderstood in today’s world than God’s kind of love. Certainly no standard of behavior is higher or harder than this call to love like Jesus. This is one reason the Mass starts with a confession of sin. Who of us consistently loves like Jesus? It is when we grasp something of the way God gives his love to us in Jesus Christ that we begin to understand what it really means to be called a Christian.

C. S. Lewis once observed, “It costs God nothing, so far as we know, to create nice things; but to convert rebellious wills cost Him crucifixion” (Mere Christianity). Another writer added this perspective: “When God wanted to defeat sin, his ultimate weapon was the sacrifice of his own Son” (Charles Colson, A Dangerous Grace). We can rightly say that the essence of Christianity is love––love that is defined and modeled by Jesus Christ.

Jesus says, As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you... (Jn 15:9). How did the Father love the Son? It was not by shielding him from the horrible things in a broken world. Starting with being born as a baby under the stigma of poverty and coming to the semi-climax of cruel death by crucifixion, God is saying that his kind of love means self-sacrifice. The Son obeyed the Father by turning away from all the shortcuts and self-serving; the Son obeyed the Father by suffering and dying. It was then that the Father honored the Son by raising him from the dead.

Our tendency is to want joy apart from pain––glory without the crucifixion. Most people turn away from facing the realities of a broken world. When we attempt “love” apart from Jesus, we find ourselves frustrated and hurt in ways that make us feel all alone. The Gospel proclaims that Christ died so we might live, but we only truly live as he lives––and that means dying as he died. If we do not die to ourselves we cannot live to God, and if we do not live unto God we are already dead.

It is natural desire true joy in life. All of us want to experience real love. So we are invited to look to Jesus. Hear what Jesus says about love. Notice how Jesus shows us the love of God. Being a Christian does not mean having the easiest life possible in this world. When we insist on our own way––on our own convenience and our own understanding––we are not following Jesus. When we try to live life our own way we hurt ourselves and others around us. We cannot truly love apart from the vulnerability of self-sacrifice.

I’ve told this before, but I am here today because the Lord took me deeper into what it means to follow him in sacrificial love. In my “previous life” (besides being a Protestant pastor) I was an obsessive bird hunter and clay shooter. I carefully prioritized shooting in my weekly schedule. From September through March I was in the field with my birddog every Thursday on my day off. That was my time, and few things would cause me to change my priority. But in the late 90s, as I began to be aware of some significant “holes” in my spirit, my daughter hit a crisis. We had taken Katie to Africa on a mission trip when she was ten years old, and we had all taken a drug to prevent malaria. It turned out that the drug could have serious side effects (particularly on young people), and Katie began to experience clinical anxiety and deep depression in her freshman year of high school. One Thursday morning she was unable to get out of bed because of fear and emotional darkness. I was already dressed for my day of hunting, but it was quickly apparent I needed to stay home with her. There was no question of what I would do, but how would I feel about it? The Holy Spirit spoke to my heart and the issue was clear: would I stay home all sullen and feeling sorry for myself that I could not be doing what I wanted to do.... or would I embrace this opportunity to love my daughter with a whole heart?  So I prayed––right there in the hall outside Katie’s bedroom––and told the Lord to change my heart. That was a major step early in my journey to be here as I am today. 

When Jesus calls us to lose our lives for his sake, it to means something in our day-to-day choices. One way we show our faith that Jesus is the Christ when we choose to die to our self-centeredness. We are most like Jesus when we choose to go through our days serving others instead of always trying to please ourselves. This is one way we fulfill the description of love that Jesus gives: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (Jn 15:).

Every one of us desires love. Jesus shows us that the way to get love is by giving love, and this means being willing to give ourselves away. Give yourself to Jesus  in a new way today. Let’s let him live his love through us.

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