God Is Love

May 2, 2021

1 John 4:7-21

Can you point to a time in your life where you truly had a deep love for your neighbor?

I am not talking about the way you love a partner, or your family.

I am talking about a love that goes beyond barriers. Barriers we have self-constructed.

Francis of Assisi encountered this love when he went to the lepers and embraced them and gave them a kiss that signaled a love greater than all. It was the love he found in God.

In the bible, an example of this love can be witnessed in the story of the Good Samaritan. A man is beaten to an inch of his life on his way from one town to another. It was easy for many to step to the other side of the road and pretend they did not see him, including a priest and Levite. It is the Samaritan who stops to help him and shows great love for one he does not even know.

Looking at the past century, one individual showing a great love for her siblings was Mother Teresa. Her compassion for orphans and the disadvantaged saved many lives. The love she approached everyone with was bountiful.

This love which I refer to is known as agape love. Agape love is different from eros (an intimate love) and philia (love of brother, or family). Agape love is an understanding of our sibling and it redeems one’s being. Agape love is an overflowing love which is purely spontaneous and unmotivated by personal desire. Agape love directs us to not seek our own good, but the good of our neighbor.

We first experience this love through Jesus Christ. A love born incarnate in flesh. A love willing to go to the cross and die. A love revealed in the resurrection and bestowed upon all creation. The first love we experience comes from God. God loves us first, no matter what. There is no quid pro quo to God’s love. There is not action required on our part to experience God’s love. Yet, to fully experience God’s love and have it abide in us, we are commanded to love our siblings.

It is not easy to love our siblings. We look for differences which discourage us from loving one another. The lack of love is what stirs conflicts and war. The lack of love hardens hearts and makes it difficult to see Christ in each other. The lack of love leads to fear. When we fear the things and people around us, we are being pulled to darkness by sin and evil. When we let fear direct our path we are left gasping for fresh air and the love born in Christ. Fear can expose itself in many ways. We may fear what others think and thus we remain silent. We fear change, although change is the one consistent event we can rely upon. We fear the events that occur around us that shake our foundational understandings. Over this past year, we have heard many fears around the COVID pandemic. The fearing of catching it. The fear of shutting everything down. The fear of what is going to happen to the economy.

As the church we meet the fear by caring for one another. Yes, we have limited in-person gatherings, but amid change and adjustment we are expressing love for our neighbors and community by doing everything we can to minimize the risk of spread.

Fear can be taken to an extreme when we begin to fear our siblings. This fear can lead to hatred. The hatred stokes fear. It can be an endless cycle until we are bold enough to step in and stop it. When we fear others, divides are created and widened as those fears go unchecked. It is a sin we can easily point to in the bible. The Hebrews were afraid of those that worshipped Baal and much more. The Jewish people were afraid of the Samaritans. The newly converted Christians in Acts were unsure of Gentiles joining their ranks. The same fear of others can be witnessed today between Black and White, different ethnicities, and those we simply do not understand.

When we fear others, it is easy to find a scapegoat. A person or community we can push blame off to when things do not go the way we expected them to. Amid all of this, we have separated ourselves from the love of God and the commandment to love our neighbors.

To love those we do not agree with is bold. The author is 1 John calls us to love with a boldness come judgement day. The thing is, we do not know when judgement day may come. Therefore, we should love boldly daily. Love those we do not agree with. Love those who have in the past disregarded us. Love those that do not think the same as us. We are called to love everyone. In the love we find in our siblings, we find the love of God abiding in us. A love that distills all fear.

This love begins with God. We meet it in our daily prayer and reading of scripture. We start practicing by doing little things for our neighbors. Once the seed is planted, it begins to grow and bloom.

No one knew this love greater in the past sixty years than Martin Luther King, Jr. His practice and call for non-violent resistance revealed agape love. His call to end segregation was met with disdain by the majority in the south and yet he instructed all to not raise a fist to those desiring to detour the movement. He understood agape love and knew what it meant to love all creation. Agape love would be required to meet the other and to live in harmony. While we have moved forward in race relations, there is still plenty of work yet to be done. To completely love the other unconditionally would bring an end to discrimination and all the -isms as we know them.

It was Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” It was and remains a call for us to live in the light of Christ and to love our siblings unconditionally. Agape love is a love in action. A love meeting our siblings where they are and embracing them. A love born in God. A bold, radical love.

The commandment to love our siblings seems simple. However, many of our preconceived notions and beliefs can cloud the very ability to love. The ability to love all creation means we look deep within ourselves and contemplate on how we would want to be loved. To love our siblings and all creation is an invitation to be open to the love of God. If we do not have love for our siblings and creation, how are we expected to love God? God is love! A perfect love casting out fears.  

By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.

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